General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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In the "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales, assess Chaucer's rendering of the ecclesiastical personas in the prologue and show how through poetic images, he proceeds to critique the entire religious edifice of the time

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In "The General Prologue," Chaucer is full of implicit and explicit criticism for the religious characters that he introduces the reader to, as even those who are shown to be without overt fault, such as the Prioress, through their description are clearly singled out for censure. It is obvious from these character sketches that Chaucer is picking religious figures from the day who question the religious establishment. This is achieved through focusing on hilarious figures of comedy, such as the Summoner, but also on milder figures such as the Prioress, who is said to be concerned above all with etiquette:

Her greatest pleasure was in etiquette.

She used to wipe her upper lip so clean,

No print of grease inside her cup was seen...

In addition, she is shown to be very sensitive in the way that she weeps when she sees a mouse caught in a trap. Chaucer paints a picture of a character who is so concerned with manners and behaving like a lady that she misses out on human compassion, ironically showing more concern about animals and her own dogs than she does to her fellow human beings. Note the excessive lengths that she takes in her table manners as identified in the quote above. This impression of a woman who is more concerned with appearances than reality is cemented with the description of her fine cloak and the "broach of shining gold" that hangs from her neck. She is a figure in the church who, through her position has become enriched, and who cares little for the suffering and poverty of her fellow humans.

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