Description of the Prioress

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Description of the Prioress from The Canterbury Tales

She is described in very precise, almost photographic detail. Chaucer, in fact, starts by stating her name, Madam Eglantine, her social position, she is a Prioress, and her cultural background. Her education is adequate, but not the best, since she studied French at Stratford-atte-Bowe, a monastery near London and, as a consequence, her accent was far from perfect. Then he describes the first impressions she makes: her way of smiling was “simple and coy”, adjectives that, in medieval literature, were conventionally addressed to a woman (a mistress) by her lover, but here the woman is a nun. Her singing voice was seemly and she knew the rules of etiquette. To evidence this, the speaker adds some information about her behaviour at table, underlining how she never let any morsel fall from her lips, never dipped her fingers in the sauce, how she could keep the smallest drop from falling on her breast, how she would wipe her upper lip very clean and how calmly she reached a hand for the meat. Finally, he completes the portrait by describing her physical features and clothes: her nose was elegant, her eyes were glass-grey, her mouth was very small but soft and red, her forehead was broad and she was quite tall. On the pilgrimage she was wearing a veil and a cloak and around her arm she carried a coral rosary that looked like a bracelet. The description of her clothes suggests that she was not indifferent to the fashion of his time. She actually broke monastic rules, which required nuns to cover their foreheads and the sides of their faces with a veil. As a nun, she should have covered her forehead with a veil, instead she showed a very broad forehead. Also the rest of her attire seems to be more suitable to a worldly lady than to a nun. In fact her veil was gathered in a fashionable way, her cloak had a graceful charm and from her rosary hung a golden brooch with a sentence in Latin,...
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