Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,

from Geoffrey Chaucer – The Canterbury Tales (General Prologue) on Rap Genius

Meaning

Chaucer’s Prioress is one of the most hotly-debated characters in The Canterbury Tales. One thing’s fo sho: the details of her manners, the way she eats, etc., are straight from the descriptions of heroines in the romances that people read during Chaucer’s time.

The other big deal is that although she’s a nun, there’s very little religion mentioned in her portrait. This is partially redressed by the fact that the prologue to her tale takes the form of a prayer.

Aight, so, here are some of the main ‘stances’ on the Prioress:

James Winny, in the Cambridge edition of the General Prologue, claims that Chuacer the poet is being deeply satirical— to show the gap between her outward courtliness and inward piety.

E. T. Donaldson (Chaucer’s Poetry) believes that Chaucer the character in the poem is so overcome by the Prioress’s loveliness that this description simply proves he’s really into her. Like, look at how fit she is when she eats, into her.

Jill Mann (Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire) has said that these courtly details were actually expected of a nun.

Later critics have reacted much more harshly to the Prioress, mainly because her tale is quite violently anti-Semitic.

One last thing: in the fourteenth century, the youngest daughters of noble families would often be brought up with excellent courtly manners, then shoved into a nunnery when they couldn’t be married off. In a way, the Prioress reflects this, and is a form of social satire.

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