Canterbury Tales Essay: The Character of the Prioress

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The Character of the Prioress in The Canterbury Tales  

 In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes a prologue in which characters are given at face value.  Then, he writes tales that are spoken by these characters.  Perhaps Chaucer is commenting that people should not judge others by their outward appearance because the differences in the outward character of Chaucer’s travelers are often greatly different than the personality that is shown through their tales.

 The Prioress is one character that appears differently than her tale reveals.  The Prioress’s tale is about the brutal murder of a young Jewish boy.  It is a tale of deep-seeded anti-Semitic hatred and fierce violence.  In the
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 The Prioress is also portrayed in the general prologue as an innocent, feminine beauty.  Her manners are so refined that “no trace of grease could be seen in her cup [and] she helped herself to food in a very proper way.”  She has such gentle feelings that “she would weep if she saw a mouse caught in a trap and dead or bleeding [and] she wept indeed if one of [her dogs] died, or if someone hit it smartly with a stick--.”  Besides that, she is well dressed and wears expensive jewelry.  This is someone who may have been seen as the optimal choice for a wife had she not been a member of the church.
 However, again Chaucer negates these surface impressions with her gruesome tale.  While the Prioress may weep at the death of a mouse or dog, she has no problem recounting the throat-slitting murder of a young boy.