The Prioress in the Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories that Geoffrey Chaucer heard from colorful characters on the pilgrimage on the Canterbury road. Each of these tales are light hearted and usually teach a moral. Geoffrey Chaucer is the author of The Canterbury Tales, it is a story in poem form, and it was published in 1387. One particular character in the Canterbury Tales is The Prioress, also called the Nun. The Prioress is a dainty woman, or at least attempts very hard to be dainty. (Shmoop 1) She also does not have the priorities that one who devoted their life to God should have.

Madame Elegante is the name of the Prioress. Her social status in life is the Clergy class which is a social class that the people who have devoted their to the church are placed into, and she is ecclesiastical. It is higher than the middle class and peasants because it is honorable to live a life focused on the church. During the majority of her life, the Prioress has lived in the Covenant and she is the leader; that is what the word Prioress means, it is the leader or head of the covenant.

The morals of the Prioress are askew. They seem to be more social centered than religious and spiritual (Price 197). She seems to be much more vain than a nun should be. Instead of wearing rosary beads she wears a pendant that says “Love Conquers All” and has beads made from coral (Shmoop 1). This is not a phrase that refers to godly love. She is extremely sensitive and would fake cries for a wounded animal. She tries her best to be like a damsel of the court and dainty. She is childlike in multiple ways, and the unusual things she is preoccupied with hints to a delayed stage of psychosexual development, which is often called sadism or sentimentality (Price 197). The Prioress does not like Jews at all, and is not her usual delightful and polite self when mentioning them. This is a contradiction because the church bans anti-semitic views. (Delahoyde 1)

The Prioress has the best manners. She eats so delicately that not a single bit of food falls to her clothes and she never has crumbs on her lips. The fact that she is this good at eating like that shows that she has put a lot of time into practicing this because her image to others is of great concern to her. The Prioress went to school to learn French and speaks a version of it that Frenchmen can understand.

Madame Eglentyne is described as looking fragile and elegant, but not completely frail and wisp like. Chaucer also says that she is tall, pretty tall for a woman. He also says that her forehead is rather broad, or ‘fair of spread’ (Chaucer 146). Chaucer compares the forehead to how he could fit his whole hand there, he said it was a palm’s length across. Her nose was elegant, and she had eyes that were gray. Chaucer compares the eye color to glass. She had a coral necklace with a “Love Conquers All” pendant.

This shows her true vanity and insecurity that she has chosen to wear this trinket instead of the traditional rosary beads. Rosary beads are a pastoral jewelry item worn out of tradition and help for prayers, since every bead adds up to equal the number of times you repeat a phrase. It also has a crucifix. Her jewelry choice means nothing holy or spiritual, it shows her interest in courtly love, and novels about courtly love were popular reading material for women in her time so it shows that she is a fan of that instead of focusing on her devotion to God (Shmoop 1).

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The Prioress in the Canterbury Tales. (2022, Jan 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-prioress-in-the-canterbury-tales/

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