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The Prioress's Tale

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Jen Chan

on 20 November 2014

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Transcript of The Prioress's Tale

The Prioress's Tale
The Prioress
Irony & Satire
Overall Purpose
Throughout history and current society, racism has existed. Every since Columbus discovered the New World, one race has deemed itself superior to another. The Prioress’s Tale reminds the readers that in society, racism should not exist. Racism creates hatred, violence, and hypocrisy. Thus, after reading this moving tale, readers are left with sympathy towards the Jews and anger towards the Prioress and the Christians for their anti-semitism. Furthermore, this tale warns readers of the power of society and cautions readers that society is not always correct in it’s beliefs and actions. Throughout the tale, Chaucer utilizes satire and irony to deride Medieval society for how it treats the Jews. Unfortunately, people today, especially in the South can still be seen as racist. Some whites (can be seen as the Christians in the tale) view blacks (similar to the Jews in the tale) as inferior to them and fear blacks for no logical reason.
General Prologue
The Prioress, a nun, also known as Madam Eglantine has an overall large physical appearance. She has a sharp nose, blue eyes, a large forehead, a small, soft, red lip that leads to a quiet and simple smile. Her appearance contradicts with her personality as she attempts to present herself with the highest etiquette and as dainty. She attempts to imitate court behavior to gain respect. She does not curse, sings her prayers well, speaks French fluently, has proper manners. Furthermore, she attempt to portray herself as caring and sympathetic as she would weep at dead animals, such as rats and dogs. She wears a high end cloak, a coral rosary green beaded bracelet, and a golden brooch, with an inscribed A and the words “Amor vincit omnia”.
The Prioress's Prologue
In the story’s prologue, the Prioress sings a hymn to Virgin Mary, seeking for her support and aid in telling her tale. Thus, she represents herself as humble and gentle. Her hymn reflects the prayer in the story, O Alma Redemptoris. However, the prologue sets up the reader for an unexpected tale.
Character Sketch
See Diagram Attached
The Prioress's Personality Traits
A member of the Church who acts as a member of the Court
Narrow-minded/ Intolerant
The Prioress exaggeratedly depicts the entire race of Jews as violent and cruel. She portrays the Jewish ghetto as “a land for evil purposes of usury and excessive gain, which are hateful to Christ and His people” (Chaucer 134). By emphasizing how the boy was young and innocent, the Prioress highlights the Jews as powerful and evil. Forgetting that Satan forced the Jews to murder the young boy, she repeatedly defines the Jews as cursed and evil, unjustly labeling them as the criminals and the Christians as the victim. Furthermore, she utilizes a unsympathetic tone when describing the Jew’s horrid and painful deaths. She acts indifferent to the fact that the Jews were drawn by horses and then hanged.
Dubious & Hypocritical
The Prioress plans her actions in a certain manner to seem dainty and to imitate the woman at court. She carefully sings through her nose, learns how to speak improper French, and act properly when eating or even witnessing a dead animal. Furthermore, in doing so she challenges the conventional manners and actions of a genuine nun. A nun, unlike the Prioress, should not invest their time on themselves but rather live a simple ascetic life devoted to only God and religion. Furthermore, in the general and Prioress’s prologue, Chaucer depicts her as compassionate. When she sees dead animals she quickly weeps. However, she has no problem feeding her own dogs flesh and in her tale she acts viciously in the way she depicts the Jews, almost as if she had no compassion for them.
Throughout the tale, the Prioress demonstrates her proclivity to motherhood as she connects herself to the widow by utilizing a sympathetic tone. Furthermore, she connects herself to the boy as she describes the boy with her green jewelry, stating how they both demonstrate devotion and loyalty towards Virgin Mary. However, in reality she does not convey loyalty as she is not sincere about her faith but she gives herself the title, portraying herself as pretentious.
The Prioress, a nun, pretends to act humble, pious, constantly expressing her respect towards Virgin Mary. She presents herself as moral, caring, sympathetic, and proper. However, she attempts to imitate the women at court and as a result she dresses in fine clothing and jewelry, eats luxurious foods, acts dainty, and knows French.
The Prioress recounts a tale of religion in a Christian town in Asia with a Jewish ghetto. The Jews, known as greedy and powerful, have animosity towards the Christians. There was a young Christian boy in this town and to walk to school he had to pass through the Jewish Ghetto. Once he heard children singing O Alma Redemptoris, he was determined to memorize the song.
Finally, Jesus tells her where her son’s body has been left and as she arrives at the drainage she hears her son singing O Alma Redemptoris. The Christians realized that the young boy was alive and a lawman commanded the cruel Jews to death. The abbots asked him how he was able to sing when he should have been dead. The young boy replied saying Mary allowed him to keep singing and placed a kernel on his tongue. Once the kernel was lifted from his mouth, he would be dead once more. The abbot removed the kernel, the boy was buried, and he became a martyr.

Each day to school and from school he would rehearse the song in respect of Virgin Mary. Satan became upset and hinted to the Jews that the children should be killed for dishonoring their religion. One day when the boy was signing O Alma Redemptoris, the murderer slitted the boy’s throat and threw him into a drainage. The boy’s mother attempted to find her dead son but no Jew would tell her the truth.
Type of Medieval Literature
Exemplum (Exemplar)
Through the use of the young boy in the Prioress’s tale, readers learn about the power of faith and the hypocritical aspects in religion.
Miracle Story
The protagonist, the young boy, comes back to life singing after the murderer slitted his truth because he constantly sanged the O Alma Redemptoris, in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Situational Irony
In the prologue, the Prioress prepares the ready for a calming and peaceful tale as she seeks the aid of the Virgin Mary to help her tell the tone. Nevertheless, the Prioress appalls the readers as she tells a unexpected tale of violence and anti-semitism.
The Prioress’s dubious personality contradicts with her appearances. The Prioress desires to be one of the women at court. Thus, she attempts to act dainty, proper, and sympathetic. However, she has a large physical appearance with a sharp nose and a large forehead.

Verbal Irony
As stated in the prologue, the Prioress has another name, Madam Eglantine. Her name symbolizes a flower, epitomizing Virgin Mary. Ironically, while Virgin Mary represents love and purity, the Prioress represents the exact opposite as her tale portrays her as sinned and dubious.
Hypocrisy in Religion
The Prioress’s appearance and persona does not reflect that of a nun. For instance, she leads a luxurious life where she focuses on her own life but in reality she should be leading a simple life where her attention centers around aiding others. Thus, while Chaucer seems to be acclaiming the Prioress for her character, of speaking French, treating her pets well by feeding them luxurious food, and wearing fine clothes and jewelry such as a brooch with the words, “Amor vincit omnia” inscribed in it, Chaucer actually derides the Prioress for her absence of sincerity to her responsibilities and to her faith, as a nun. “Amor vincit omnia” means love conquers all. Her brooch contradicts a nun’s conventional simple rosary.
As a nun, the Prioress has expectations of chastity. Nevertheless, through the tale and specifically through the hymn, “O alma redemptoris”, readers notice the Prioress’s desire for motherhood and for her own children.

Chaucer derides Medieval society’s persecution and perspective on Jews. By depicting the Prioress as dubious and hypocritical he exhorts the readers to disagree with the Prioress’s perspective of Jews as bloody and violent and thus persuade the readers to view the Jews in a contrary light.
Chaucer induces the readers to view Jews in a sympathetic tone as he shares a tale of how Jews were wrongfully murdered for performing a sin Satan forced the Jews to commit.

Work Cited
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1948. Print.

Jones, Edward. "The Prioress' Tale." WikiMedia Commons. MediaWiki, 1965. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Chaucer includes the Prioress’s Tale in the Canterbury Tales to criticize the medieval Church and the hypocritical society in his time. He hopes his readers will be aware of the hypocrisy in religion. Through his utilization of ironic characterization and tone shift Chaucer conveys his purpose.
Throughout the General Prologue and the Prioress’s Prologue, Chaucer paints a picture of Prioress’s character to influence the reader’s perception of the narration. Usually, authors builds up the ethos and credibility of their narrator to ensure that the reader trusts and values the narrator’s statements. Chaucer does the exact opposite as he highlights the Prioress’s hypocritical persona. He describes the Prioress with characteristics untypical of a nun. For instance, he states how the Prioress leads a luxurious life where she feeds her dog bread and flesh and wears a golden brooch with the words “Amor vincit omnia” inscribed on it which means “love conquers all”. A typical nun’s ascetic lifestyle includes focusing her attention on aiding others and embodying simplicity with plain jewelry such as a modest rosary. Furthermore, typical nuns need to live a chaste life where they cannot marry or have children. By ironically describing the Prioress, Chaucer now has the ability to exhort the readers to be suspicious of her tale. Thus, readers will not take her tale seriously and find the faults in her tale, such as her extreme exaggeration. Furthermore, because readers view the Prioress as a negative character, they will not value what she says and will instead disagree with her statements as they have already disagreed with her personality. Hence, readers will perceive the Prioress’s anti-Semitism as inappropriate. As a result, Chaucer indirectly labels the church as corrupt as the Prioress, a member of the Church, represents the Church’s beliefs.

Through the Prioress’s tone shift, created by Chaucer, Chaucer highlights the Prioress’s sinful characteristics, which promotes the reader’s sympathy towards the Jews. As a nun, the Prioress should be compassionate to all humans. She portrays her kindness to the young Christian boy who devotes his life to Virgin Mary. However, once she speaks of the Jews her tone shifts towards hostility and anger. She labels the whole race as “cursed” (Chaucer 135) and “evil” (135) for no logical reason. Even after she explains how the Jews only killed the boy from Satan’s temptation, she continues her unjust tone. Her tone worsens when she describes the painful deaths of the Jews with such an indifference tone. She explains their deaths of as a casual remark, showing no sympathy or compassion. Thus, her dubious character of being compassion and her unsympathetic attitude towards the Jews enforce the Prioress’s incorrect perspective. Thus, readers once again look down upon the Prioress, or rather the Church, and learn to view anti-Semitic as immoral
Chaucer includes the Prioress’s Tale to highlight the hypocrisy and corruption in the Middle Ages. He accomplishes this task through the Prioress’s ironic characterization and her tone shift.
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