How would you compare and contrast the Knight with the Parson in the General Prologue of "The Canterbury Tales"?

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hmartin17 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the General Prologue, the Knight is described as a "worthy man" (line 43). He has the highest class level out of all the people on the pilgrimage, so that is most likely the reason he is described first. We can also infer that he rides close to the head of the processional due to his status. He is a noble man, for he "loved chivalrie, trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie" (lines 45-46). Line 51 reveals that the knight participated in the Crusades and fought and won many battles for the glory of Christendom. In lines 70-71, Chaucer asserts that the Knight has never participated in any type of "vileynye" in "all his lyfe" which makes him a "parfit gentil knyght" (line 72). 

The Parson is similarly described as a good, worthy man. Though the Parson has a much lower societal status, and has not fought any battles for Christendom, he is a religious man and his good values stem from his beliefs. (He is described much later in the General Prologue because of his lower status). While the Knight is wealthy from his victories, the Parson is "povre" (line 480). The Parson is "benygne" and "wonder diligent, and in advercitee ful pacient," which adds to his positive descriptors (lines 485-486). In line 523, the text says that the Parson's business was to lead people to faith by being a good example. The Knight may have fought in the Crusades, but the writer's praise for the Parson is clear - the Parson is an example of a true Church figure. While both the Knight and Parson are described favourably, (which is rare in the General Prologue), it is clear from their descriptions that the Knight and Parson are separated by their statuses and the ways in which they live their lives, though both are good men.

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The Canterbury Tales

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