Who is a Prioress? Explain with reference to The Canterbury Tales.

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Payal Khullar | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The prioress is a rank for a woman who is the head of a Priory, a religious place in Christian community or Convent for nuns. She holds the same monastic rank as that of a Prior (man). Bearing such an important and respectable position, a Prioress is supposed to be devout, serious, responsible, uncorrupt, religious, dainty, virtuous, etc.

The description of Prioress in Chaucer’s A General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is somewhat different. She is a large sized woman with a wide forehead. She is dressed in elegant attire, but not exactly like a monastic head. Some of her clothing and accessories do not correspond with her religious rank. She speaks poor French. In total, it seems that she is just trying to imitate courtly manners. The Prioress’ tale is nothing but a small hymn or prayer to Virgin Mary.