Character Satire in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Topics: The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue, The Knight's Tale Pages: 6 (2315 words) Published: December 6, 2005
Satire of the Knight in Prologue and Knight's Tale

Satire. Satire is a biting literary tool, one that Geoffery Chaucer used liberally when he wrote his Canterbury Tales. Webster's New World Dictionary says that satire is "the use of ridicule, sarcasm, etc. to attack vices, follies, etc." Using that definition, I think that all of the pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales are satirized to some extent; some of the satirizations are more subtle than others. The Knight is one of the pilgrims that is more subtly satirized.

Chaucer satirizes knights and chivalry in two different ways: in the prologue and in the Knight's Tale. The first way in the prologue is with the pilgrim Knight's character. Chaucer wanted to present a realistic knight, but he also wanted to give the Knight some very real, and obvious flaws, as a sort of social commentary on the way that knight's were perceived in the 14th century. To that end, he gave the Knight some qualities that could be termed as the antithesis of the qualities that a good and honorable knight should have. The second way I see Chaucer as satirizing chivalry is through the Knight's Tale. The Knight's Tale presents the "ideal" knights. They follow the codes of chivalry. They follow the graces of courtly love. They have duels. Have battle honorably. And, they also make fools of themselves on more than one occasion. Palamon and Arcita are so perfect, that they become parodies of the perfect knights. And, in the end of the tale, everyone ends up somewhat unhappy, and there is no clear winner. By writing this parody, Chaucer is trying to convey the idea that a lot of the ideals of chivalry are a bit silly. And, as all of the different tales reflect back on the characters of the pilgrims who tell them, the ideas in the Knight's Tale can be reflected back on the Knight.

In the article "Costume Rhetoric in the Knight's Portrait: Chaucer's Every-Knight and his Bismotered Gyphon," by Laura F. Hodges, featured in April 1995 edition of The Chaucer Review, Hodges examines the reasons behind Chaucer's decisions on the clothing of his Knight. After examining the introduction of the Knight's character in the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales, Ms. Hodges said that Chaucer intended his Knight to be the one true to life portrait of a knight of the 14th century-an every knight of sorts. She also concluded that Chaucer wanted to go against the normal chivalric ideal of a knight by presenting a knight as he really might have been: a basically good person, but with imperfections. I disagree with Hodges about Chaucer's intentions when characterizing the knight. I don't think the knight was meant to be a true to life portrait of "the every knight".

I think that the reason Hodges and I disagree has to do with the scope of our examination. Hodges was mostly examining the Knight's clothing, with only references to the rest of the Knight's description in the prologue, and only briefly mentions the Knight's Tale. I am looking at the Knight in a more general sense, and looking at clues in the entire description and the tale.

One of the generalizations Hodges makes is that Chaucer's Knight is not romantically ideal. On this point, we definitely agree. There haven't been many changes in peoples' conceptions of the "ideal knight" since the 14th century. The "ideal knight" is the one out of fairy tales and story books, with the gleaming armor on a pristine white horse, riding to save the princess, and slaying numerous foes simply because his heart is pure. Also, the perfect knight was always clean, courteous and honorable without fault. Chaucer's Knight is definitely not the ideal. He may be courteous, but he isn't clean, as evidenced by the dirtiness of his clothing. And, he certainly isn't honorable without fault.

I think that honor is the main point that needs to be addressed when talking about the Knight. Honor...
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