The Canterbury Tales is one of the pieces that have passed the test of time. Despite having been created centuries ago, the piece is still relevant today. This poem explores the experiences of 29 pilgrims. Each of these pilgrims is unique and encounters different experiences. This essay offers a look into the character of some of these pilgrims and how their description matches their actions.
The nun (Prioress) is among the pilgrims that the about whom the poet pilgrim offers a description. The traits that this nun exhibits are rather traditional and expected. For instance, it is mentioned that the nun’s “greatest oath was but by Saint Eloy” (Chaucer, 120). This description points to the godly nature of the nun. With regard to her godliness, the nun is conventional since it is common for nuns and other members of religious institutions to possess godly traits. Poet Chaucer also describes the nun as a woman who “spoke full fair and fetisly” (Chaucer, 124). This can be taken to mean that the nun spoke well and with kindness.
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Most of the nun’s actions and features are in line with the conventional profile of nuns. However, there are certain traits that go against the traditional profile. For example, the nun wore a “brooch of gold full sheen” (Chaucer, 160). The nun’s manner of dressing is clearly unconventional. Nuns are known for their simple lifestyles. They tend to wear simple gowns. It is therefore surprising that thins nun wore a “brooch of gold full sheen.” Speculations can be made about why Chaucer chose to include this detail about the nun’s style. It could be that he wished to highlight the hypocrisy in religious institutions. While these institutions encourage people to adopt simple lifestyles and reject vanity, their own members go against these teachings.
The knight is another participant in the pilgrimage. Insights about his character can be gained when one examines the description that he has been offered. He is described as a “worthy man” who “loved chivalry…freedom and courtesy” (Chaucer, 45-46). Knights are individuals that are held in very high regard. They are also expected to uphold certain values. For instance, it would be expected that a knight would possess some value and promote freedom. The description that the knight pilgrim is given serves to point to his position. It is also mentioned that the knight was “ever honored for his worthiness” (Chaucer, 50). The honor that the knight received indicates that he was a high-ranking official. Overall, the description that pilgrim Chaucer offers the knight allows one to understand the position that he (the knight) occupies in society.
As is true with the poet-pilgrim for whom there are inconsistencies, a deep look at how the knight is described also reveals that he possesses some uncharacteristic traits. For example, it is mentioned that the knight “was not gay” (Chaucer, 74). This can be taken to mean that the knight did not conduct himself with flamboyance and style. He was a simple man who stayed clear of all vanity. This is rather unexpected and surprising. Most individuals who hold high office tend to be shallow, flamboyant and arrogant. It can be argued that poet Chaucer chose to include the detail about the knight not being flamboyant or vain to highlight the need for humble and servant leadership.
The third pilgrim that whose character is interesting is the monk. Poet Chaucer describes this monk as “a fair for the mastery” (Chaucer, 165). This means that the monk was a fine man. This is expected. Monks are required to live righteously. This monk meets this requirement. Poet Chaucer also mentions that the monk subjected himself to the “rule of Saint Maur” (Chaucer, 173). This serves to further indicate that the monk was a godly man who followed the examples of saints.
For the most part, the monk fits the conventional profile of a monk. However, he has some habits that would not be expected of monks. For instance, it is mentioned that the monk “held after the newe world the space” (Chaucer, 177). This can be taken to mean that he had given up tradition and embraced a modern lifestyle. The monk is also described as “reckless”. This is surprising since monks are required to be disciplined and embrace accountability. It is possible that Chaucer chose to include these details about the monk to highlight the human nature of monks. Often, people expect these individuals to be pious and responsible while forgetting that they are humans with normal urges.
In conclusion, Canterbury Tales highlights the diversity of human characters. The world is made up of different individuals who have different perspectives and perform different actions. While most of the characters in the poem exhibit conventional traits, there are some whose behavior is inconsistent with tradition. The inconsistencies highlight the duplicitous nature of man. The Canterbury Tales clearly offers insights regarding the complexity of mankind.
Chaucer, G. (1478). Canterbury Tales.