Chaucer's Characters as More than Photo Fits but as Real Life Portraits

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Chaucer's Characters as More than Photo Fits but as Real Life Portraits

Throughout the course of this essay I am going to discuss the extent
to which I believe that “Chaucer’s characters are more than photo fits
they are real life portraits.” I feel that this seems to be a very
accurate view to The Canterbury Tales. I can not however tell that the
characters are not just created by Chaucer’s imagination because I
have not read enough from that time period to tell whether or not
everybody in that era was writing with the same amount of detail to
their characters and their attitudes. This would have given me a
better perspective on Chaucer’s work and I would have seen whether it
was in keeping with the norm which would have helped me to intensify
my argument.

The description that Chaucer uses throughout the general prologue is
incredibly detailed and draws attention to even the smallest and
subtle physical aspects of his characters. These can also hint at what
the person may be like as he wants the reader to judge by physical
appearance first so that they get an image of the character before
they speak. One such time is where he is describing the Wife of Bath
and says “Gat-toothed was she.” This minute detail is very personal
and some people may feel that Chaucer would have only written this if
he had actually viewed someone with this physical attribute. It may
also be indicative of her immoral attitude. We can tell that she is
not to be trusted completely because she claims to have been married
five times and as divorce is not an option because of the time period
in which it is set. This leaves only bigamy on her part or all of the
previous husbands having died. This raises questions as to whether she
married rich powerful men or not. This may have given her a motive to
kill them. She also claims to have great experience in the ways of the
heart, having a remedy for whatever might ail it.

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She had a different
viewpoint to marriage than was expected of women at the time. Another
interesting aspect of her is:

“Of clooth-making she hadde swich an haunt

She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.”

I feel this because it shows that she is one of the finest cloth
makers of the time which means she has a lot of skill. This can be
interpreted in two ways. Firstly it may just mean that she is a rather
gifted woman or secondly and probably more likely is the fact that she
has a lot of skills in other aspects of her life more specifically the
bedroom.

These things may all be based on different people that Chaucer has
observed while writing his novel and he decided to incorporate them so
as to make his characters seem more real. During Chaucer’s time women
like this would have been accepted into polite society if they had a
lot of money and were able to “buy there way in.” Those in polite
society would have been few and far between. Hence it is more likely
that Chaucer observed this kind of behavior among the illiterate and
lower classes. These types of people would have been great to observe
to give him basis for his character.

The Miller is described in very intricate detail by Chaucer as he even
goes into such detail as to say:

“Upon the cop right of his nose he hade

A werte, and theron stood a tuft of heris”

This is such a personal and distinguishing characteristic that it can
only have been through observation that he came upon this. It is also
hard to envisage someone going to all this trouble and attention to
detail for a Character that they have just made up.

The fact that he has a wart on his nose makes him seem an ugly person
and this is reflected in his personality and the type of story he is
likely to tell. He also has a mouth which is described as a “ greet
forneys.” This is to indicate that he is a bit of a gossip and full of
hot air. It may also be indicative of the hellish language that he
uses as a fire is used to heat a furnace and hell is linked to fire.
This type of person would have probably been around quite a bit in
Chaucer’s time in the taverns and inns. He may have seen a few going
home in the early hours of the morning and heard them telling rude
jokes ad stories at the top of their voices. This would have given him
the perfect frame for the Miller as most would have been big burley
men. The fact he is described as being so ugly may be partly the view
that Chaucer has about millers in general and also based on those
people that would have been lying drunken in the street. The Miller
has a “thombe of gold” which makes sense as there would only have been
one miller to each village which would mean they could charge what
they liked for the flour they made because the people would be highly
unlikely and unwilling to go to another village in order to try and
get a cheaper price. This therefore makes him seem more realistic and
less imagined because Chaucer may have been talking about the one in
London and using ugly features of others to make the miller appear
ugly. He could have done this as a way of partial revenge to the
miller for charging so much.

The pardoner is described in the most grotesque fashion of all three
characters. He has “heer as yelow as wex.” This is a particularly
nasty way of describing someone that it makes the reader really able
to envisage what it looks like. Therefore Chaucer must have based this
on somebody that he had seen because otherwise he would not thought to
have used such an unusual simile. Chaucer goes on to say “I trowe he
were a gelding or a mare.” This is possibly one of the greatest
insults in the English language and hence supports the view that he
based his characters on real people. Chaucer clearly dislikes the
Pardoner otherwise he would not have written about him in such a
manner. Chaucer uses irony to describe him because the Pardoner is
carrying around fake relics and selling them to poor priests for a
month’s wages. This is against everything that the church and bible
stand for. In my opinion Chaucer was using this as a metaphor for his
views on the religious system. This is because most of the church at
that time had at least a few corrupt members and this was mainly true
of the ministers at Rome. Nearer the end of his description Chaucer is
seemingly in awe of the pardoner at how well he is able to tell
stories and sing. This is because he finds it so amazing that such a
dishonest man can stand in a church and praise god and sell pardons
which are essentially sinful in themselves as no one has the power to
forgive except for God. This type of person may very well have been
met by Chaucer at some point in his life and his utter disgust at the
man stayed with him forever. This would undoubtedly influenced his
decision as to make the pardoner the most disgusting and unscrupulous
members of the pilgrimage.

In conclusion I believe that Chaucer based his characters on real
people as the descriptions are in such depth that it is hard to think
he could have just made them up. On the other hand as a Fiction writer
he has to be very creative and would want his audience to believe the
characters as much as possible. I am of the opinion that no one can
imagine something completely new that they have never seen before or
at least something close to it in nature or appearance. Therefore even
if his attentions were to create complete characters of fiction
subconsciously he would have based them on people that he may have
seen walking past him in the street. This is unlikely as I feel he
would have closely observed different groups and their attitudes very
closely in order to get the right appearance and personality that he
wanted for his characters.


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