Chaucer's Irony The Canterbury Tales
Chaucer's Irony - The Canterbury Tales
Irony is a vitally important part of The Canterbury Tales, and
Chaucer's ingenious use of this literary device does a lot to provide
this book with the classic status it enjoys even today. Chaucer has
mastered the techniques required to skilfully put his points across
and subtle irony and satire is particularly effective in making a
point. The Canterbury Tales are well-known as an attack on the Church
and its rôle in fourteenth century society. With the ambiguity
introduced by the naïve and ignorant "Chaucer the pilgrim", the writer
is able to make ironic attacks on characters and what they represent
from a whole new angle. The differences in opinion of Chaucer the
pilgrim and Chaucer the writer are much more than nuances - the two
personas are very often diametrically opposed so as to cause effectual
In the Friar's portrait, he is delineated and depicted by riddles of
contradictory qualities. Chaucer expertly uses ironic naiveté to
highlight the Friar's lack of moral guilt. When the reader is told
that the Friar, "knew the taverns wel in every toun" (l. 240), we can
take it to mean that he spends very much time drinking, flirting and
socialising in pubs. The Friar is superseded to be a holy man, but we
see that he knew the landlords and barmaids much better than the
people he has meant to be consoling, praying for and helping out of
the vicious circle of poverty. Chaucer the pilgrim explains how
impressive the Friar's generous charity is and has respect for the way
he marries off young girls with suitable husbands and pays for the
ceremony. However, he neglects to mention that the only reason the
Friar does this is because he has illegitimately gotten them pregnant
in clandestine, despite claiming to be celibate. When Chaucer the
pilgrim tells us "famulier was he...with worthy wommen of the toun"
(ll. 215, 7), we can be fairly certain that these women were far from
worthy - in fact, they were more than likely to be practising
prostitutes. The word "worthy" is used again in line 243 to describe
the Friar. For any reader of The Canterbury Tales, the veil concealing
the irony of the use of this word throughout the book is very thin
indeed. Similarly, the Friar is called "virtuous" (l. 251) when he is
clearly not. Chaucer hits the nail on the head by following that with
"he was the beste beggere in his hous" (l. 252) - this insinuates that
instead of helping beggars with munificence, the Friar is accustomed
to getting money out of people by unscrupulous methods. By saying
"plesaunt was his absolution" (l. 223) he implies that the Friar would
disregard sins and readily absolve people for very little penance,
should they be willing to make a substantial donation. Chaucer the
pilgrim praises the Friar for not wearing threadbare robes and,
instead, says he dresses elegantly; "dighted lyk a maister or a pope"
(l. 263). However, while Chaucer...
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