I need to write a detailed essay on Chaucer's use of humour and irony in "The Prologue" to The Canterburty Tales.

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reading through the account of the pilgrims, who they all are and some of the interactions between them reveals the customary humour and wit of Chaucer, that is clearly revealed in the way that he presents himself and in the way that he presents others. One way in which this humour is revealed in his self-critique as narrator. He apologises for having to use the rather crude words that some of his characters use but he says that to maintain the authenticity of his tale he simply has to report his characters' words as accurately as possible. Then he apologises again for not listing his characters in order of social rank:

Also I beg you to forgive it me

If I overlooked all standing and degree

As regards the order in which people come

Here in this tally, as I set them down:

My wits are none too bright, as you can see.

The way that he presents himself as a rather dim and unintelligent individual is of course belied by his shrewd presentation of the other characters. He is clearly anything but "none too bright." Note too the irony that he uses in presenting a character as being one thing than revealing him or her to be something else. The following quote describes the host:

A handsome man our host, handsome indeed,

And a fit master of ceremonies.

He was a big man with protruding eyes...

Clearly, "handsome" cannot be taken too literally in this sense. Chaucer's humour in this section of his famous work is thus based around caustic irony as he presents himself as being something less than he actually is whilst presenting those around him as something that they are actually not.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question