Chaucer’s Prologue Provides an Education for Its Readers and Audience. How Far Do You Agree?

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Chaucer’s prologue provides an education for its readers and audience. How far do you agree? Some may argue that in order for a text to be a success, it must provide its readers and audiences with an education, to allow for them to connect with a text. As Derek Pearsall comments ‘there is […] a constant feeling of the comic side of things, a moral instinct which escapes in irony’; this, when applied to Chaucer’s works, shows is the kind of education that we as readers will gain, and allows us to debate how other audiences may learn in terms of culture, context and emotional journeys we undergo with his characters. The General Prologue (TGP) presents us with ‘Of sondry folk, by adventure yfalle, In felaweshipe,’- society from all walks of life, to help us learn the social norms, regarding religion, materialism, language and morality as well as allowing us to make comparisons of his society to our own. The use of social satire allows us to be emotionally connected to the text in the form of comedy, whilst also forcing readers to look within our own society and, as modern readers who are often drawn to the psychoanalytical meanings of text, must examine how much, if at all, society has changed. The structure of TGP first teaches us about the way in which society is structured. By placing the characters in a hierarchical order with the thirty characters are in their society, we see that, firstly, society is uneven, and Ian Robinson notes that ‘Chaucer created the whole he saw’, by which he suggests that this collection of pilgrims is an apt representation of the society in which he lived. We are, to an extent, made to sympathise with Chaucer’s characters, for the satirical nature of Chaucer’s portraits, particularly in the form of positive hyperbole, such as ‘parfait’, or the ‘ful simple and coy’ Prioress. As an educated audience, we are able to distinguish between
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