In Geoffrey Chaucers work, The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer implements various techniques of characterization in The Prologue to express attributes of characters in the work. Chaucer reveals the personality of a character by directly commenting on a characters past experiences, interests, actions, and personality. In addition, Chaucer characterizes the pilgrims to provide a perspective of the ecclesiastic, feudal, and middle classes during the medieval period.
In fact, Chaucer uses characterization to depict the Knight as a chivalrous man, the Squire as a young man overly concerned with women, and the Monk as a corrupt member of the ecclesiastical class. Certainly, one of Chaucers most famous characters is the Knight because of his strong belief in chivalry. Chaucer describes the Knight as an undeniable gentlemen: There was a Knight, a most distinguished man / Who from the day on which he first began / To ride abroad had followed chivalry, truth, honour, generousness and courtesy (Chaucer 4).
Unlike other pilgrims, the Knight is the most honorable person on the trip because he places an exceedingly high value on the ideals of chivalry. Chaucer also provides past experiences of the Knight to further characterize the Knight: In fifteen mortal battles he had been / And jousted for our faith at Tramissene / Thrice in the lists, and always killed his man(Chaucer 4). Through Chaucers description of the Knights accomplishments during the crusades, the reader sees the Knight as a true warrior, and a man of principles by his contributions to the military.
Unlike many of the other characters in The Canterbury Tales the Knight perfectly personifies chivalry in the medieval age by being a gentleman and a warrior. Dissimilar to the Knight, the Squire does not demonstrate characteristics of a veritable knight like his father because of his strong interest in women. Specifically, Chaucers comment about the Squires past experiences: He loved so hotly that till dawn grew pale (Chaucer 5). Through Chaucer illustrating the Squires past experiences, Chaucer provides the reader with the impression of the Squires sexuality.
Furthermore, Chaucer characterizes the Squire through his personality: A lover and cadet, a lad of fire (Chaucer 5). Chaucers technique of using personality to describe the Squire provides the reader with a clearer image of the Squire as a young man interested in women, and in pursuit of knighthood in his future. In addition, Chaucer also provides a physical description of the Squire to further characterize him: In stature he was moderate of length / With wonderful agility and strength (Chaucer 5).
Through Chaucers techniques of characterization, the reader acquires a more detailed impression of the Squire. Unlike the Knight or Squire, and as most members of the ecclesiastic class, Chaucer characterizes the Monk as a corrupt member of the church. The Monk strays from the ways of religion by having worldly desires. Chaucer directly comments on the Monk: He let go of things of yesterday and took modern worlds spacious way (Chaucer 7). Through Chaucers comment about the Monk, the reader realizes the Monks lack of commitment to the church.
Also, Chaucer uses the Monks interest to further characterize him as a fraudulent member of the church, as Chaucer writes, Hunting a hare or riding at a fence / Was all his fun, he spared no expense (Chaucer 8). Chaucer provides the reader with an idea about the corruption involved in ecclesiastic class by commenting on the Monk, and by providing the Monks interests to the reader. Chaucers techniques of characterization provide the reader with a clear perspective of characters because of the use of multiple techniques in describing a single character.
Chaucer uses characterization to depict the characters in The Canterbury Tales in a way that represents medieval society. Also, Chaucers characterization of the pilgrims on the journey provides the reader with a description of the type of people in the ecclesiastic, feudal, and middle classes, how they live, and their beliefs. For example, the Knight is a very chivalrous man because of beliefs, compared to the Monk who does not believe in the ways of the church, therefore is a corrupt member of the church. Characterization helps develop plot, and helps the reader keep an interest in the work.