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By W. A. Davenport
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Extra resources for Chaucer and his English Contemporaries: Prologue and Tale in The Canterbury Tales
CT, VI, 327-8) Prologues 39 The sins he is about to preach against are thus given space to be enjoyed, and the Host has done his bit of blaspheming already. The section usually identified as the actual prologue has been seen mainly in terms of confession, a display of sin in the manner of Langland's sins and the personified vices of Le Roman de la Rose (the latter's figure of Faux Semblant being Chaucer's main source), and this prologue is the most powerful instance of Chaucer's characterising the teller in sufficient detail to provide a perspective through which the tale which is to follow achieves ironic depth .
This prologue is a suggestively complex mixture and a clever combination of the enriching of context and the preparatory. Embedding the narratives within a dialogue among the pilgrims forms one part, the provi sion of information and the poet's negotiation with the reader the rest. Working along similar lines are The Monk's Prologue, already referred to, and The Franklin)s Prologue, if we take with it the preceding 'words of the Franklin to the Squire', where comments on the previous taleteller's supposed eloquence, rather than his actual sto ry, is the prclimi- 44 Chaucer and His English Contemporaries nary to the Franklin's enthusiastic commendation of 'gentillesse' and the Host's peremptory dismissal of the idea; identification ofgenre and style to come is expressed in the Franklin's definition of the Breton lai and his modest protestations about his ignorance of rhetoric.
In the event it was only for the Wife of these three that Chaucer found a rich strain, giving her a double chance to explore experience, both through a confessional review of her own supposed experiences and the distorting mirror of a twisted Arthurian romance. The Shipman and the Doctor are given narratives simply exemplifying genre. The Parson and Plowman indicate didacticism and seriousness, with the Parson particularly identifying one of the roles of the writer: 'a lerned man, a clerk', humanely matching life to teaching, a selfless guide mindless of profit or advantage, discreet and benign in teaching, though 'to synful men nat despitous'.