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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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REFERENCE

THE CRITICS

ON THE GENERAL PROLOGUE

To realize the exact extent of Chaucer's achievement in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, it is necessary to remember that the Middle Ages were not a time of portraits. It was a time of patterns, of allegories, of reducing the specific to the general and then drawing a moral from it.... What Chaucer was doing was entirely different.... He did not even set out to be entertaining. He merely set out to be accurate. Marchette Chute, Geoffrey Chaucer of England, 1958

Chaucer, like other debate narrators, takes no stand except in comic or ironic terms.... In all the tales, all human points of view have something to be said for them and something to be said against them. John Gardner, The Poetry of Chaucer, 1977

ON THE CHARACTERS

Chaucer's Knight is the personification of those [courtly] ideals, yet he is far more than the lay figure he would be were he that alone; like the other pilgrims taking this April journey to Canterbury, he is flesh and blood. He is one of those exceptional heroes who strive to live according to a great ideal yet who are at the same time understandably and understandingly human. Muriel Bowden, A Commentary on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, 1969


The next pilgrim was the Wife of Bath, that lusty realist beside whom only Falstaff and Sancho Panza are worthy to walk. It is not until the lady swings into action that her remarkable qualities become evident, but even the brief portrait in the Prologue makes it clear that here is no ordinary woman. Marchette Chute, Geoffrey Chaucer of England, 1958

Chaucer knows his heroine [Alison] from her plucked eyebrows to the laces on her shoes.... He calls her a pet and a doll and a piggie's eye, and records with delight that she was softer than sheep's wool and prettier than a pear tree in bloom. He is charmed with her... and considers her so "gay a popelote" that the reader forgets, under Chaucer's brilliant and affectionate guidance, that she is only a common little flirt of a kind that could be duplicated by the dozen in any town in any century. Marchette Chute, Geoffrey Chaucer of England, 1958

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