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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The project to categorize the characters in The Canterbury Tales is an interesting and complex one. The difficulty in categorizing the Plowman is that he is a relatively minor character. Many Chaucer scholars believe that this portion of the story was added later as an addendum and might not even have been written by Chaucer. For instance, according to Rochester University, "The Plowman's Tale" was published in the second edition of Chaucer's Works.

Therefore, while it does seem that the Plowman is extremely virtuous without any vices, if his story was inserted at a later date, it is also important to understand that the character is there to underscore concepts that later editors wanted to accentuate. In fact, scholar Andrew Wawn notes that the insertion likely was in the spirit of "reformation propaganda" ("Chaucer, 'The Plowman's Tale' and Reformation propaganda: The testimonies of Thomas Godfray and 'I Playne Piers' "). Wawn even says that the Plowman might have been inserted "at the request of a particular patron."

Thus, as possible propaganda, the Plowman is there as an archetype. He is a simple person who is truly religious because of his faith and because he does not covet riches and has no worldly demands. He is not above doing his manual labor, even including tasks that many others would believe beneath them. For example, "he had carted many loads of manure and would dig and work hard."

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