Which two characters are vividly described through their physical appearances in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The General Prologue"?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many ways, Chaucer was a master of description, and he brought many of his characters to life in "The General Prologue." Chaucer described two characters who deserve special attention: the Wife of Bath and the Miller.

The Wife of Bath is one of Chaucer's most memorable characters, if only because the prologue to her tale delves into a remarkable feminist discourse, but we also get a picture of her early on in "The General Prologue." Chaucer describes her in vivid fashion, noting she is "gap-toothed" (20), full-figured (24), and that her face is "bold," "fair, and red of hue (10). All in all, Chaucer describes a physical appearance that matches the Wife's vivacious, unapologetic personality, and it's easy to envision her based on his description. 

The Miller is a similarly memorable character, and his tale is one of the bawdiest in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer describes the Miller as "a chunky fellow, broad of build" (5) with a red beard (8) and a hairy wart on his nose (10-12). Based on this description, readers picture a coarse, tough fellow with something of a rude streak.

In considering these descriptions, it's important to recognize Chaucer is describing his characters in strikingly realistic tones. Rather than idealizing his characters, he makes them look and act like real, normal people. This sense of realism is one of the reasons Chaucer's work has remained influential for hundreds of years.

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The Canterbury Tales

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