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CHAUCERS ART OF CHARACTERIZATION AND POETIC ART

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) is considered as the father of English poetry not only for his some
finest poetic works ut also for his gift of poetic art! Chaucer was the first notale creator of
characters in English literature! "s a poet and creator of literary characters# he had no pre$ious
models to follow in his portayal of characters! Chaucer created his own style of character portrayal!
%hough the characters in the Canterury %ales are descried $i$idly and often comically# it is not
necessarily true that these characters are therefore stereotypes of %he &iddle ages! %he comple'
image descriptions and the tales the characters tell help to direct the reader in finding a more
accurate and realistic picture of the pilgrims# ringing into (uestion the theory that Chaucer was )ust
see again! %he fact that there is one representati$e for each of the chief classes (under the higher
noility) would suggest that this work is an attempt to pro$ide a catalogue of characters from the
middle ages# and it can e assumed from this that this denotes a collection of stereotypes# although
this is not necessarily true!
%he format of %he Canterury %ales suggests a simplistic approach# a prologue and epilogue and in
etween a collection of tales# on the passageway of English poetry# Chaucer flourishes the fantastic
colours of his words and paints different characters of his age with minute oser$ation! *ndeed# he is
a great painter who paints not with colours ut with words!
+ndoutedly# he has,
The Seeing Eye, the retentive memory, the j!gment to "e#e$t %n! the %&i#ity to e'(on!)*
-is keen analysis of the minutest detail of his characters# their dresses# looks and manners enale
him to present his characters lifelike and not mere loodless astractions!
-is poetical piece# .%he /rologue to the Canterury %ales0 is a real picture gallery in which thirty
portraits are hanging on the wall with all of their details and peculiarities! 1ather it is a grand
procession with all the life and mo$ement# the colour and sound! *ndeed#

Hi" $h%r%$ter" re(re"ent Eng#i"h "o$iety, mor%##y %n! "o$i%##y, in the re%# %n! re$ogni+%&#e
ty(e"*)
"nd still more representati$e of humanity in general! 2o# the characters in Chaucer3s .%he /rologue0
are for all ages and for all lands!
Chaucer is the first great painter of character in English literature! *nfact# ne't to 2hakespeare he is
the greatest in this field! *n .%he /rologue to the Canterury %ales0 the thirty portraits traced y
Chaucer gi$e us an e'cellent idea of the society at that time! E'cept for royalty and aristocracy# on
one hand and the roers or out casts on the other# he has presented in rief practically the whole
English nation!
%he thirty pilgrims# including the host# elong to the most $aried professions! %he 4night and the
2(uire presents the warlike element of the society! %he learned and lieral $ocations are signified y
the &an of 5aw# the 6octor# the 7'ford Clerk and the /oet himself! %he &erchant and the 2hipman
stand for the higher commercial community while the 8ife of 9ath# an e'pert Cloth maker represents
the traders and manufacturers! "griculture is represented y the /loughman# the &iller and the
:ranklin!
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%he lower ser$ants like &anciple and the 1ee$e and the lower ser$ant like ;eoman and the Cook
represent the town and Country etween them! %he &onk from his monastery# the /rioress from her
con$ent# her attendant priests# the $illage /arson# the roaming :riar# the /ardoner and the 2ummoner
sufficiently co$er the casual categories of the religious order in those days!
%o preser$e the distinctions among these typical characters# Chaucer has indicated the differences in
their clothes# manner of speech# haits and tendencies representing the common traits and the
a$erage characteristics of each profession! %hese personages# therefore# are not mere phantasms of
the rain ut real human eings!
%hese characters represent $arious types of contemporary society! %hey are no longer mere
dummies or types ut owing to their $arious peculiarities# their arguments and agreement and their
likes and dislikes we recogni<e them as real li$ing eings# true to the mould in which all human nature
is cast!
-is world is almost freak-free and his characters are perfectly lifelike! 2ome of them are so modern
that they seem to e li$ing today! %he old 4night is an e'ample of the chi$alrous character which is
found in e$ery generation! %he 2(uire is )ust the typical man of any day!
He ,%" %" -re""he %" i" the monthe o- .%y*
%he &erchant has all the $anity which comes from the growing of wealth# while the &an of 5aw like
lawyers of all times# is pilling up fees and uying land! 8e recogni<e in him the typical lawyer of our
own day,
No,here "o &i"y % m%n %" he ther ,%"*
An! yet he "eeme! &i"ier th%n he ,%")

%here are characters like the /rioress# the &onk# the :ranklin# the 1ee$e# the 2ummoner# the
/ardoner# and the 8ife of 9ath whom we do not identify at first! 9ut none of them is really e'tinct!
%hey ha$e changed their name and profession ut their chief part is an element of humanity! %hat is
why when we accompany the /ilgrims on their way we feel (uite at home and ha$e no feeling of
eing among aliens!

Chaucer=s art of characteri<ation is super! -e looks at his characters o)ecti$ely and shows each of
the men and women sharply and caressingly! -is impression of casualness# economy# significance
and $ariety of e$ery detail are e'amples of that supreme art which conceals art!
*nfact# there is a different method of almost e$ery pilgrim! -e $aries his presentation from the full
length portrait to the thum-nail sketch# ut e$en in the rief sketches# Chaucer con$eys a strong
sense of indi$iduality and depth of portraiture!
Chaucer=s method of portraying characters is a scientific manner y differentiating them y means of
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their o$ious distinctions! *t was for the first time in European literature that a writer pro$ed himself
clearly conscious of the relation etween indi$iduals and ideas! &oreo$er# Chaucer=s characters are
consistent and instead of eing static# they grow and de$elop in the course of the tale# like li$ing
human eings! %hey gi$e their opinions on the stories that ha$e een told and these comments
re$eal their dominant thoughts# their feelings and the o)ects of their interests!
%hus Chaucer is the master in the art of characteri<ation!
*n his such monumental works as Troilus and Crisede, The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,The
Canterbury Tales,The Legend of Good Women# Chaucer created some unforgettale characters and
ga$e the picture of his age!-is art of characteri<ation is specially marked y the following four
(ualities-
/%#itie" o- hi" $h%r%$teri+%tion
Re%#i"m
1ealism #the portaryal of life as it is #is an outstanding (uality of Chaucer=s art!Chaucer elonged to
the late 14th century! -e is $ery realistic in the portrayal of his age as well as his characters!-is
realism is particularly e$ident in his The Prologue to The Canterbury Tales and The Canterbury
Tales.
*n these works he ga$e a minute and comprehensi$e picture of the English society of the fourteenth
century!%he pilgrims#whom Chaucer descries in the /rologue#are the li$ing characters in the great
drama of the social life of the period!*n this way he realistically descries the social and religious
condition of his age!
Chaucer=s pilgrims elong to different social ranks and positions#secular as well as religious!%hese
pilgrims represent the important strands of the English society in Chaucer=s age and ele$ate the
poem to the le$el of a national portrait gallery!
%hus#Chaucer makes the Canterbury Tales a great human document#containing a clear and
comprehensi$e picture of the age!-e succeeds wonderfully in making the poem a li$ing picture of
his own country of his own time!
Ty(e" %n! in!ivi!%#"
%he characters that Chaucer portrays in the Prologue are at once types and indi$iduals! " typical
character is the character who represents a whole range of characters who share some similar
characteristics! "n indi$idualistic character #on the other hand # has some (ualities which are not
seen in other persons!*n this respect Chaucer=s characters that he created are oth types and
indi$iduals!%hey are types ecause they are representati$es of humanity in general and they are
also indi$iduals as they are true to their own age!
0it %n! hmor
"nother important feature of his characteri<ation is the use of wit and humour!Chaucer remains one
of the outstanding humorists in English literature and the Prologue ears out his genius as a
comical author!The Canterbury Tales is deemed as a great comedy of the human society and this is
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particularly e$ident the way he presents his characters!*n fact#the Prologue reaches the height of a
grand social comedy in poetry!%his comic effect is finely achie$ed y his wonderful sense of wit and
humour!%hus the Prologue is not merely a wonderful document of the English social life of the 14th
century ut also as a delightful comedy of human life!
1%ng%ge %n! meter"
Chaucer greatly increased the prestige of English as a literary language and e'tended the range of
its poetic $ocaulary and meters! -e was the first English poet to use the se$en-line stan<a in
iamic pentameter known as rhyme royal and the couplet later called heroic! Chaucer dominated
the works of his 1>th-century English followers and the so-called 2cottish Chaucerians!
:or the 1enaissance# he was the English -omer! Edmund 2penser paid triute to him as his
master? many of the plays of 8illiam 2hakespeare show thorough assimilation of Chaucer3s comic
spirit! @ohn 6ryden# who moderni<ed se$eral of the Canterury tales# called Chaucer the father of
English poetry!
Chaucer3s reputation has een securely estalished as the English poet est lo$ed after
2hakespeare for his wisdom# humor# and humanity!
-is genius in descriing the pilgrims is that he will use a stereotype and then add indi$idual features
(that more often than not contradict the initial image)# making the characters more intricate and
interesting and ao$e all# more elie$ale! %he eye for detail that Chaucer o$iously possesses is
put to good use here# these characters are not road# generali<ing stereotypes# and rather he gi$es
a detailed insight into the psyche of the pilgrims we encounter!
%hough last yet not the least! * am prompted to say that
.Chaucer is father of the English poetry0
%hese characters gi$e us the true picture of the contemporary life and master pieces of truth and
reality! %hey are modern# realistic and uni$ersal!
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