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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

The Plowman

The Plowman is the Parsonís brother and another idealized portrait. Chaucer emphasizes the Plowmanís industriousness by stating that he is a good and true laborer. The Plowman lives in peace and perfect charity and willingly helps out his neighbors. He would thresh, carry dung, dig, and make ditches to help a poor neighbor. He loves God with all his heart and promptly pays his tithes to the Church. Chaucer here negates the commonly held perception of the peasantís supposed hatred of the church. The Plowman not only loves God but also pays his tithes without any grudges. Chaucerís Plowman follows Christís both commandments: to love God and to love oneís neighbor as oneís self. The Plowman rides an inferior mare and is humbly dressed in a laborerís coat. Many feel that Chaucerís Plowman is modeled on the allegorical ploughman of Langlandís poem, Piers Plowman, who always serves Truth. Chaucer has portrayed the humble Plowman sympathetically and admires his pride in his calling and true Christianity.

The Miller

The Miller, named Robin, is a stereotypical representation of a dishonest man. He is a rich villager whose prime concern is the augmentation of his own profits. Professor Curry has provided a scientific explanation of the Millerís character based on Aristotle, Rhazes, and the Secreta Secretorum. His physical characteristics are a reflection of his personality and temperament. His broad-shouldered, stocky built, his huge plump face with luxuriant red beard, and squat nose with an ugly black wart on top --- is symptomatic of his shameless, loquacious, quarrelsome, deceitful and lecherous character. Chaucer states that the Miller is quite an expert in stealing grain and charging thrice the amount and yet has a golden thumb. Chaucer uses the common saying, "An honest miller hath a golden thumb" as a pun, to ironically suggest that this Millerís golden thumb only serves to increase his own profits. The Miller is very strong and can heave the strongest door off its hinges by battering it with his head. He comes across as a repulsive buffoon who likes to joke about sin and scurrilous tales. He plays the bagpipe very well, and leads the company of pilgrims out of the town, to its soulful music.


The Manciple

A Manciple is an attendant who purchases provisions for a college, an inn of court, or the like. Chaucerís Manciple serves the lawyers and students at the temple that is the Inner or Middle Temple near the Strand. The Manciple is as dishonest as the Miller and always makes a profit on his purchases. Chaucer ironically praises his financial wisdom that enables him to hoodwink his masters comprising of the best-learned lawyers in the country. Chaucer has drawn a satiric portrait of the Mancipleís professional malpractice.

The Reeve

Chaucerís Reeve named Oswald is a slender choleric man. Professor Curry has scientifically interpreted the Reeveís physical attributes. There is a traditional connection between choleric temperament and thinness. Further a choleric man always has thin pipe like legs which indicates a lecherous character. Chaucerís Reeve is also close shaven that is an indication of his inferior position in the social hierarchy. The Reeve occupies a position between that of the steward or seneschal and a bailiff. He was a carpenter in his youth. Oswald is a typical presentation of a deceitful Reeve. He has managed his lordís account since his lord was twenty years old and cheats him to fill his own coffers. Moreover he also knows all the secrets of the bailiffs and laborers and blackmails them. He is thus feared by all and nobody dares to expose him. He is richer than his lord and often lends him his own money. This treacherous Reeve lives in a pleasant house upon a heath, shadowed by green trees. The Reeve rides a farm horse named Scot and wears a long coat tucked in like a friarís. Throughout his portrayal of the Reeve, Chaucer highlights his deceitful malicious and reprehensible character.

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