What are some positive and negative characteristics of the  Squire as he is presented in "The General Prologue" to Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In interpreting the character of the Squire as presented in the “General Prologue” to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it is important to remember not only that he is the son of the Knight but also that the description of the Squire immediately follows the description of the Knight. The two characters can be read as symbolic opposites in many ways and, of the two, the Knight seems by far the better role model. Some traits of the Squire include the following:

  • He is “yong” (79). It was often assumed in the Middle Ages that young people were more likely to be passionate and unreasonable than older people.  This was by no means always the case, of course, but it does seem to be the case with the Squire, especially in contrast to his extremely wise father.
  • He is described as a “A lovere and a lusty bachelor” (80), a phrase that suggests quite explicitly his passionate nature; his love seems to be worldly love, and his lust seems to be for things of this world (particularly women).
  • The fact that his curly hair is mentioned so early, and the fact that it may have been artificially curled (81), may imply that the Squire is vain about his appearance and that his concerns are somewhat superficial.
  • On the positive side, the Squire seems to be strong and agile – traits useful to any potential soldier in the Middle Ages (84).
  • Whereas the Squire’s father has spent most of his time as a soldier fighting people regarded in Chaucer’s day as heathens and pagans, the Squire, less commendably, has spent most of his time fighting other Christians (86).
  • Whereas the Knight has fought on behalf of God, the Squire has fought (less commendably) to impress a lady (88).
  • The Squire is very elaborately and fashionably dressed, suggesting again his vanity and his concern with the superficial appearances of this world:

Embrouded [that is, embroidered] was he as it were a mede [as if he were a meadow],

Al ful of fresshe flowres, white and rede . . . (89-90)

(White and red, in combination, were colors often associated with passion in the Middle Ages.)

  • His behavior – including singing and whistling – does not seem especially serious, unlike the behavior of his father (91).
  • His clothing is fashionable, again suggesting his superficial worldliness (93), and again in contrast with his father, who seems to care nothing about clothes or about his physical appearance.
  • The Squire is skilled in all the rather superficial talents of a courtier, although his skill as a horseman is commendable (94-96). Once again, his interests make him seem shallow when he is compared and contrasted with his father.
  • The Squire seems overwhelmed by physical yearnings and desires, whereas his father’s yearnings are mainly ethical and spiritual (97-98).
  • However, Chaucer nicely concludes the description by implying the Squire’s humility and his respect for his father (99-100) – traits that will probably help him someday come to resemble his father even more than he does at present.  The young Squire behaves like a stereotypical young man, but there is good reason to hope and expect that he will eventually display many of his father’s virtues.



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The Canterbury Tales

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