In the description of the Prioress found in the prologue of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer depicts this woman as one who would appear to on-lookers as being mannerly, becoming, and pleasant. The phrase where Chaucer wrote “She was a great delight, and always tried, To imitate court ways, and had her pride” would indicate that not only did the Prioress place a great deal of importance on her outward appearance but that she also took pride in it as well. (1, 1174) This might lead the reader to consider that Chaucer is creating a possibility within the prologue that the Prioress might practice er religion in a hypocritical fashion.
The tale of the Prioress begins with her praying in such an outlandish manner that it also leaves the indication of being for show rather than for true devoted worship and praise directed to God. (2, 186-187) From the inscription “All things are subject to love” found upon her brooch to her sympathetic feelings concerning the lowliest of creatures, Chaucer defines the Prioress inwardly as one who based the true measure of Christianity upon love and good deeds done to others in need.
An emphasis is made in the prologue concerning the fact that the Prioress is nly mentioned to hold tender, compassionate feelings for defenseless creatures. “As for charity and tender feelings, She melted at whatever was piteous. ” Therefore, it could be concluded that while the Prioress is concerned with helpless creatures, she has little or no concern for those in society who would be her equals. (Chaucer 1, 1174) However, it is possible that by her actions and words the Prioress is still trying to display her great compassion towards those lower than her and thus is doing it for self-glory and satisfaction.
Chaucer in some ways leaves the reader to make the final judgment concerning the intent of the Prioress. Throughout his description and the tale it can be inferred that Chaucer felt it was important for one who professed Christianity to not only worship in deed but also in heart as well. Despite any possible dispute about whether or not the Prioress is inspired to good deeds out of pride or out of pure intent of the heart, the story she tells reinstates the concept of “All things are subject to love” and the idea that she is sympathetic to lowly creatures.
Chaucer begins by using a child who lives with only his widow mother and attends a nearby Catholic school as the main character. Like the animals the Prioress feels pity for n the prologue, this boy also probably would be considered a “lowly creature. ” In the prologue Chaucer wrote ” She would weep if she but came upon a mouse Caught in a trap, if it were dead and bleeding. ” (1, 1174) This scenario is used somewhat as a story line for the tale because the boy is used as the sympathetic character who dies unjustly.
This poor boy was very devoted to his faith and always eager to learn more about God so that he could worship him better. However, he was persecuted and eventually killed by some Jews who hated him for his religion because they considered it to be in opposition to the Jewish religion. In some ways Chaucer presented forth a concept that even though the Jews felt in their hearts that they were religious and “in tune” with God, they had no happiness and no true qualities that would indicate a real relationship with their Maker.
On the other hand, the boy was very humble in every way, truly sought to worship his God and found happiness in praising God with a devoted heart and voice in life and in death. It is obvious throughout the descriptions of the various characters as well as the tales found within The Canterbury Tales that Chaucer wants to show how individuals involved in the church were often overcome by the appearance f religion rather than the existence of true religious devotion.
From a “glance”, the Prioress is shown to be quite perfected in all her ways and as a result prideful as well. At closer inspection, however, the Prioress is given deeper qualities through her compassion for lowly creatures. It is possible that through this compassion and feeling that she lives her life according to the inscription “All things are subject to love. ” Still, it is unclear to determine exactly whether or not the compassion she shows is out of pride to “show out for others” or if it indeed is inspired solely by love.