In the Prologue to the Caterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer is almost always politeand respectful when he points out the foibles and weaknesses of people. He isable to do this by using genial satire, which is basically having a pleasant orfriendly disposition while ridiculing human vices and follies.
Chaucer alsofinds characteristics in the pilgrims that he admires. This is evident in thepeaceful way he describes their attributes. The Nun is one of the pilgrims inwhich Chaucer uses genial satire to describe. He defines her as a woman who is,”Pleasant and friendly in her ways, and straining/ To counterfeit a courtlykind of grace” ( l. l. 136-137).
Instead of bluntly saying she is of the lowerclass and trying unsuccessfully to impersonate a member of the upper classChaucer suggests it gentle, therefore the reader must be attentive to pick up onit. He also pokes fun at the Nuns impersonated French accent when he saysthat she spoke: with a fine Intoning through her nose, as was most seemly, Andshe spoke daintily in French, extremely, After the school of Stratford-atte-Bowe;French in the Paris style she did not know. (l. l.Order now
120-124) Chaucer finds theNuns speech amusing but he carefully chooses his words so as not to bedisrespectful. Chaucer also uses genial satire when illustrating the Nunssize; “She was indeed by no means undergrown” (l. 154). He puts the factthat she is fat in a polite way because he finds the Nun “very entertaining”(l. 135) and thus doesnt speak ill of her even though there is much ill to besaid.
Instead he uses genial satire to describe the Nun so that he may remaincourteous and respectful. Chaucer finds the Monk less amusing and more repulsivethan the Nun but none the less he describes him in a polite manner so that thereader must pay attention in order to fully realize the Monks faults. The mainproblem that Chaucer has with the Monk is that he shows very little religiousdevotion. The Monk frequently engages in activities opposite in nature to thatwhich is expected from a man of his position: He did not rate that text at aplucked hen Which says that hunter are not holy men And that a monk uncloisteredis a mere Fish out of water, flapping on the pier, That is to say a monk out ofhis cloister.
That was a text he held not worth an oyster; And I agreed and saidhis views were sound; Was he to study till his head went round Poring over booksin cloisters? (l. l. 175-183) A monk is expected to show his religious devotionby following the text of the bible as best he can, stay in his cloister andstudy constantly. This monk however does not follow the text as he hunts, is outof his cloister and has never been seen studying. Chaucer could be have beenvery straight forward and critical of the Monks poor choices but instead he usesgenial satire to show the Monks faults without disgracing himself. Chaucer evenjokes at the end of the above quote when he agrees with the Monk and says,”Was he to study till his head went round”, of course he was he is a monk(l.
182). Chaucer uses genial satire in a slightly different way when describingthe Oxford Cleric. Instead of forming a clear impression in the readers mind astoo whether or not the Oxford Cleric is a good man he simply tells it as it isthus leaving the reader to determine it for themselves based on their ownvalues. Chaucer describes the Oxford Cleric as a man whos: horse was thinnerthan a rake, And he was not too fat, I undertake, But had a hollow look, a soberstare; The thread upon his overcoat was bare.
(l. l. 291-294). This is a politeway of saying that the Oxford Cleric not only neglected his own health andpersonal appearance but also the health of his horse as they were both extremelyskinny and his clothes consisted of bare threads.
He neglected his and hishorses heath because he spent all his money and some of his friends money onbooks, which Chaucer also pokes fun at using genial satire: By his bed Hepreferred having twenty books in red And black, of Aristotles philosophy, Tohaving fine clothes, fiddle or psaltery. .