Analyzing Symbols and Symbolism in the Canterbury Tales
In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer uses his exemplary writing skills to employ a multitude of symbols and symbolic imagery to exercise his points. He uses symbols and symbolic imagery in many different ways and sometimes they are difficult to identify. Symbols were a large part of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and they become very evident when reading the text with this theory in mind. When reading the Prioress' Tale, Chaucer's symbolism becomes evident when we learn of her name, Madame Eglentyne. Her last name is also a name for a sweet briar rose, an eglantine rose. This can signify many things. The name has traditionally been a name for heroines of medieval romances (1). The Prioress seems to be the mortal parallel to the Virgin Mary. So, the fact that her name is a symbol for a rose, it is not wrong to assume that Chaucer meant for the reader to interpret this the way I have here. But, it is also important to note that this could be interpreted another way. The rose with thorns placed on Christ's head while being crucified was said to be the eglantine plant. So with this in mind, the reader has to decide weather the Prioress is named for a heroine of romance or for the Blessed Virgin in terms of the rest of her portrait painted by Chaucer (1). I am not entirely sure which Prioress Chaucer wanted us to choose, I believe that he intended that the name be equivocal. I believe that Chaucer was playing on the fact that he knows his readers will make a choice, regardless, and our tendency to do this was his motivation for not explicitly clarifying who, exactly, we should believe the Prioress to be. This to me seems true throughout the Canterbury Tales, as Chaucer lets the reader make opinions of his characters. An interesting passage I found in the Parson's Tale was a passage on pride, a symbol found often during the course of the Tales. Here the Parson...
Bibliography: 1. Herman, John P, Burke, John J. Jr. Signs and Symbols in Chaucer 's Poetry. (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1981)
2. Chaucer, Geoffrey. Benson, Larry D. The Riverside Chaucer. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987)
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