Chaucer’s Use of Clothing: an Effective Rhetorical Device Essay

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Chaucer’s Use of Clothing: an Effective Rhetorical Device

In Literature, as in real life, characters are sometimes judged by their appearance. The description of clothing provides detail and comment on those wearing them. Chaucer’s uses of artifice in The Canterbury Tales function as gauges of the social status and economic wealth, and emotional condition of each pilgrim. Artifice effectively provides a badge of humanity, symbolic of each character’s fallibility. Yet clothing simultaneously imposes upon the characters literary stereotypes, which they consequentially adopt. Unable to transcend these ascribed roles, the pilgrims sometimes find themselves bound by literary stereotypes and narrative function, which they tend to fulfill
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In the case of the Knight it can be inferred that his physical description directly represents his demeanor. He is completely sincere and chivalrous in all his deeds; Chaucer explicitly states that the Knight “that fro the tyme that he first bigan/ To ryden out, he loved chivalrye/ Trouthe and honour, freedom, and curteisye” The tale told by the knight, reflective of his character and background, consequentially pays special attention to clothing as a means of status recognition. For example, after Theseus had conquered Thebes, his soldiers discovered the two Knights, Palamon and Arcite: After the bataille and disconfiture. And so bifel, that in the tas they founde,
Thurgh-girt with many a grievous blody wounde,
Two yonge Knigtes ligginge by and by, bothe in oon armes, wrought ful richely, of whiche two Arcite highte that oon, and that oother Knyght highte Palamon.
Nat fully quike ne fully dede they were, but by hir cote-armures and by hir gere the heraudes knewe hem best in special
As they that, werein of blood royal
Or Thebes, and of sustren two y-born (150-161).

Arcite and Palamon are identified by their clothing: “but by hir cote armures,” which establishes their stature: “as they that were in blood royal,” and consequentially saves their lives. However, although they are allowed to live they must remain in the prison tower. The situation shows
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