Who are the two "idealised" characters in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales?

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theyellowbookworm eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The knight is undoubtedly the most virtuous character introduced in the General Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The knight, a courtly lover, holds the highest social rank of all the pilgrims. Additionally, he narrates a metrical romance of courtly love that is absent of the vulgarity found in many of the other pilgrims’ tales. The narrator describes the knight as one who “loved chivalrie, / Trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisie. / Ful worthy was he in his lords were” (ll.45-47). Thus, the knight is noble, loyal and generous.

A second virtuous character introduced in the General Prologue is the plowman. The narrator describes the plowman as “A trewe swynkere and a good was he / Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee. / God loved he best with al his hole herete / alle tymes, though he gamed or smerte” (ll.531-534). In other words, the knight is described as a good worker who loves God at all times, whether he rejoiced or suffered. Although not much is told of the plowman, the reader understands that he is of the lowest social class, the lay or peasantry. The reader also understands that the plowman values hard work and is honest, unlike many of the other pilgrims.

aszerdi | Student

The knight is the first character mentioned in the prologue, and is described as a virtuous and outstanding man.

A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden (no man ferre)
As wel in Cristendom as hethenesse,
And ever honoured for his worthinesse.
In other words, this knight was wholly devoted to the code of chivalry he had been taught, and had defended the justice and power of his king in many wars. He was a superb example of a diligent truth seeking man before embarking on his pilgrimage to Canterbury. The son of this knight is also developing into a good young man; however, he is also engaged in more carefree pursuits.
The Prioress is another virtuous character whose description follows shortly after the knight's in the text. She exhibits idealized behavior and is accompanied by other individuals of the church. She wears a bracelet that states, when translated from the Latin, "love conquers all" and epitomizes an ideal form of Christian behavior.
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The Canterbury Tales

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