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THE TALES: SUMMARIES/CHARACTERS AND NOTES
The General Prologue (continued)
The twenty-year-old Squire was the Knight’s son. With his fashionably curled locks he was a lusty bachelor and an aspirant to Knighthood. He was of average height and was wonderfully agile. He had conducted himself well in cavalry expeditions in the hope of gaining his lady’s favor. He was singing / playing his flute all day long. He wore a fashionable short gown with long wide sleeves. He could compose lyrics, joust, draw, dance, and ride elegantly. He was courteous, modest and helpful.
Chaucer tells the readers that the young Squire could ride and sing, joust, dance, draw and write poetry. These references to simple everyday activities and the special qualifications required by the profession, enables Chaucer to paint a realistic portrait of the pilgrim
The Squire’s curled locks and fashionably short gown embroidered with white and red flowers are appropriate for his role as a figure of romantic chivalry, and provide a stark contrast to the more serious religious aspects of chivalry represented by his father, the Knight.
The Yeoman was the only servant brought along by the Knight. He was dressed in a green coat and hood and carried a sheaf of bright and sharp peacock arrows under his belt. He carried a large bow in his hand. His hair was closely cropped and his face was tanned. He carried a sword, a shield and a bright dagger. He wore a St. Christopher medallion on his beautiful breast of silver. He had thorough knowledge about forestry and woodcraft and carried a hunting horn.
The detailed description about the tools and equipment carried by the Yeoman serves to fortify Chaucer’s assertion about the Yeoman’s mastery in woodcraft. It should be noted that the Yeoman not only carries a bow, sword and buckler which would indicate that he is on military service, but also a hunting horn which implies that he is a forester.
There was also a nun; a Prioress named Madame Eglantine (Sweetbrier) among the Canterbury pilgrims. She was very demure and her oath was, " by Sainte Loy". She sang the divine service with a pleasant nasal intonation. She spoke French fluently in the manner of the school of Stratford at Bow since she didn’t know Parisian French. She had excellent table manners and didn’t allow any morsel to fall from her lips nor wet her fingers deep in her sauce. She wiped her upper lip so clearly that no trace of grease was left on her cup after she had finished her drink. She had a good disposition and a pleasant and amiable bearing. She strove to imitate courtly manners and to be dignified in her manner. She was so charitable and full of pity that she would weep if she saw a mouse caught in a trap. She fed her 3 small dogs with roasted meat, or milk and fine bread. She was very sensitive and had a tender and affectionate heart. Her wimple was elegantly pleated. She had a broad forehead, straight nose, gray nose and soft small red lips. She wore a golden brooch with the inscription "Amor vincit omnia".
Chaucer has drawn an exquisite portrait of the Prioress. He presents a lady who is utterly charming and elegant. The reader is told that the Prioress is simple and coy when she smiles. She has a broad forehead and sings the divine service with a pleasant nasal intonation. She is obviously a lady who has not forgotten her past of refinement and fine living. Her strongest oath is by St. Loy which implies that she hardly swears at all. Her tender heart overflows with pity when she sees dead or bleeding mice caught in a trap. She is fond of animals and feeds her dogs with meat and expensive fine bread. She is also vain about her personal appearance and exposes too much of her broad forehead. Her love of jewelry is evident from the rosary and the elegant gold brooch with the ambiguous motto ‘Amor vincit omnia’ (love conquers all). This type of love could imply both spiritual as well as human love. Since she is a nun it should rather have read ‘Amor Dei’ (love of God). The Prioress’s affectations and her straight nose, gray eyes, and tender sensibility associate her with an elegant society lady rather than a nun. Thus Chaucer fills his portrait of the Prioress with subtle irony by praising her especially for her faults.