The pilgrims include a knight, his son a squire, the knight's yeoman, a prioress accompanied by a second nun and the nun's priest, a monk, a friar, a merchant, a clerk, a sergeant of law, a franklin, a haberdasher, a carpenter, a weaver, a dyer, a tapestry weaver, a cook, a shipman, a doctor of physic, a wife of Bath, a parson, his brother a plowman, a miller, a manciple, a reeve, a summoner, a pardoner, the host, and a portrait of Chaucer himself. The order the pilgrims are introduced places them in a social order, describing the nobility in front, the craftsmen in the middle, and the peasants at the end. A canon and his yeoman later join the pilgrimage and tell one of the tales.
After a classically poetic, highly amorous introduction, which describes the renewed reproductive energy of spring after a long winter, Chaucer introduces the first pilgrim, the "perfect, gentle knight". This crusader had traveled the length of Europe to the borders of Asia Minor defending his religion. The highest ranked of all the pilgrims, he is followed by portraits of the members of his retinue. His son, the squire, "loved hotly", and has pressed curls in his hair. He is the personification of the springtime vigour and sexual energy Chaucer embraces in his introduction, and it is this energy that he seeks to highlight even in his less attractive pilgrims.
There follow short descriptions of many of the other pilgrims containing details on how they are dressed, the horses they ride and frequent sly digs at their personalities. Some of the people in the prologue have descriptions but no tale assigned to them – the knight's yeoman, the haberdasher, the carpenter, the weaver, the dyer, the tapestry-weaver, the plowman, and the host – whereas characters such as the second nun are never described. Directly after mention of the second nun, Chaucer says "and preestes thre", but this conflicts with line 24 which says that twenty-nine pilgrims set out and there is only one nun's priest. It is assumed Chaucer intended to include a short portrait of the second nun and the priest in a later amendment.
The collection of portraits of the characters is one of the distinguishing parts of the Tales, as they have far more life and depth than most other characters in literature at this time. Not only does Chaucer describe the pilgrims' clothing, he also puts in details about their physiognomy, a familiar short-cut for medieval people in understanding a character. Appearance was linked to the balance of the four humours within a person, so the Reeve's choleric humour is shown in his tall, slender nature and suggests his likelihood to be quarrelsome.
Chaucer's satirical asides directed at these people are more muted than was typical in contemporary stories. Similar characters at that time were often savagely attacked by their narrators, leaving them little more than a cipher. When Chaucer does attack his characters it is usually by one of the other protagonists in between the tales, and frequently with not quite the obvious clichés. Only Hubert the Friar and Eglentyne the Prioress are given names during the prologue, though others are named later.
Chaucer and Clothing: Clerical and Academic Costume in the General Prologue to the 'Canterbury Tales.'.(Book review)
Jul 01, 2007; Chaucer and Clothing: Clerical and Academic Costume in the General Prologue to the 'Canterbury Tales.' By LAURA F. HODGES....
David Wallace. Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy.(ITALIAN BOOKSHELF)(Book review)
Jan 01, 1998; David Wallace. Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy. Stanford: UP, 1997. Pp. xix +...