What do we learn about The Prioress and the Monk from Chaucer’s ‘The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales’?
Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1343 probably in London, although the exact date and location are not known. As a squire, Chaucer served in France on one of the many minor military expeditions which were undertaken during the Hundreds Year War. He was captured near Rheims. His ransom was paid by the King himself, proof of the regard in which Chaucer was held. In 1369 he was granted a small anuall pension by the King. He went on a trade mission to Italy on behalf of the King in 1372. From this point onwards his fortunes increase.
He received many gifts and was promoted to important jobs in what was the fourteenth century equvalent of the Civil Service. Much of his work was connected with Customs and Excise. Largely as a result of the patronage of John of Gaunt, Chaucer became affluent and important. In the late 1380’s John of Gaunt was sent on an expedition to Spain. He was replaced as an influence at court by the Duke of Glouster. The Duke of Glouster took away all Chaucer’s privileged positions and gave them to his own friends. This left Chaucer with financial difficulties – but with much more time to write. He probably started the Canterbury Tales at this time.
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John of Gaunt eventually returned to England and restored Chaucer to favor. Chaucer died in October, 1400, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Stories held together in some sort of framework are called Frame Stories – these are stories that are in some way connected or held together in a common framework. Chaucer used the framework of a pilgrimage from London to the shrine of ”the holy blissful martir” Thomas a Becket, in Canterbury, was usually the starting place for all Pilgrimages. Some pilgrims made their way to Salisbury or Glastonbury, but by the far the most popular Pilgrimage was to Canterbury.
In Chaucer’s plan a group of just over thirty men and women met in the Tabard Inn in Southwark – all pilgrims agreed to tell four stories to make the time pass more pleasantly on their journey – two stories on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back, the Host of Tabard travelled with them and agreed to act as a judge of the stories told. The teller of the best stories was promised a free meal at the tabard Inn on their return. Chaucer never completed his grand plan. Had all the stories been told as planned we would have had about 120 stories.
As it is the most of the characters told one story each, four of which were left unfinished. Chaucer begins the Canterbury tales with an account of how the pilgrimage began and a description of each of the pilgrims; because this makes a general introduction, it is referred to as The General Prologue to the Canterbury tales. Because most of the stories which are told by the pilgrims we have another prologue which reminds us of the character and puts the story into the context of the pilgrimage. Chaucer talks about a nun, a prioress. She was called Madame Eglantine. She spoke French elegantly.
Chaucer writes: ”and frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly” She had wonderful table manners, she didn’t let a scrap of food fall from her lips, when eating with her fingers she didn’t dirty her palm. She was very entertaining in a friendly manner. She wore a gold shiny broach, which had” Amor Vincit amnia” meaning ”Love conquers all”, but instead it should be a religious inscription, which shows her devotion to God inscribed on it. Chaucer notices that she reveals too much of her broad forehead which should be covered by her wimple. It should be covered to show she is a humble and that she is proud to be a nun.
She also has many dogs, too which she feeds the finest bread, much finer then shed ever eat. She hates to see animals stuck in traps or hurt in anyway. Which makes the reader think shed rather take care of animals then people in need ”She had some dogs which she fed with cooked meat, hot milk or the finest bread” the poem also tells us about the Prioress’s tendency to rebel against the religious rules. ”Her mouth was small, soft and red. ” This quote is saying that she probably wears lipstick Prioress’s are not supposed to wear makeup, they are not supposed to be happy with their appearance, and they are not supposed to make an effort.
Nuns are not supposed to wear any makeup at all, the nun also wears a gold broach, and it is also in the rules that the nuns are not supposed to wear jewellery of any kind. The Monk, unlike any other Monk loves to go hunting. All monks are supposed to love animals and creatures and the Monk, is going hunting and killing them. Chaucer tells us this in the quote; ” an outrydere that lovede venerye. ” Chaucer notes that The Monk also kept many horses in his stable; they were well fed and strong. The Monk also kept greyhounds, which were as swift as birds in flight. He wore the finest fur in the country and also the most expensive.
He wore an elaborately worked pin to fasten his cloak decorated at the end with a love knot. We can tell this in the line ” A love knottlein the gretter ende ther was” he had a definite passion for food. It tells us that in the line ”a fat swan loved the best of any roast. ” He was unlike any other Monk in the monastery. The Monk ignored most of the rules he was supposed to follow; he didn’t like them because they were old. He let most things slip and he followed the latest fashions. Both the Prioress and Monk are very materialistic. They both love to be seen in fine clothes and jewellery.
The Monk has his expensive furry jacket fastened with a gold pin and the Nun has her wimple and cloak fastened with a gold broach. Both the Nun and Monk are breaking their religious rules by wearing these, which tells us they care more about their image than really focusing on what they are supposed to be doing. Another thing these two characters have in common is that they both lavish attention and money on animals. The nun cares for her animals more then she ever does other people or herself. The Monk on the other hand loves hunting, but still keeps greyhounds and horses.
However a difference between the two characters is that the Monk is more blatant than the Prioress in his disregard of the rules. Chaucer is saying many things through the Monk and Prioress about how the church was in his day. The Monk and The Prioress are supposed to obey the religious rules of the church, but however they both break many of them. The nun has a simple dress code, but she doesn’t pay much attention to the rule. The wimple is supposed to come just above her eyebrows but she wears it much to high and it shows off her forehead. The Monk also has a simple dress code but too like the nun he disobeys.
He wears an expensive fur coat. Monks are supposed to care for animals and not wear animal fur. Both t8he nun and the monk wear jewellery. The Monk wears an elaborately worked gold pin and the nun wears a shiny gold broach. The Monk wears his to fasten his fur coat and the nun wears hers on her robes. The nun’s broach says ”Love Conquers All” on it, but instead it should state something religious, an inscription to show her devotion to God. This says many things about that church such things as The Standards are lowering, the church is corrupt and The Church is allowing these figures to get away with all this behaviour.