English - The Canterbury Tales - Essay Example

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Name Instructor Class 13 December 2011 “General Prologue”: The Primary Voices of “The Canterbury Tales” Throughout their journey, several pilgrims share their tales and one of them will win as the best storyteller. This is the plot of Geoffrey Chaucer's “The Canterbury Tales,” which was written from the mid-1380’s until his death in 1400 (Gould and Ball 3)…
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Download file to see previous pages This paper analyzes how the “General Prologue” functions to introduce “The Canterbury Tales.” This prologue has a cacophony of voices that serve several purposes for Chaucer. Geoffrey Chaucer's “General Prologue” functions as an introduction to “The Canterbury Tales” by expressing three general voices that impact the rest of the tales and aim to describe the poet and the functions of poetry: Chaucer the Pilgrim, the host, and the clerk. Medieval theory and practice show that Chaucer uses the “General Prologue” to depict “multiple voicing,” which is his literary strategy in “The Canterbury Tales.” “Multiple voicing” is a form of argumentation that can be found in medieval narrative, including debates on allegories, private conversations, and different forms of monologues (Nolan 117). This kind of approach employs diverse voices that present social, moral, or spiritual questions, and resolves them too through its narrative (Nolan 118). The subjective aspect of the text, which is based on the poet's authority, is also rendered in other voices. Any of Chaucer's character can act as the moral compass of the poet (Nolan 118). Nolan stresses that when readers “hear” a number of voices in the “General Prologue,” they are listening to “the master of an art cultivated by generations of French and Italian writers” (118). The art is in juxtaposing voices against other voices, so that the text becomes more textured and complex. Nolan recognizes other poets who have also affected Chaucer's writing style, such as “Benoit de Sainte-Maure, Guillaume de Lorris, Jean de Meung, Boccaccio, Dante, and Machaut” (118). The primary theoretical groundwork for multiple voicing in the Middle Ages can be rooted from the rhetorical handbooks that have been generally employed in grammar schools (Nolan 118). These handbooks emphasize the importance of deliberate voicing and impersonation in the speaker's presentation of his/her identity, as well as in expressing the characters' intentions, feelings, and behaviors (Nolan 118). Quintilian illustrates the speaker's self-presentation in the prologue and suggests a majestic way of managing voice, style, and manner: [W]e should... give no hint of elaboration in the exordium. But to avoid all display of art in itself requires consummate art... The style of the exordium... should...seem simple and unpremeditated, while neither our words nor our looks should promise too much. For a method of pleading which conceals its art... will often be best adapted to insinuate its way into the minds of our hearers. (4.1.56-60; 2: 36-39, qtd. in Nolan 118) This is what the “General Prologue” did. It did not promise more that it can deliver. Instead, it merely describes the characters in ways that will prepare readers of their identities. The first Chaucerian voice is the first impersonation: the learned poet or clerk. He stands for the voice who is knowledgeable of the “literary topoi of the Latin tradition” and rhetorical expression (Nolan 122). He is a philosopher who can breed stories from simple words. This rhetorical expertise attributed to the clerk's voice can be seen in other classical and medieval poets and philosophers (Nolan 123). This articulate voice is not limited to any genre but has been applied by other narratives, such as encyclopedias and scientific manuals (Nolan 123). ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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