Sectional Analysis of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
Knight -vs- Squire: The Comparison of Time Periods in The Canterbury Tales One of the most important pieces of English literature is Geoffrey Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales. This piece is highly regarded, because it gives insight into the simplicity of life in England, through it’s extensive cast of characters. One of the most important parts of this piece is the General Prologue. The General Prologue is very important to the piece, because Chaucer uses it to contrast characters with similar backgrounds or jobs. This contrast can be seen vividly in the descriptions of the Knight and the Squire. Both the Knight and the Squire are examples of warriors, but of different ages and social standing; because of this, Chaucer is able to depict the differences between the attitudes of the late Medieval society and blossoming age of Renaissance. By using similar characters and similar characterizations, Chaucer is able to illuminate the vast differences between the Knight and the Squire. Chaucer’s primary description of the Knight and his battles is that of untarnished virtue. Chaucer says, “…he loved chivalrye, Trouthe and honour, freedom and curteisye” (General Prologue, 45-46).
Chaucer describes the Knight as the perfect noble knight. The Knight’s true love is of chivalry and honor. He is depicted as a warrior who does his duty, because it is right. He believes in what he does, and isn’t a warrior for any other reason. Chaucer further portrays this quality about the Knight through the battles which he has been involved in. The Knight was never involved in a battle of secular nature. The Knight only fought in religious wars. Chaucer once says, “…And foughten for our faith at Tramissene…” (General Prologue, 62). This line implies that the Knight fought for the religious faith of the land or King. When in battle, the Knight’s intentions were always noble. The Knight never had any hidden agendas, and never fought for the prospect of material or social advancement. The Squire, unlike the Knight, fought for reasons other than honor and duty. The Squire was first characterized as “A lover and a lusty bacheler.” (General Prologue, 80).
The Squire is depicted as the type of man who cares more for the women that he can impress than of the honor he will protect and save. Chaucer further classifies the Squire as a typical ladies man when he says, “In hope to stonden in his [lady’s] grace.” (General Prologue, 88). The Squire’s primary goal when going into battle is impressing the woman whom he is after. Unlike his father, the Squire wasn’t interested in chivalry, honor, or courtesy. The Squire goes into battle for his own personal gain. The Squire is the type of warrior who asks how much am I going to get paid for this battle, and not, what are we fighting these people for. Chaucer advances this characterization when he writes, “…he hadde been some time in the [King’s cavalry]” (General Prologue, 85). These cavalry expeditions, as is said in the footnote, fought constantly against the French. These battles were probably fought for no other reason than territorial disputes. Unlike the Knight, who was fighting heathens, the Squire fought other Christians for material possession.
Though fighting for territorial reasons is important, when paired up with the example of the Knight, who fought for merely religious purposes, the Squire’s reasons for fighting seem somewhat trivial and honorless. This factor further adds to the characterization of both men, because in both cases the men’s reason for fighting and their personalities match. The Knight fought for honor and in honorable matches, but was probably the type of man who would provide his enemy with a sword before a fight. The Squire, conversely, fought for gain and fought in battles that were strictly for the gain of the state. Chaucer uses this pairing to depict the differences in the times. There is a sense that the ideals of Knighthood and also the society are changing from being based upon honor to being based upon materialistic gain. The Knight’s characterization is not merely that of a noble man, but also that of a modest man. The Knight, although he is very accomplished in the art of battle, never bragged about his prowess, or used his abilities to belittle anyone or boost himself.
Chaucer writes, “And though he [was wise as well as bold,] and of his [demeanor] as meeke as is a maide.” (General Prologue, 78-9). This characterization is preceded by the narrator telling us about how sovereign the Knight’s reputation is. When all of this is considered, the Knight is provided with an extremely heroic disposition. The Knight is depicted as the type of person who will save your life and never ask for anything in return. He is the most admirable man imaginable, because although he has achieved everything, he doesn’t boast about it, nor does he consider himself better than anyone else. Chaucer illustrates this quality, through the images of the Knight’s clothing. Chaucer describes the Knight’s appearance when he says, “His [horses] were goode, but he was not [gaily dressed.] Of fustian he [wore] a [tunic all rust stained from his coat of mail.]” (General Prologue, 74-6). The Knight’s clothing is neither flashy or expensive, and is actually worn and rusty, from being used in battle. This description provides the Knight with an attitude of elegance without extravagance. The Knight doesn’t care what others think of his clothing, because to him his clothing is merely for function and not fashion. The Knight’s attitude and clothing truly reflects the rest of his life, because he lived to serve others and not merely for himself. The Squire is more of a self-pleasing, egotistical man, in that every action within his life is aimed to improve his social and economical standing. The Squire’s attitude is shown through the images of his body and his dress. Chaucer tells us that, “…he was of [moderate] lengthe, and wonderly [agile] and of great strengthe” (General Prologue, 83-4).
The Squire is described as of average size, but is of seemingly extraordinary abilities. These traits don’t seem to be indicative of an egotistical man, but due to the fact that they follow Chaucer’s description of his hair, they receive that connotation. The Squire is depicted as a vain man due to the description of his long curly hair, which he loved. The Squire cared immensely for his appearance, which unlike the Knight, carried over to his clothing and actions. Chaucer tells us, “[Embroidered] was he as it were a [meadow] Al full of fresshe flowers, white and red; Singing he was or floiting all day…” (General Prologue, 89-91). The Squire walks about as if he were the king of the world, seemingly without a trouble in his mind. This gives him the appearance that he considers himself superior to everyone around him. The Knight and the Squire, though they both have virtually the same profession, act, dress, think and carry themselves very differently. By pairing these two characters together in his prologue, Chaucer is able to show his readers the social corruption that the Squire has, while showing more clearly the integrity and honor of the Knight. This also helps to portray the vast changes between the honorable medieval times and the more materialistic renaissance.
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