The Canterbury Tales Questions and Answers
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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How does Chaucer use irony in The Canterbury Tales?

Chaucer uses irony in The Canterbury Tales to promote his theme that appearances do not always match reality. He demonstrates this theme through the tales told by pilgrims on a spiritual journey.

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Irony, in its basic form, is a literary device or technique authors use to demonstrate how events are not always as they seem. In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343–1400) uses this technique to show his readers that physical appearances often differ dramatically from reality. Within the overall description of a spiritual journey by a group of pilgrims, he frames his tales as separate stories told by the travelers to Canterbury.

Each of the author’s stories carries the ironic thread of appearance versus reality. Chaucer uses dramatic irony to point out how his characters’ deceptions warn his readers to be aware that the expected outcomes in each story might not be exactly what they foresee.

For example, in "The Knight’s Tale,” two young knights, Palamon and Arcite, engage in a bitter argument from their prison quarters over the right to love Emelye who they see planting flowers in her garden. Palamon escapes from the prison, and Arcite is eventually released and...

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