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1. Chaucers Humour ..
1.1- Definition


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1.2- Chaucers Characteristics as a great
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1.3- Laugh



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1.4- Sympathetic
. 04
1.5- Chaucers
.. 04
1.6- Chaucers



. 05
1.7- Observation
1.8- Harmless

2. Chaucers


. 06
2.1- Definition of Satire .
2.2- Tolerance



2.3- Satire



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2.4- Satire


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3. Chaucers


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3.1- Definition of Irony ..

3.2- Irony




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3.3- Chaucers Irony in the characters




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4. Conclusion


5. References


Chaucer is the first great humourist in the English literature.
Earlier writers when they tries to be humourous became crude
and coarse and sometimes even vulgar. The era of decent,
broad humour which makes us laugh without hurting anyone,
began with Chaucer. He was born humourist but his study of
French literature with its charm and gaiety and his keen
observation of the man and foibles of his contemporaries,
created the all-pervading humour of the Canterbury tales.

1.1-Definition of Humour
Humour means that quality of action, speech, and writing
which creates amusements. The true form of humour is
that which makes one laugh only for the sake of pleasure
and enjoyment. It does not hurt ones feelings nor it
pinches or agonizes.
For instance, a person comes to the stage and sits on
his hat and we burst out laughing because normally we do
not sit on our hats. It is the unexpected that makes us
laugh. We expect that when a womans husband dies she
should look older and her hair must be whiter. So when
Oscur Wilde tells us that the widow looks twenty years
younger since her husbands death, we are amused.
We expect a Monk to be poor and austere and so
when we find that Chaucers monk was fat and was a
leader of fashions and was fond of hunting, we cannot
help laughing.





Chaucer is a great humourist because he loves mankind in

spite of its weakness even while he gently unmasks the
roguery of the knaves, he feels grateful to them as they
give him pleasure. There is no malice, spite or animosity in
his attitude. His humour doesnt simply raise a simile but
also relive from seriousness and gloom. He is a great

master of humour and all his writing abound with its rich
Masefield calls him:
A great renaissance gentleman mocking the
Middle Ages.
Chaucer possess all the characteristics of a great
humourist. Firstly, he has catholicity and tolerance of spirit
which save it from shipping into satire. Secondly, Chaucer
has the faculty of humour which is fed by keen and
penetrating observation. Finally, Chaucer has a healthy
interest in this world and in life.

1.3-Laughs At Himself
The best quality of a humourist is that he should be able
to laugh at himself and should not mind others laughing
at him. In the Canterbury tales the Chaucer again and
again talks of his own imperfections. He tells the host:
My wit is short, ye may wel understande.
The host addresses him thus:
What man artow quod he;
Thou lookest as thou woldest find an hare, for
ever upon the ground.

1.4-Sympathetic & Objective

Chaucers humour is without any sting, he is always
sympathetic, except in his handling The Monk And The
Friar. He makes us appreciate a character even when
laughing at it. His humour is not of satirical kind. As
compared to The Langland, who attack the church with
keen and telling thrust, Chaucer exposes the corruption
the church with good humoured laugh.
Moreover, Chaucer makes fun more of the individual
than of the institution. The genial sympathy saves the
Chaucer not only from bitterness, but also from bias.
Satire is born of indignation Langlands picture of evil

does not deflect the real state of affairs, while on the other
hand, it is faithfully mirrored in Chaucer.
Therefore, he is an objective humourist, a better
realist than an indignant satirist.

1.5-Chaucers Many Sided Humour

Chaucers humour is many sided. Humour can be used in
the broad as well as limited sense. In the narrow sense, it
means gentle mirth. In the broader sense, it stands for
boisterous humour, intellectual humour and bitter humour.
Chaucer work reflect all these different types of humour.
E. Alber has beautiful expresses the many sided humour
of Chaucer: In the literature of his time, when so
few poets seem to have any perception of the fun
in life, the humour of Chaucer is invigorating and
For instance, his humour is kind as in the case of The
Clerk of Oxford, broad and semi farcical as in The Wife
of The Bath, pointedly satirical as in The Pardoner and
The Summoner.

1.6-Chaucers Humour Is Spontaneous

Chaucers humour is natural and spontaneous. It is
because of his peculiar way of looking at things, as the
bent of his mind is essentially humourous. His humour is
not the result of deliberate, calculated effort, but it is
spontaneous expression of his inner self.
Therefore, it has unmistakable marks of ease,
spontaneity, naturalness and effortlessness. In the words
of Walter Raleigh:
His joy is chronic and irrepressible
The Canterbury tales radiates with the natural joy that
Chaucer felt in writing it.

Chaucers humour is the result of his deep insight into
character and his amused observation of the funny trades
of his fellow-men. He has noticed that the squires locks

were so curly that they seemed to have been laid in press.

The hat of the wife was daisy. The Marchant had a forked
beard. The wife of Bath was Gat-toothed.
The Miller had a thumb of gold. His Jest is a
magnifying and illuminating glass which brings out the
character of each person very clearly.

Chaucers humour is harmless. Even the victim can have a
hearty laugh it is marked by tolerance, charity and
sympathy. His humour is spoken of as sunny, bringing
the light of indulgent smile into the sad business of life. He
has given pleasure to all those who have cared to read the
It is as a great humourist that Chaucer lingers
longest in our memories. His humour is rich, profound and
sane, devoid of spite and cynicism irradiated by a genial
kindliness and a consummate knowledge of human life.
Chaucer sees villains but is neither surprised nor stung by
them. The world consists of men and women of all types.
They are not angels, but they, are not devils either.
Tolerance and large heartedness are the main qualities of
his humour.

Chaucer was a man of catholic spirit, so his natural bent of
mind was towards humour, not towards satire. If humour is
sympathetic and genial, satire is pungent and bitter. Chaucers
attitude thus not didactic, but secular. Chaucers satire is
mainly directed against religious corruption. His primary aim is
to provide entertainment to his reader and not to correct the
corruption of his age. He is never motivated by a reformative
zeal or a didactic zeal leading him to use satire. Even his satire
is always friendly and sympathetic, as it springs from his love of

2.1- Definition of Satire

The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to
expose and criticize peoples stupidity or vices,
particularly in the context of contemporary politics and
other topical issues.

2.2-Tolerance In Chaucers Satire

The typical satirist, like Chaucers contemporary Langland,
is burning with moral indignation and he wants to lash at
vice and corruption. So far as satire includes an element of
ridicule Chaucer may be called a satirist but he is
absolutely free from bitterness. He is not a moralist; he is
not a reformer and he is not a teacher. He is a mild satirist
who Laughs even as he lashes at vice and corruption.
He is critical but not didactic. The foibles of his fellow men
do not make him angry, they make him laugh. He is a
detached observer of life. He knows that To err is human
and he is tolerant of human frailties.
The Wife of Bath is a vulgar, foul mouthed, wanton
woman; the Monk is a pleasure seeker and a glutton; the
Pardoner and the Summoner are swindlers. But Chaucer
does not present them as despicable. His tolerant humour
transforms them. While Langland is shocked by the vices
of the dignitaries of the Church and is grinding his teeth
and condemning them, Chaucer only makes us laugh at
Langland is bitter. Chaucer has a good humoured laugh at
their frailties. Chaucer is a detached observer of life.
Hadow said about Chaucer that:
His interest lies in portraiture rather than

2.3- Satire on characters

Chaucers satire is of a broad, genial type which is the
result of his keen observation of his contemporaries. If we

observe people minutely we find that there is something

ridiculous about each one. Chaucer only makes us laugh at
these ridiculous elements of his contemporaries.
Pandarus, in Troilus and Criseyde is a buffoon who evokes
Criseyde mirth at his own expense:
Nece , I have so great a pyne,
For love that every other day I faste.
Harry Bailly, the Host, is a lamb before his shrewish wife
and a lion before the pilgrims. The prioress sang the divine
service. The pleasure-loving Monk would have nothing to
do with the teachings of St. Bune:
Because that it was old and som-del streit
This like Monk leet olde thynges pace
And beeld after the newe world the space.
St. Augustine wanted monks to do manual labour. This
Monk knows better. Let the saint keep manual labour to
himself. He wants to enjoy life.
The Monk was just the opposite of what a monk
ought to be. But Chaucer is not bitter about him. He
describes his weaknesses with a genial laugh.
The Franklins aim all the time was to get sensual
pleasure. But Chaucer does not condemn him. He only
To liven in delyt was even his wone
For he was Epicurus owene sone.
The Friar used to extort money from sinners. So Chaucer
tells us that his principle was that if a person gave money
to the poor order of friars he was truly repentant.
The summoner was a swindler. But Chaucer says that
if he found a person sinning with a woman he told him
that the only way to avoid the Archdeacons curse
was that his purse should be punished. All crimes could be

pardoned if the sinner


was prepared to

pay him,

2.4- Satire Reveals Chaucers Outlook

Chaucer paints up persons in the colours they really
appeared in before his observant eyes, and leaves the
readers to come to their own conclusion. As a satirist, he
does not harp back on good old days in a nostalgic
manner. He does not have much faith in the efficacy of
passionate declamation against evil as employed by
ardent reformers. For Chaucer, there is no use harping
back to the ancient golden days of human history when
morality was strong. Chaucer wrote, not to wound or injure
the feelings of any person, but to protect the civil liberty
rights of both virtuous and vicious people. A satirist has
always the intention of teaching or ridiculing but Chaucer,
though always ready to criticize, has no such aim.
As he takes things tolerantly, therefore, his criticism
is both good-humoured and kind-hearted. The satirist
deliberately alienates our sympathies from those whom he
describes. Ben Jonson passes from the comedy of Every
man in his humour to the bitterness of Volpone, Swift from
the comparatively lightness of atmosphere in Lilliput, to
the savage brutality of the Houyhnhnms in Gullivers
Travels. Chaucers The House of Fame is indeed satiric in
conception. The fact is that satire is not Chaucers natural
In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer wants primarily and
only to entertain us, and not to present before us the
corruption of his time. Each one in the gallery of portraits
named in The Prologue, Chaucer has not drawn any
deliberate line of demarcation (boundary or contrast)
between the bad and the good in this happy company
of so to say twenty nine persons, for pilgrims were they
all. The Prologue contains mild fun or friendly mockery.


In introducing the pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer
draws upon the traditional themes of irony. The pilgrim-narrator
deliberately pretends to be impressed by most of the pilgrims
to the extent of endorsing their unworthy opinions.

3.1- Definition of Irony

The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal
meaning; a statement or situation where the meaning is
contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the

3.2- Irony in The Canterbury Tales

Irony is a vitally important part of The Canterbury Tales,
and Chaucers ingenious use of this literary device does a
lot to provide this book with the classic status it enjoys
even today. The Canterbury Tales is well-known as an
attack on the Church and its role in fourteenth century
society. The writer is able to make ironic attacks on

3.3- Chaucers






Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales introduce a diverse

group of travelers making the annual pilgrimage to
Canterbury, seeking blessings from St Thomas a Becket.
Chaucer sets the pilgrims in accordance with their social
rank and position.
The Squires portrait contains thematic meaning
along with satire and irony. Many of these satire and ironic
descriptions involve the comparison to the Knight.

One can see how much The Squire values his

physical appearance by Chaucers characterization of him.
With lokkes curly as they were leyd in presse
Chaucer also mentions that the Squire had seen a
little time in battle.
Oft time, in hope to stonden in his ladys grace shows
that he was concerned with his appearance to try and win
a ladys liking.
He koude songes make and wel endite
Juste and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write
Chaucer says that the Squire can sing, dance, joust,
draw, and write songs and poems. The squires character
is ironically a wonderful example of young men who in the
middle ages devoted their lives to win the hearts pf their
As a candidate for a knight, the squire should show
his tendency to think about becoming someone very
important and honored. But he seems to be interested
more in things like song writing and sexuality that dont
belong in the battle field. Chaucer said about him that:
a lovere and a lusty bachelor
The Prioresss is the most ironical character in the
prologue. The prioress, however, has a worldly air about
her. She was clepped madam Eglantine. She was a
religious character and was different from what is
traditionally expected form a nun. At that time this name
was famous for the name of heroines that is not
considered good for such sacred position. She just wanted
to make herself prominent among the people by having
name like this.
And freness she spak ful fairly and fetisly: mostly she
used to speak French in fasion, without caring her

obligation to serve and teach the people in simple

language. at metewely-taught was she with alle: Chaucer
has presented almost nine ironic lines on the table
manners instead of having more concern with her religious
She was so charitable and so piteous.
She would wepe if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were dead of bleed
She was a generous lady but all of her love was just
for animals instead of human beings as is normally
unexpected from a nun
But sikerly she had a rair forheed:
Her broad forehead shows that she was a fashionable
lady and very conscious about her beauty. A common man
expected that a nun should be simple, generous and
straight forward but she was totally opposite.
On her brooch it was inscribed:
Amor vincit Omnia (love conquers all)
It resembles a token from a secular romance that she
bears on her breast.

About the Friar Chaucer says:

Ful wel beloved and familiar was he
With frankleyns over all his countee,
And eek with women of toun;
He was a person having many good relations with people
of high ranks, rich women and franklins. These people did
many sins and these friars helped them. He listend to the
problems of the people and confessd them in a very
serious, emotional and sweet manner. He knew all those

people who could give him any advantage but he did not
gave any relation with any poor.
He knew the taverns well in all toun
And everich hostiler and tapperstere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere
The ironic signal here is set in the contrast between what
the Friar does and what his order is expected to do.
For unto swich a worthy man as he
As he was a religious character but was against the
expectations of the people. His only aim was to get money
from anywhere and in anyway. In this line, Chaucer shows
direct irony by calling him a worthy man as he was
completely against it.
To make his enlissh sweet upon his tongue
And in his harping, when that he haddle songe,
His eyen twinkled in his head aright
In the same way he delicately satirizes the wife of
Baths practice of marrying again and again:
housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve
Withouten oother compaignye in youthe.
In ironical way she is depicted by the Chaucer as a very
pious lady. He said that she was very good wife.
Nearly every aspect of the Pardoners tale is ironic.
The irony begins as soon as the Pardoner starts his
prologue. He tells the other pilgrims that his sermons
reflect how money is the root of all evils,
radix malorum est cupiditas.
Whereas we know that he has kept false relics to make
people afraid. In this way he extorted money from people.
He sold pardons to rich people and received handsome

The prologue to the Canterbury Tales is replete with ironical
statements either given by the poet for the characters or by the
characters for themselves. Chaucer, being a humanist, does not
condemn the characters he uses mild satire and irony just for
the sake of humour. Thus the use of irony by Chaucer is the
start of this technique in English Literature. Never again we find
such a beautiful use of irony in any other work of literature.


1. Malik M.A (2015) The Prologue To The Canterbury
2. Sir Jahanzeb Jahan (1st Edition The Prologue The
Canterbury Tales) Khuram Books Lahore.
3. Literaturenotice.blogspot.com