THE CHAUCER PROJECT
ASSIGNMENT: You are to complete your own SATIRICAL addition to Chaucer‟s Canterbury Tales.
That means you must make
an introduction to a character in the same form as Chaucer develops for the other pilgrims in the
GENERAL PROLOGUE. This will be a part of his ESTATES SATIRE (satirical commentary on
people by profession). This is done in the voice of the „narrator in the story‟ – use Chaucer‟s
descriptions as a model for your own; this is not a whole new story, just an addition to Chaucer‟s.
You must then craft an INDIVIDUAL PROLOGUE for that character that introduces them as a
story-teller, just like Chaucer does for each story teller in his work.
Finally, you must adapt a short tale of some sort (fable, parable, short story, humorous anecdote,
narrative poem, fairy tale) to suit the character you are satirizing.
You must follow Chaucer in form as much as possible (excluding poetic form unless otherwise
DUE DATE: BEFORE EASTER
GOALS: This assignment encourages students 1) To become familiar with the literary concept of Satire
and the subtleties involved in using irony in story telling in order to criticize, 2) To practice creative
writing and expression in a genre that has real world uses, 3) To engage in the critical thinking required to
identify qualities and standards that are important to a model literature and then adapt their expression to
match them, 4) To see the writer‟s position as not only a creative one (Writer as Artist –Contributor to
„Culture‟), but one that allows for critical commentary on society itself (Writer as Advisor or Contributor
to Society). In the end, you should know how (subtly) satire works by making one yourself!
REQUIREMENTS: All the requirements for an MLA essay are required for this paper. See my links on
the Homework Page about headings, margins, fonts, etc. Paper length will be determined by parts, and is
listed under each heading below. I warn you against changing margins, font, or spacing to play with these
requirements. Papers that do not meet these standards will be unacceptable; you will have to correct all
mistakes on form or paper length before the paper is accepted for grading.
GENERAL PROLOGUE: You must spend about 1 to 1 ½ pages describing an additional pilgrim in
Chaucer’s company (as one of those collected in the Tabard Inn waiting to go on Pilgrimage). This
character should probably be a character from our world, since we have the most familiarity with them
and thus could satirize them best. You should, however, take the various descriptions Chaucer makes as
models for your own (how the character is introduced, the means by which they are satirized – hyperbole,
allusions, innuendo, stereotyping, irony, straight sarcasm, non-sequitur, etc). Your paper will be judged
on how you use Chaucer‟s Prologue introductions as a model for your own. Some things to consider:
You must evaluate how „good‟ the person is at their profession. This can be indicated
ironically/sarcastically or authentically. You must evaluate how good they are in general
(moral/immoral, ethical/unethical) but you cannot do so by describing them directly, but their
actions. You should also give hints by describing them – their physical description and what they
choose to spend their money on (to dress themselves, on booze, on weapons or fineries, whatever)
as is appropriate to their station in society. These should give a composite picture of the character
you are describing, their place within society, their place within their profession, and the kind of
opinion we are to have of them.
Notice that Chaucer adopts the position of being there seeing these pilgrims in his descriptions.
What they do, how they act (not what they say, yet), what they look like are all part of his
GENERAL PROLOGUE. However, he seems also to have a great deal of knowledge of them
beyond what a fellow pilgrim would have. You are both a narrator that is present to describe the
pilgrim (you are Chaucer the Pilgrim) AND you are an omniscient narrator (you know their entire
history, motives, hidden sins, etc – notice how important this is in the description of the knight‟s
foreign campaigns, the squire‟s motives, the friar‟s indiscretions, etc).
After you are done writing your prologue, you should try your hand at making at least part of it
into Medieval English narrative poetry, that is to say put it into lines of rhymed couplets of
relatively the same length. This is Chaucer‟s poetic structure and one adopted widely in England
in the Middle Ages (Medieval Period – same thing). Start with a dozen lines, then add as you can.
Quality, not quantity, is important to me. Try to really tell the story narrative-ly and poetically. Do
not simply repeat the same idea, avoiding going forward in your narrative. Avoid summarizing
your narrative without really telling the story as well. Try to tell the story with all the same vital
energy, imagery, and emotion as the original, AUGMENTING it with poetic expression.
CHARACTER PROLOGUE: You must write a one-page (at least) prologue for the tale you are to tell.
This prologue is done with a focus on the voice of the tale-teller, not the voice of Chaucer the Narrator.
As such, although written in the 3rd person from the perspective of the narrator, you will focus on
dialogue – what the character has to say about themselves, their job, their personal life, their motivations,
their concerns, the way they see the world about them, etc. In short, most of it will be a quote with the
appropriate he and she said, observed, commented, etc. Some things to consider:
The pardoner seems to know he is bad. The satire is such that he seems proud of his sins. This is
not the norm for Chaucer, even though it is entertaining. Notice in the Wife of Bath‟s prologue,
she is serious; if there is satire, it is subtle and gained from the fact that WE see it though the
character seems oblivious to the fact that they are digging themselves deeper and deeper in our
disapproval. Think of how serious the actors on Saturday Night Live or the characters in South
Park seem to take themselves „in the moment‟ when they are depicting characters at whom WE are
laughing. Often, WHAT characters say about themselves in their own prologues are things with
which they are perfectly satisfied. Yet these are the very things we find disreputable, dishonorable,
unethical, or just plain bad; they do not recognize it (as the Pardoner does), but we do.
THE TALE: You must choose a tale for your character to tell. Feel free to adapt one from one you know
(I said adapt, not adopt; please craft your tale specifically for this character, do not cut and paste it). This
portion can be as short as 1 ½ pages, or as long as you need.
Choose an appropriate genre first: Is your character one usually involved in instruction? If so, do
you know a moral tale, a teaching tale? Can you craft it to be appropriate? Notice that in the
Pardoner‟s tale, he tells a tale that is completely thematic to his own concerns, though ironically
reflects more on his own vice rather than on instructing others.
Retell the tale so that we really think that YOUR character is telling it. Emphasize parts that your
character would emphasize; imagine that the story is actually being narrated by the character you
are portraying. Your satirical stance must carry over into the tale in one way or another. Notice
that the Wife of Bath tells a story that backs up the claims she makes in her prologue. Read
another short tale and prologue to see how Chaucer consistently matched STORY to
CHARACTER – the relationship is always there, though it may not always be the same kind of
relationship. For instance, low class characters tell „low class‟ stories for the most part. Second
Estate characters try to tell appropriate „teaching‟ or „holy‟ stories, and when they don‟t that says
something about them as well (“why is a holy person telling such a questionable tale?” you might
ask! I bet you that the character isn‟t all that holy, right?). Something about the theme, the plot, the
content, the topic, the genre, the style, or more than one of these should SUIT the character telling
the story, adding to the satire of your whole work.
THE RECEPTION OF THE TALE: Have the pilgrims respond to the tale as appropriate. Is anyone in
that group offended? Pleased? A kindred spirit come to offer verbal support? Look at how the Pardoner‟s
tale ends, or how the Miller‟s tale finishes up, the Wife of Bath‟s tale closes (and is even interrupted) with
these short dialogues. In form, this ending is the same as the Tale Prologue. This part of the paper need
only by ½ page and comes directly after the tale is told.