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Satire in The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales is a perfect example of Chaucer’s methods of using satire to criticize certain estates and show moral degradation of some characters. He uses different forms of satire, both mild and very expressive, but the general purpose of this device is the same – to highlight the negative aspects of human character and with the help of satirical descriptions of people’s actions to expose stupidity and vices of the society in general.

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Chaucer frequently uses satire on the clergy. In the “General Prologue” he pays much attention to the behavior of the Prioress and the Friar. Although the Prioress seems to be more sophisticated and educated than the Friar, she is much more interested in behaving like a court lady than a nun. Chaucer (n.d.) writes, “A little mouse caught in a trap would be enough to make her cry”. The writer highlights the same qualities, inappropriate for a church person, in the Friar saying that no one “was a better one at idle talk” and suggesting that he may have some affair with “the worthy women of the town” (Chaucer, n.d.).

In addition to criticizing the church, Chaucer uses his satire to expose the vices of common people. It is especially evident in “The Pardoner’s tale. The writer argues that for all estates greed is one of the most corrosive sins. In fact, the Pardoner is a very greedy person and criticizing the way the youths live – “their parties, gambling, brothels, bars” – he shows an extreme degree of hypocrisy (Chaucer, n.d.). The satire in “General Prologue” and “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” is slightly more playful and subtle. It mostly relates to some social and interpersonal aspects of common people’s lives.

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To conclude, Chaucer mainly uses satire in The Canterbury Tales to expose the corruption that is prevalent in the society. He shows the vices of the church representatives, such as the Prioress and the Friar. The writer also criticizes the lowest estate – common people, such as the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner for their greed and hypocrisy.

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