Canterbury Tales
Though the characters in the Canterbury Tales are described vividly and often
comically, it is not necessarily true that these characters are therefore
stereotypes of The Middle ages. The intricate visual descriptions and the tales
the characters tell help to direct the reader in finding a more accurate and
realistic picture of the pilgrims, bringing into question the theory that

Chaucer was just collating stereotypes from his time. The fact that there is one
representative for each of the chief classes (under the higher nobility) would
suggest that this work is an attempt to provide a catalogue of characters from
the middle ages, and it can be assumed from this that this denotes a collection
of stereotypes, although this is not necessarily true. The format of The

Canterbury Tales suggests a simplistic approach, a prologue and epilogue and in
between a collection of tales, The Miler's Tale, The Clerk's Tale and so on[1].

This simplicity in structure may also suggest a simplicity in content and thus,
convincing and challenging characters are unlikely to be expected in a work of
seemingly simple design. But, when looked at in more detail, the tales are found
to hold many details that contradict the bland stereotype expected, and when the
structure of the work is looked at in its context of 14th century literature,
the Canterbury Tales is found to be a work pioneering the form of the epic poem.

The style in which Chaucer writes may also initially seem to suggest that his
characters are under-developed stereotypes, he uses the language of his time
vividly, although this does not therefore mean that his characters are two
dimensional, almost 'cartoon' characters. J.R. Hulbert in his essay Chaucer's

Pilgrims explains, "In many instances there are exuberant lines which
sharpen the effect desired." The Canterbury Tales may, at first seem to be
obtuse and unfocused through the use of lucid imagery and language, although
this language, when studied gives a more detailed and more deeply layered
portrayal of the pilgrims as well as giving them colourful characteristics.

Chaucer's description of the knight is a good example of his subversion of the
classic Arthurian image that existed in popular literature of the time[2]. In
the General Prologue, Chaucer relays his description of the knight: " A

Knight ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the time that he first bigan To
riden out, he loved chivalrye, Trouthe, and honour, freedom and curteisye."

This excerpt, the beginning of the description of the knight holds true to the
classic representation of the knight of valour and honour, but Chaucer goes on
to pervert and pollute the fairytale image that he has created: " And of
his port as meeke as is a maide" and, " His hors were goode, but he
was nat gay. Of fustian he wered a gopoun, Al bismothered with his haubergeoun."

In these few lines, Chaucer has destroyed the traditional stereotype of the
knight and created a new and almost comical figure. Our knight is not one 'in
shining armour', but rather a 'knight in a rusted chain-mail'. The knight does
not even have a hyper-masculine representation here either. Chaucer feminises
the knight comparing him to a maid. At the end of the description of the knight
in the general prologue the only part of the knight that lives up to the readers
expectations is his horse, which apparently was in good condition. Although we
have only been given a visual representation of the knight, the reader can
gather many things from this description, perhaps the knight is effeminate or
weak, and he shys away from battle, getting so little battlefield 'action' that
his chainmail has begun to rust. It is a device used by Chaucer to convey the
character of his pilgrims using their appearance. Thus when the Wife of Bath is
described as being "gat-toothed", the reader can assume that she is
lusty as it was believed in the Middle ages that this particular physical
attribute denoted that characteristic. In medieval times, certain elements of a
person's appearance intrinsically suggested something, if not everything of
their character. Indeed, this practice of identifying outward appearance with
inward attitudes and traits became an area of study known as 'physiognomy' and
manuals on this subject were produced[3]. In more recent times, critics have
tried to unravel and understand the many tiny clues hidden in the character
descriptions to gain a sharper picture of these characters. In 1919 Water Clyde

Curry claimed to have discovered the pardoner's "secret" [that he was
a eunuchus ex nativitate] using these manuals, and this discovery,