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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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STYLE

As in the Miller's Tale, we get an ironic use of the language of courtly love and description to point up human desires and weaknesses, which the ideal of courtly love embodies. (Weakness because the beloved lady has the power of life or death over the lovesick knight, as in the Knight's Tale.)

The "noble" style also serves to parody the tragic tone of the Monk's endless tales of Fortune bringing down all the greats (Hercules, Samson, etc.), and supplies a comic answer to his gloom. (Keep in mind, too, that the Knight requests another tale, so perhaps the Nun's Priest means to give the Knight something to match his noble taste.) The parody of a classical tragic style also gives us reasons for the occasional outbursts of lament and complaint (such as the wonderful "death" passage that begins, "O woeful hens!" line 549).


Themes of other tales, such as the ones just mentioned, appear through the tone and language of this tale. Some take this to mean that the Nun's Priest, who is never described, and "Chaucer" the narrator, who also is left blank, are pretty much the same person. This may or may not be true, but we can see a great deal of affection for the attitudes expressed here, especially since Chaucer has a soft spot for Boethius, whose philosophy plays a role in several of these tales.

Another reason for the humorous tone of the story could be that Chaucer accepts his world with an unshakable faith in divine order that underlies the world's craziness. Humor allows him to be detached from ups and downs of the characters (and making them birds is another way of detaching himself). Because he is so sure of God's providence, he can calmly watch other people's shortcomings and even his own.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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