Discuss the effects of the opening lines of The Prologue, as far as "And at a knight, than, wol I first beginne", showing how effective you think this passage is as an introduction to The Prologue.

In the course of your answer:

  • Look closely at the effects of language and imagery in the passage;
  • Comment on ways in which the passage prepares the reader for the methods and concerns of The Prologue as a whole.

The 1st 18 lines of the passage are 1 continuous sentence- a long extended metaphor. Continuity of sentence could be seen as suggesting an ongoing process, the cyclical, never ending nature of life. These lines introduce us to the relationship between man & nature; in TGP as a whole we tend to find that the more admirable characters have a closer, more harmonious relationship with nature than the others - eg. Yeoman.

Positive vocab. used to describe nature in the spring - "shoures soote", "sweete breethe", "melodie", "vertu", "tendre croppes". Since physical spring & spiritual spring are being equated, this positive attitude is transferred to the concept of pilgrimage, esp. when Beckett is described as "holy" and "blisful" and given credence as a martyr who "hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke." Given that not all of the pilgrims seem to be wholly committed to the faith -eg prioress - this early legitimisation of the concept of pilgrimage is important.

These 1st 18 lines introduce us to the general idea of pilgrimage; the next 23 lines introduce us to this particular pilgrimage. 1st 18 lines more lyrical, next 23 more narrative. 1st 18 lines under control of Chaucer the poet, next 23 under control of Chaucer the pilgrim?

C. the pilgrim is presented as being somewhat materialistic: he notices the quality of the bedrooms & stables & comments on the fact that they are well looked after, saying

"The chambres and the stables weren wide,
And wel we weren esed atte best."

We perceive him as an inquisitive man who is able, in one evening, to speak to all 29 pilgrims & tell the reader

"the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And which they werren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne"

Obviously also he is aware of the wisdom of group travel, in the conditions of the time, as he makes considerable effort to become "of hir fellaweship".

It is suggested this early on that he is a man with an eye to status, and this becomes more apparent as TGP progresses and it is made clear that he is easily blinded by rank - see his acceptance of the prioress and the monk.

Through him the issue of rank or "degree" is introduced and shown to be important; social hierarchy was still fairly strictly defined as English society emerged from feudalism, despite the newly emerging middle class. C. the pilgrim begins with the knight because he is the highest ranking pilgrim

The issue of clothing is raised, as C. the pilgrim promises to tell us

"eek in what array that they were inne"

It is a technique within TGP to characterise people not only by their clothing itself but also by how much attention is given to it; as a rule the more "worthy" the character, the less detail is given. eg knight cf prioress.

So we can see that these 1st 42 lines effectively introduce many of the linguistic techniques and thematic concerns which will recur both in TGP and the Tales as a whole.