Analysis of canterbury tales

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Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the most significant poets in England and author of a masterpiece which was crucial for the subsequent development of the English literature: The Canterbury Tales. They are a collection of stories told by some pilgrims who are on their way to visit the Canterbury Cathedral and Saint Thomas Becket’s tomb. Among them there are all kind of characters from differentsocial positions, from a knight to a humble farmer and that represent the English society of XIV century. The fact that each pilgrim tells four different tales makes the author possible to use different literary genres: saint’s lives, romances, fabliaux, allegorical tales and so on.

This essay will be focused on The Reeve’s Tale, the third one of the collection which corresponds to the literarygenre of a fabliau. Fabliaux are short popular narrative poems with erotic or humoristic content whose aim is to make people laugh using real environments and coarse characters; women are defined as shrewd and shameless, the clergy as miserly, lustful and simple, and the miserable tries to overcome his bad luck by means of ingenuity and tricks.
This genre does not have a moralizing intention, asmany other literary genres do. On the other hand, their own goal is to make fun. Although they reflect the different vices of the society of the time, they do not pretend to mend the depraved’s ways or give a moral lesson, just make fun and achieve a comical effect. According to Chaucer:
"A fabliau is a brief comic tale in verse, usually scurrilous and often scatological or obscene. The style issimple, vigorous, and straightforward; the time is the present, and the settings real, familiar places; the characters are ordinary sorts -- tradesmen, peasants, priests, students, restless wives; the plots are realistically motivated tricks and ruses. The fabliaux thus present a lively image of everyday life among the middle and lower classes. Yet that representation only seems real; life did notrun that high in actual fourteenth-century towns and villages -- it never does -- and the plots, convincing though they seem, frequently involve incredible degrees of gullibility in the victims and of ingenuity and sexual appetite in the trickster-heroes and –heroines”
Throughout the story, it is easy to notice that many times some characters are compared with low, common, domestic things andanimals. These comparisons give a homely, domestic feeling to the way the story is told, that is appropriate to the Reeve as the narrator, as he is not a high-class or or especially refined person, and also is appropriate to the fabliau, as in an elevated, high-class story, such as an epic, the comparisons would be too much nobler, or more dignified things. For example:

The Miller is comparedwith

A miller was there dwelling many a day.
As any peacock he was proud and gay

As piled as an ape was his skull.
He was a market-beater at the full.

This miller hath so wisly bibbed ale
That as a horse he snorteth in his sleep
The Miller’s wife is compared with
And she was proud and pert as is a pie
To bed he goes, and with him goes his wife.
As any jay she light was and jolifeAnd eke, for she was somedeal smoterlich,
She was as digne as water in a ditch
John and Alleyn are compared with
Weary and wet as beast is in the rain
And Miller and John are compared with
And on the floor, with nose and mouth to-broke,
They wallow as do two piggs in a poke

At the same time, the writer makes mockery of many aspects of tradition and church. One of the two students,Alleyn, makes fun of the tradition of court love in which young noblemen swear undying love to their lady.

"Farewell, Malin, sweete wight.
The day is come, I may no longer bide.
But evermore, whereso I go or ride
I is thyn owne clerk, swa have I seel."

Regarding the church, the narrator offers the following saying:

For Holy Church's goods must be expended
On Holy Church's blood,...
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