How does Chaucer provide humor in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales?

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stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Much of the humor is based on understanding the outlook that those hearing the tales would have brought with them as part of their culture at that time. As the travelers are introduced and described, humor may be found in understanding references that carry more significance than what the narrator of the Prologue apparently understands. Some examples:

The Physician is credited with loving gold above all else "For gold in physic is a fine cordial" - the narrator thinks the Physician prizes gold for its curative powers rather than for its monetary value.

The picture of the Wife of Bath is calculated to be humorous. She is a weaver of "kerchiefs of finest weave and ground" although they were so heavy ("a full ten pound") as to be useless. Her history includes five husbands and "other company in youth" and the listener's imagination is allowed to run wild in considering "the remedies of love she knew."

Both the Monk and the Summoner have, at times, arranged marriages for young women of their acquaintance. While it is never explicitly stated, listeners in Chaucer's time would understand his implication that these marriages became necessary after the arranger of the marriage had gotten the bride-to-be pregnant.

Further Reading:
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The Canterbury Tales

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