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Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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AUTHOR'S STYLE


Chaucer uses several stylistic devices to liven his portraits of the tellers of the tales. One such device was the use of what the Medieval people termed "the colors of rhetoric". This merely meant the devices by which an artist varied and elaborated his usage of words. Chaucer followed the rhetorical principles laid down by Gaufred de Vinsauf in his "Nova Poetria". These include the description whereby a character is described from the top to the bottom right down to the toe - nail. An example is Chaucer’s description of the magnificent cock Chaunticleer in the Nun's Priest’s Tale. The second principle is exclamation whereby the emotional importance of the situation is highlighted. This is Chaucer’s favorite device. The third device is digression, which involves digressions to develop a point of view within the story. There are numerous examples of such digressions. Chaunticleer in the Nun's Priest Tale for instance cites classical authorities to support his argument that dreams are forewarnings of the future.

Another device is collation or the introduction of comparisons of moderate length. Chaucer frequently adds color to his tales through the use of comparisons. Yet another device is interpretation which enlarges and reinterprets an already stated opinion. The circumlocution amplifies a simple idea by a long - winded description. The opposito is another device whereby a fact is stated by denying its opposite. For instance the Parson’s character is established in the General Prologue by stressing what he does not have in common with the average parish priests who let out their benefices on hire and run off to London in search of money by singing masses for the dead. Yet another device is occupation which is a method of cutting a tale short. For instance the Knight does not describe Duke Theseus’s heroic battles by saying that it will make the tale too long and cumbersome. There are many other principles of rhetoric but these are the main ones used by Chaucer to add vibrancy and life to his magnificent book, The Canterbury Tales.


CHAUCER'S USE OF LANGUAGE

Chaucer wrote in Middle English which extended from 1100 AD to 1500 AD His English is a kind of mongrel language enriched by extensive borrowing of French words. While Chaucer’s language sounds strange to the modern ear, surprisingly his South-East Midland dialect is the closest to Modern English. Chaucer’s language evolved from Old English which extended from 597 AD to 1100 AD Middle English thus has certain peculiar attributes which it acquired from its source language. Old English was an inflected language; that is, the endings of several words changed in accordance with their semantic function. Much of this difficult intricacy disappeared by Chaucer’s time. But many words retained an -e ending, which is not pronounced in Modern English. For example, ‘ende’, ‘newe’ and the like have inflectional endings, which are simply not pronounced in Modern English. Words also retained the ending ‘s’ or ‘es’ in the plural and in the possessive.


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