Comic realism of Chaucer in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” Essay Example
Comic realism of Chaucer in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” Essay Example

Comic realism of Chaucer in “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (1031 words)
  • Published: August 3, 2016
  • Type: Essay
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Realism in literature refers to the portrayal of life, individuals, and objects without idealizing or romanticizing them. Chaucer, a realist writer, meticulously observes and represents the people, things, ambiance, and events of 14th-century England. His realistic approach stems from firsthand observation and a pragmatic outlook on life. He collects information about individuals from various levels - local, national, and international. Chaucer fearlessly depicts all facets of life since he views every person as an integral component of it.

In Chaucer's work, the Prologue shares similarities with Shakespeare's plays by presenting an unbiased depiction of life. Chaucer objectively introduces the pilgrims and their tales, giving readers the freedom to form their own moral judgments. His intention is to convey truth without personal biases or exclusions. This approach mirrors elements found in both novels and d


ramas as it aims to accurately portray life.

According to G. K. Chesterton, the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is considered the "first novel in history" because it focuses on realism. Rather than depicting human characters individually, Chaucer portrays them in companionship and showcases their interactions. Chaucer, who has a realist perspective, goes beyond simple representations of life by modifying, excluding, emphasizing, exaggerating, and even inventing elements to create an artistically beautiful portrayal of life. Through his writing, Chaucer gives life to distinct and autonomous human figures.

As an artist and poet, his main interest lies in showcasing various and picturesque individuals that are suitable for stories. He utilized the customary pilgrimage as a way to vividly portray the society of that time. He realized that the pilgrimage was not driven by religious motives. For many, it

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provided an opportunity for merry-making, seeking pleasure, indulging in music, and behaving in a vulgar manner. Chaucer, as the narrator, does not attempt to censor the indecent stories or vulgar elements shared by the pilgrims because including both the storytellers and their stories is essential for realism.

The pilgrims, despite their peculiarities, are human beings who offer the delightful spectacle of a diverse gathering. The Prologue aims to showcase the pilgrims in a festive and relaxed atmosphere, allowing them to reveal themselves and provide insights into their daily lives, thoughts, biases, beliefs, and individual quirks. Through these portrayals, they are firmly established as representative of the typical English people of the 14th century.

During this period, the common man was becoming more prominent and prosperous, leading to an increase in extravagance related to food and clothing. Additionally, craftsmen took over control of the money-supply system from feudal lords and thrived alongside manufacturers. Moreover, the guilds gained political power. Chaucer accurately portrays a time when the middle classes rose in social standing and the influence of merchants was acknowledged by the aristocracy. Thus, this serves as an accurate depiction of the poet’s era.

However, while depicting different aspects of society, the poet also observed and documented amusing occurrences. In the Prologue, the source of amusement stems from the difference between the ideal and reality, between what should be and what actually exists. The poet finds great amusement in highlighting these deviations, which bring laughter to others. Chaucer recognizes that humor is present because people possess both positive and negative qualities, with challenges arising from human frailties, especially in matters concerning religion.


paintings of pilgrims emphasize the religious aspect, with the exception of the good Parson, highlighting how each person deviates from societal expectations and norms. Amidst the laughter and mirth, it becomes apparent that religious fervor was diminishing and skepticism was emerging. The poet skillfully weaves realism into his tale of thirty or so pilgrims from different walks of life, in order to create a unified portrait gallery representing God's world, his own world, the world of the Port of London, and England itself.

In the Prologue, Chaucer highlights the comic aspect by selecting particular characters. While he does not exclude anyone, he specifically focuses on the ecclesiastical domain to demonstrate how it was influenced by other agendas during his era. The amusing quirks that deviate from normality provoke laughter, and this can be observed in the majority of the prominent characters recorded by Chaucer with enthusiasm.

Looking for irony, sarcasm, or satire in these situations is incorrect because the Prioress is a deeply religious and respectable woman. Typically, there is nothing comical about her. However, her religious calling contradicts her meticulousness when it comes to observing proper table manners with food. This fuss, combined with her efforts to imitate courtly manners and her special attention to her rosary adorned with gems, elicits laughter. The Benedictine monk has a passion for hunting and consistently emerges victorious in fights.

The Pardoner deceives people by stretching his neck like a dove to observe them, causing him pain. In contrast, the Friar is large and abundant like a whale but moves gracefully like a swan. Despite engaging in battles and causing death, the Knight is gentle

in his everyday life, resembling a maiden. The Squire, who is the Knight's son and an apprentice-knight, pays great attention to his appearance and style due to his intense infatuation. He stays awake throughout the night with passion similar to a nightingale.

His hair appeared pressed, indicating careful arrangement. The Yeoman is skilled in woodcraft. The Merchant carries himself with such elegance that his debt remains undisclosed. The Sergeant-at-Law keeps a busy facade, even if he isn't as occupied as he seems. The cook utilizes diverse ingredients in his dishes, yet he deviates from the cleanliness standard by having an ulcer on his shin and preparing a paste with other various ingredients.

The Shipman is highly skilled in his profession, but he has a propensity for wine theft. He often steals wine from the merchant whose goods he transports on his ship, even though the merchant himself is also on board. The Doctor of Physic is a successful medical practitioner who also possesses expertise in astrology. He relies on astrology to determine the optimal timing for administering medicine. The Wife of Bath desires to be given priority over everyone and everything in the church when it comes to offerings and prayers. On Sundays, she wears a head-gear that undoubtedly weighs ten pounds.

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