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Satire in The Canterbury Tales Essay


Chaucers Use of Satire

In the reading "The Prologue" by Geoffrey Chaucer, one will find that satire is the most used literary device throughout the entire story. The definition of satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc. ( Strictly following that definition, the satire in the prologue is brilliantly used to break down the characters lives and reveal their flaws and human errors. Every one of the pilgrims on the journey is satirized to some extent, although the narrator is more critical of some more than others. Chaucer uses the narrator to describe each of the pilgrims flaws either through physical description, or by describing the pilgrims actions, or ways of life. To describe each of the characters flaws Chaucer seems to use mostly metaphors and long methods of characterization so that the reader has to make inferences about what the narrator sees as a bad trait in the character. Although Chaucer mostly points out flaws, he still points out some of the good in the pilgrims as well. He admires something in every single character except for the Pardoner, for there is nothing positive about him. The metaphoric satire is best shown in the narrators descriptions of the Friar and Monk, two characters with revealed problems.

Satire is used on countless occasions throughout the story, but one of the characters that is the most scrutinized is the Friar. He had arranged full many a marriage/of young women at his own cost.(Chaucer 5) The narrator immediately uses satire in this description by describing the friars disturbing practice of getting young women pregnant and setting up marriages to men against the womens will. The narrator continues on by then describing the friars habit of asking for money during confessions so that the penance the sinner has to pay is much easier and more forgiving. This is an obvious sign that the friar is not a very upstanding man with religion or his job. The narrator uses the word beggar numerous times in his description of his view of the friar, which is seen as the friar cares more about money than he cares about his job or being religious. Satire is obviously used to describe the Friars behavior yet, Chaucer repeatedly stresses the winning nature of his Friars speech and manner; he is pre-eminently skilled in daliaunce and fair language (Mann 37). This shows Chaucers ability to show both good and bad contrast in the characters he describes.

The second character in which satire is the most prevalent way to describe that character is the Monk. Again, Chaucer makes the reader aware of the good in the character, A manly man, to be an abbot able/Full many a blooded horse he had in stable (Chaucer 3). Chaucer is showing that the Monk is a good man and has a very strong, durable horse in his stable. Later on, Chaucer goes on to describe that the Monk is an avid hunter and is very good at it as well. Then the satire comes into play, the Monk breaks rules that he knows he shouldnt break, especially because he is a religious figure. Which holds that hunters are not holy men (Chaucer 13), Chaucer even mentions its against the rules for a Monk to hunt, yet he goes ahead and does it constantly, which shows he openly goes against his code of ethics. Also, there isnt much mentioned about the Monk being much of a religious figure, and since he openly goes against rules of religion by hunting the reader can conclude the Monk is not a religious figure.

Satire is used to make excellent points, and gives good descriptions about all of the characters in The General Prologue. Geoffrey Chaucer uses satire as much as possible and along with metaphors and long descriptions makes the Friar and the Monks true colors stand out. Chaucer shows minimal admiration for both man, and instead shows, through the narrator, how each of the two men really lacks enough honest qualities to be true religious figures. The use of satire in the story really breaks down each pilgrims positives and negatives and makes the reader fully aware of every personal detail of each pilgrim.

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