Canterbury Tales Chaucer age Medieval Middle ages


Canterbury Tales Chaucer age Medieval Middle ages Questions. Art of Characterization. Chaucer as Representative of his age.

Circa 1390, Portrait of Geoffrey Chaucer (c 1342-1400). English poet, soldier and diplomat 1360-70. Wrote ‘The Canterbury Tales.’ (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)

Art of Characterization:

Chaucer outlines his thirty pilgrims in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”. He is the first great painter of characters in English Literature. He has painted the whole of English nation during the 14th, ranging from knightly class to the order of Clergymen. The Character sketches are brief, yet lucid and comprehensive. Both the in and out of the characters are depicted in such a superb way that the entire personality seems moving before the reader’s eyes.

  1. Characterization by vices of Characters

 Chaucer also presents a picture of his characters by their vices and presents the fourteenth century. Corruption of the Church is mirrored in most of his ecclesiastical figures, like The Friar, The Monk, The Pardoner. The greed of doctors is typified in his Doctor of Physic, who loves gold. The dishonesty of the Reeve and the Miller is also typical.

  1. Characterization by Physiognomy

Similarly, the medieval poets usually described their character through their physiognomy, to expose their inner spiritual health. Chaucer has successfully employed this technique in the case of the Summoner. His. “Fire red cherubim face”, “Pimples”, “Narrow eyes” and “scabby black brows” reflect his inner spiritual corruption.

Description through physical features is also employed in the case of The Wife of the Bath and The Prioress. It also helps the audience in understanding, recognizing and differentiating the pilgrims. The Prioress and the Wife of Bath’s fashionable dresses reveal their materialism and amorous nature.

  1. Characterization by Individual and Type Method

Chaucer’s most superb technique is his presentation of Characters as individuals and types. The Characters are not only representatives of their respective classes and professions but also at the same time they possess individual traits. For example, the Friar is a typical representative of his class in the 14th century; he is corrupt, hypocritical, greedy and callous. But his good voice, his twinkling eyes, his white neck and above all his name. The Prioress is the type of a woman who is an epicure but she is portrayed as an individual, with her meticulous care in eating and her courtly manners as well as well as her tenderness of heart.

  1. Characters are real and universal

Chaucer’s characters are real and universal because they are they are so like us. His people are always on move. Never do they become shadowy or lifeless. They shout and swear, laugh and weep, interrupt the story teller, pass compliments and in general behave themselves like us.

  1. Characterization by profession of Characters

Technique which Chaucer uses is to define the characters by the job or profession, they do. The different pilgrims represent different professions. The War-like Elements is represented by the Knight, The Square, and Yeoman. The Ploughman, The Miller, the Reeve, and The Franklin typify agriculture. The Sargent of Law, the Doctor, The Oxford Clerk represent liberal professions. The weaver, The Dyer and The Tapicer, embody industry and trade, the Merchant and the Shipman personate commerce.

  1. Characterization by Irony and Satire:

Irony and Satire are undoubtedly Chaucer’s most prominent techniques of characterization. Chaucer treats noble fellows with sympathy and love but his treatment of knaves, rogues and rascals either humorous or ironical or satirical.

For example, Chaucer call the Wife of Bath “worthy woman” and then in the very next line ironically qualifies the word “worthy” by commenting

“She was worthy woman all her lyve Husbands at church door she had five”

  1. A Representative of His Age
  2. A Representative of His Age

‘Chaucer symbolizes, as no other writer does, the Middle Ages. The social groups of thirty pilgrims cover the entire range of fourteenth century English society.

Medieval Chivalry:

Chaucer’s knight is a true representative of the spirit of the medieval chivalry which was a blend of love, religion, and bravery. He has been a champion of not fewer than fifteen battles in the defense of Christianity. He was not only worthy in politeness but also wise in decisiveness. We must, however, point out that the spirit of true chivalry was breathing its last in the age of Chaucer. The true representative is “The Squire”, who has as much a taste for chivalry. He is a lover and a lusty bachelor. So hoote he lovede that by nyghtertale He slept namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale

Trade, Commerce and Art:

The Merchant is a typical representative of his class. The countrymen and merchants have always made the two most common objects of humour and satire. But Chaucer lets the Merchant go without much of satire, perhaps in recognition of the importance that his class had gained in his age.


The knowledge of Astronomy rather Astrology was a must for a physician as all the physical ailments were supposed to be the consequences of the peculiar configuration of the stars and planets. That is why the Doctor of Physic, too, was grounded in Astronomy. Chaucer has a sly dig at the Doctor in his reference to his gold-loving nature.

The Church:

The Church had become a hotbed of profligacy, corruption and rank materialism. The Monk is a fat, sprouting fellow averse to study and penance.

The Friar is a jolly beggar who employs his tongue to carve out his living.

The Prioress bothers more about modish etiquettes than austerity.

The Pardoner is in trading in letters of pardon with the sinners who could ensure a seat in heaven by paying hard cash.

The summoner is likewise a depraved fellow. The only exception is

the poor Parson apparently a follower of Wycliffe who revolted against the corruption of the Church.