What kinds of answers does Chaucer provide to the question of the value and meaning of tale-telling as raised in The Canterbury Tales, and what images of authorship does he provide?This is in...

What kinds of answers does Chaucer provide to the question of the value and meaning of tale-telling as raised in The Canterbury Tales, and what images of authorship does he provide?

This is in reference to The Miller's Tale, The Franklin's Tale, The Wife of Bath's Tale, or The Knights's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A prominent aesthetic characteristic of Chaucer's poetics is his propensity for self-reference. This self-reference is often, if not usually, in the style of self-directed humor. This characteristic is seen in his works as diverse as Troilus and Criseyde and The Book of the Duchess. If present in The Canterbury Tales, this would be one instance of an image of authorship Chaucer provides. It is not possible to examine multiple tales to see how this propensity works out in The Canterbury Tales, but a brief analysis can be undertaken.

In "The Franklin's Tale" and "The Knight's Tale," Chaucer does employ the technique of a self-referencing narrator but, in these, the references go to the narrators, the Franklin and the Knight, rather than to Chaucer himself. It may not be possible to infer Chaucer's attitudes about authorship and tale-telling from the attitudes he ascribes to the narrators of these tales, but, on the other hand, it may perhaps be possible to so infer. Let's take a look.

Another use Chaucer has for the self-referencing author/narrator is to emphasize thematic points. This supports a Chaucerian image of authorship that accords with the Aristotelian principle of mimetics: Poets are the divinely inspired messengers of divine truth that is desired by and meant to instruct people who long for instruction in divine truth. In "The Franklin's Tale," Chaucer employs this technique. The Franklin, as the narrator, digresses (another characteristic technique) from the narrative to emphasize a theme of the tale. The Franklin states that the Gospel principle that friends each other obey, as opposed to one domineering over another, as they cannot long keep company with each other once mistreatment enters in:

That freendes everych oother moot obeye,  55
If they wol longe holden compaignye.
Love wol nat been constreyned by maistrye

"The Knight's Tale" provides a very good example of Chaucer's characteristic self-directed humor, only in this instance, it is the Knight who is directing humor at himself: Chaucer has allowed the narrator Knight to substitute for the author. This provides an example of an image of authorship in which humility is a hallmark of an author as humility, along with right judgement, is necessary to deliver divine mimetic lessons to people hungry for teachings on goodness, right thinking and living.

[self-directed humor]
But al the thyng I moot as now forbere,
I have, God woot, a large feeld to ere,
And wayke been the oxen in my plough,

From these two examples, we can infer that Chaucer holds that great meaning and value accrue to tale-telling as it is provides the entry door to knowledge and understanding of divine lessons on how to be and how to live with goodness and rightness of spirit and mind.

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The Canterbury Tales

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