The General Prologue

The ‘Parson’ is again almost another ideal, like the Knight, as there were so few Priests of his genre. The first line is positive, ‘A good man was ther of religioun’. At this point in The General Prologue many words such as ‘good’ and ‘worthy’ are being used ironically showing Chaucer the Pilgrims, this however is not the case. He was ‘povre’ indicating he does not live in wealth or extract monies from folk too readily. ‘But riche he was of hooly thought and werk’, which is obviously for the better.

The contrast between ‘povre’ and ‘riche’ and what they are associated with, show what a good Christian he is. If I was living at the time of Chaucer I would like to have him as my priest! All this positive language, ‘good’, ‘riche’, ‘devoutly’, ‘benigne’, ‘wonder’ ‘ful pacient’, etc. are all piled together to bring about a cumulative impression of goodness. This technique was used earlier with the Knight.

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Excommunication was exceptionally bad, meaning you had to leave your home and were then not to be buried properly or reach Heaven. ‘Ful looth were him to cursen for his tithes’. The Priest knows the enormity of an excommunication, as others did, but does not choose to use it as a punishment, unlike others. Instead he helps those who cannot pay the tithes with his own money, ‘but rather wolde he yeven…/ Of his offring and eek of his substaunce’.

Many of his excellent qualities are used with negatives implying he atypical, unlike his colleagues; he does not have such qualities, but others do, ‘but he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thunder / In siknesse nor in mischief to visite’. This highlights more corruption within the church at Chaucer’s time. This Priest sees it as a duty to live rightly and would be ashamed if there were a corrupt member of the clergy. He uses a metaphor with sheep to describe how ‘a shiten shepherde and a clene sheep’ can live together, but a priest should ‘take keep’ and prevent this.

There is an implication of the more ordained the clergy member the more corrupt they are, ‘what so he were, of heigh or lough estat / Him woulde he snibben sharply for the nonis’. ‘A better preest I trowe that nowher noon is’, is not an ironical sentence, he really is a good priest with the right attitude towards God and religion. The ‘Prioresse’ is of high ranking and by my standards certainly fits the hypothesis. Technically she should not even be on the pilgrimage as she is breaking a vow. It seems unusual for a nun to have a ‘simple and coy’ manner also being known as ‘madame Eglentine’ the symbol of sensual love; to be a nun she would have take the chastity vow. Chaucer the Pilgrim notices her ‘nose ful semely’and she pays attention to singing in an attractive way as opposed to the religious meaning of the words.

Even though ‘wel ytaught was she’ and was very dainty, she still has to ‘countrefete’ cheere / Of court’ and uses the wrong French accent. This indicates she is not of a courtly background and is aspirational and wants approbation. She eats well herself, there is no mention of anyone else that she donates to. Being dainty and having manners is important to her but the fact she does not know how to use a fork together with is paining her to find her manners and her lack of true French accent all indicate she is a second rate, corrupt nun.

Nun’s should have a conscience, Chaucer the Pilgrim believes her to be ‘charitable and so pitous’ simply because she would ‘wepe’ if she saw a dead mouse, however I feel this to be somewhat ironic, seeing as Chaucer the poet is about to inform us of the ‘wastle-breed’ (which is a good class of white bread) she readily gives to her hounds. Again, she is breaking the poverty vow by keeping ‘smale houndes’ in the first place; then again by feeling them with ‘milk or wastel-breed’ if she has spear food she should have given it to the poorer people; this is very inappropriate behaviour for someone in her position.

In Chaucer’s time daughters needed to be married to a man of equal status; sometimes this incurred a dowry. If the family could not afford the dowry, a respectable thing to do was to send her to a nunnery; thus she became a bride of Christ, making provisions for her to gain social status. This I feel is the situation with the ‘Prioress’. Chaucer notices ‘ful seemly hir wimpul pinched was’. At that time it was thought of as highly attractive to show a high forehead, however a nun’s forehead should be covered by an un-pinched wimpul. She wears her habit to emphasise she ‘was nat undergrowe’. Instead of obeying the religious rules she is more interested in looking good and fashionable!

Once again she breaks her poverty vow by wearing a bracelet; it says ‘amor vincit omnia’, love conquers all. She definitely conveys a flirtatious clergy member concentrating on the wrong areas of her life to keep well, i.e. she keeps her dogs well fed, but there is no mention of her citizens. This could also imply she does not take her chastity vow seriously, and so neither does she keep her obedience vow.

Unlike the Knight, she brings a large retinue to accompany her. Clearly she is not humble like the Knight and likes to exploit her power, again this reinforces her aspirations to become more important than she really is. Chaucer the Poet ensures we see all sides of her character, including the negative, whereas Chaucer the Pilgrim is blind to her blatant vow breaking and wrongful doings and likes her. As the General Prologue progresses it becomes more apparent that Chaucer the Pilgrim is a man that likes to be associated with status, it seems he is blinded by rank and fails to see any negative in pilgrim if the have status.

This is shown in this tale of the Prioress, even though she wrongs the church he still approves of her. Through Chaucer the Pilgrim issues of rank or status are introduced as an important factor; this is also because at this time England had a very strict social hierarchy, born after feudalism. Chaucer the Poet shows the Pilgrim to be na�ve but clearly shows the reader what is right and wrong within the eyes of the Lord and the citizens at that time. The vast contrast between the Prioress and the Parson not only follow the corruption hypothesis but show there is no need for status to be a good person, something Chaucer the pilgrim did not understand.

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