Describe Chaucer's humour in The Canterbury Tales?

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Chaucer uses low comedy, involving physical, bawdy humor, in The Canterbury Tales. A prime example of this is "The Miller's Tale."

In this tale, the beautiful Alisoun is married to an older man, John the Carpenter. However, she is in love with Nicholas. In order to sleep together, she and Nicholas convince John that a flood is coming and persuade him to spend the night suspended in a basket. They take advantage of his foolishness to head for his bed for some lovemaking.

Meanwhile, Absolon, who is in love with Alisoun, comes to her window wanting a kiss. She presents her rear end rather than her face. That is an example of low, bawdy, physical humor. When Absolon realizes he has been laughed at and has kissed her rear end, he decides to get revenge by searing her with a red-hot iron. He comes to kiss her again, but this time Nicholas sticks his rear end out the window and farts in Absolon's face, another example of low humor. Absolon gets his revenge on Nicholas by using the hot poker. John, hearing Nicholas's screams for water, thinks the flood is coming and cuts the rope keeping his basket hanging. He crashes to the ground, and the villagers jeer at him as a fool.

None of this humor is subtle or sophisticated. It relies on our ability to laugh at physical pain and humiliation and to side with the aggressor who is cruelly tricking someone else. We might laugh just because we like someone being made a fool of, or, because it is so over-the-top, we still might laugh in spite of ourselves at the general absurdity of the situation.

Another example of bawdy humor is "The Reeve's Tale," where John and Aleyn get revenge on the crooked miller by moving a cradle so that the drunken miller's wife gets into bed with John by mistake. John immediately has sex with her, and John and Aleyn end up beating up the miller.

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Much of Chaucer's humor in The Canterbury Tales comes from irony.  Opposition is the essence of irony, and Chaucer presents opposites to create humor. 

For instance, Chaucer's Friar is not like what the average person might expect a friar to be like:

He'd fixed up many a marriage, giving each

Of his young women what he could afford her.

He was a noble pillar to his order.

In other words, after having affairs with women, he would find them husbands and pay them what he could.  He obviously was not really a "noble pillar to his order."

Chaucer accomplishes this irony by using a narrator who is good natured and a bit naive.  The narrator assumes the friar is a nice guy for finding women he has had affairs with husbands, not realizing that the Friar is covering and protecting himself by doing so. 

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