Physiognomy is the belief that physical attributes, such as a large nose or a wide forehead, were directly related to a person’s character. This is no longer a matter that is studied, however, in Chaucer’s time this was prevalent. In “The Prologue” Chaucer introduces a wide variety of characters that belong to different social classes and through direct and indirect characterization, we learn physical and mental qualities. In today’s society, this study is no more, even though humans are always seeking to understand behavior. In Chaucer’s “Prologue” Physical qualities of a character are believed to be directly correlated to their personality; however, in modern society, this belief is no defunct.
To understand this concept with full capacity one most understand what Physiognomy rally is. Physiognomy is the “art of judging human character from facial features” This refers only to the face. Besides Chaucer’s time, ancient Chinese also looked into this art. It is very controversial, but even universities taught this as science. Modern science suggests that all of this is false. Chaucer uses this “art” to help paint a portrait of his characters.
Chaucer used Physiognomy to describe his characters. The nun that he describes is over sweet and shy, though she is very interested in courtly life. The description given to her was, “Her nose was elegant, her eyes glam grey.” (156) The grey eyes suggest confidence, but also conformation. The nun likes to fit in and go with the status quo. “Her mouth was very small, but soft and red” (157_ Her red lips suggest she is emotional. Chaucer displays this in her tenderness for animals. “Her forehead certainly, was fair of spread.” (158) This also suggest she has some ability towards rational thought. Chaucer describes the woman from bath as arrogant, outspoken, and married several times. “She had gap-teeth” (478) the gap teeth symbolize prosperity and wealth. He explained the Summoner as gross looking, but kind hearted....
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