The Prioresse's Irony In "The Canterbury Tales"

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In his work “The Canterbury Tales”, Geoffrey Chaucer took great care to have the narrator describe each of the pilgrims in much detail. One of these pilgrims was a Prioresse, Madame Eglantine. Just as with the others, the narrator observed her and displayed a portrait of her in the General Prologue. However, in addition to describing the Prioress, the General Prologue’s description of her also includes some irony. Madame Eglantine is a Prioress, which is another name for the head nun of a convent. Since readers are told that she is a nun, we know that she is of the church, or clergy estate. This class was higher than the commoners but lower than the royal nobility. However, if we look closer at the details given by the narrator, we see that although we are told she is of the clergy, she actually shows signs of being from another class. Madame Eglantine was well-educated, which was uncommon in those times, except in the noble. She learned French at the Stratford at the Brow school (line 125). She ate and acted very proper and dainty. She took great care to ensure that no food was strewn (lines 128-38). In addition, she fed her pet dogs fancy food, including fine white bread, which was nicer than what some people had to eat (lines 146-7). Although we are told that she was of the church, there are many details in the General Prologue that lead we readers to believe that she actually had roots in the nobility. After reading the description of Madame Eglantine, the Prioresse, it’s easy to see that she is a nun, who has some noble characteristics. However, there is much more to be interpreted from the story. One example of the irony of her character is the fact that she is now a nun. The fact that she shows so many characteristics of being of the noble class leads us to believe that she was once a member of that class. She was most likely of royal birth

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