Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer|
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS (continued)
The Merchant with his forked beard is a representative of the rising middle
classes. He is well dressed with fashionable motley colored clothes, stylish
Flemish beaver hat and expensive boots. He gives his opinion on English
trade policies in a pompous manner and always bases it on what would be
favorable to his own trade. He manages his financial affairs so cleverly
that nobody knows that he is actually in debt. He never loses any money
in his bargains and is extremely knowledgeable about the business of borrowing
and lending money. Chaucer says that the Merchant is a worthy man but
declines knowing his name.
The Oxford clerk is among Chaucerís idealized portraits. The Clerk is a serious
student who had long ago devoted himself to the study of logic. Perhaps
he is studying for a Masterís degree. He is very thin, hollow and pale
and his horse is as thin as a rake. He does not have any benefice and
is extremely poor which is evident from his threadbare short upper coat.
He prefers to single - mindedly pursue his insatiable quest for knowledge
and learning rather than mindlessly run after wealth and riches. He would
rather have twenty books of Aristotelian philosophy at his bedside than
fine clothes, fiddle or a gay harp. Although he is a philosopher he has
little gold in his coffer. He is a man of few words and does not speak
more than necessary. But whatever he does say tends to increase moral
virtue in the listeners. The scholarly Clerk religiously prays for the
welfare of his friends and benefactors. Chaucer seriously appreciates
the Clerkís solemnity and openly praises him. There are no ironic overtones
in the Clerkís portrait apart from the pun on his being a philosopher
and yet being poor. In the Middle Ages, a philosopher also implied an
alchemist who claimed to transform base metals into silver and gold. Chaucerís
Clerk does not have gold in his coffer. He is a serious student of logic
and philosophy and has willingly forfeited worldly pleasures for intellectual
The Sergeant at Law is an expert lawyer and a man of considerable importance.
He has often functioned as a judge at the assizes. He has often been at
the Ďparvysí; i.e., porch of St. Paulís church where lawyers often met
for consultations. He was highly renowned for his knowledge and knew all
the statutes by heart. He commanded high fees for negotiating the purchase
of land and could draft his legal documents so well that nobody can find
any fault with them. Therefore he has attained mastery in his profession.
The Sergeant at Law is also very discreet and cautious in his speech.
He was a very busy man but he always pretended to be busier than he really
was. Chaucer here ironically comments on the tendency of humans to pretend.
The Sergeant at Law has misconceptions about his importance and holds
a high opinion of himself.
The Franklin with his daisy white beard and sanguine complexion is an excellent
portrait of a hedonist. He owns a big house in the countryside and pretends
to be a noble landlord for which he is respected by the country folk.
He is a true Epicurean who delights in the pleasures of life. He is a
social climber and greatly values everything connected with nobility.
He has often served as Member of Parliament for his county and is a man
of authority. He is extremely fond of fine food, good wine and jovial
company. In fact Chaucer states that it rained food and drink in his house.
His hospitality is evident from the fact that his table is always laid
with food. He has the best cellar in the county and changes his menus
in accordance with the seasons. Chaucer completes his portrait with the
comment that the Franklin is a worthy sub-vassal.
The peerless Physician is the master of his profession. Chaucer says that
the Physician is "a verray, parfit praktisour". He is trained
in astronomy and would observe his patients carefully through the astrological
hours and place the waxen figures of his patients when a beneficent planet
was ascendant. He knew the cause of every disease - whether it was hot
or cold or moist or dry - and also which humor was responsible for it.
It was believed during the Middle Ages that physical diseases as well
as mental temperaments were the result of the relationship of one humor
with another. The term humor refers to the four fluids of the human body:
blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. An imbalance would result
in the dominance of one humor and affect the health of the person accordingly.
An excess of black bile for instance resulted in melancholy, brooding
and gluttonous temperament. When the humors were in balance, an ideal
temperament prevailed. However the Physician was in league with the apothecaries
and each worked to increase the otherís profits. Although he was well
read in all the medical texts, he devoted little time to read the Bible.
He had made a lot of money during the plague and clung to it as if his
very life depended on it. He is very conscious of his health and eats
moderately. Chaucer suggests that the Physician was greedy by commenting
on his fondness for gold. The Physician truly represents the fourteenth
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