The Prioress: a Character Analysis

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The Prioress: a Character Analysis

By | March 2008
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Geoffrey Chaucer was a learned poet remarkably ahead of his time. In breaching the fragile boundaries of society, he was able to create authentic characters whose traits and appearances portrayed more of life's aspects than ever before. From a piece of his unfinished work, The Canterbury Tales: The Prologue, he molds for the reader a figure of significant importance during an age ruled by Christianity. The religious devotion expected of a church official and temptations of a secular life meld to create the Prioress.

As second in command at the Westminster Abbey, the Prioress' character would naturally create a sense of unmatched devotion to God in the reader's mind. A woman described as "Madam Eglantyne" (line 125), "dignified in all her dealings" (line 145), and "so charitably solicitous" (line 147) exemplifies her reverence for the Almighty. Compared to her other descriptions however, these religious connotations are observed minimally. Chaucer relies on the colloquialisms of society to develop her religious characteristics and focuses instead on the atypical aspects of her life; traits of a vain woman desperate for attention.

Characteristics such as the Prioress' "coy" smile, and cloak with "a graceful charm" (line 161), were by no means accidental. They make evident the fact that she goes out of her way to be noticed. Such attributes are generally avoided when depicting a woman of the Cloth. Collectively though, these descriptions along with her sedative manners and "courtly kind of grace" (line 143) express her fears of living life alone. She desires a sense of attraction that her position as Prioress cannot afford her, yet she finds it impossibly difficult to seclude herself from worldly temptations.

Her secular desires however, do not end with a longing for attention. Her "coral trinket" (line 162) and "golden brooch of brightest sheen/On which there first was graven a crowned A,/and lower, Amor vincit omnia" (lines 164-166), make...

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