The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, the Father of English Poetry, is one of the greatest works. Chaucer is a true chronicler of the social conditions in the Middle ages. The book is about twenty nine pilgrims, including Chaucer himself, visiting the shrine of Thomas Beckett at Canterbury. In the well-known Prologue, Chaucer gives a detailed analysis of these pilgrims from various sections of society.
Each of these pilgrims tells tales. Some of these pilgrims are Knight, Parson, Clerk of Oxford, Wife of bath, the Knight’s son Squire, Yeoman, Madam Eglantine, Friar. Chaucer through these characters criticizes the moral depravity, but hissatire is always gentle, and never malicious. Dryden aptly remarks anbout these pilgrims: “I see all the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales , their humours, their features, and the very dress as distinctly as I have supped with them at the tabard” .
All the pilgrims are apt symbols of universal traits of human beings. For example, the Wife of Bath represents modern feminism.
She'd had five husbands, all at the church door
Apart from other company
Chaucer’s satire is very gentle. He never inflicts a wound while he satirizes the social evils. For example, we may take the following lines about the parson:
He could make songs and poems and recite.
Knew how to joust and dance, to draw and write.
He loved so hotly that till dawn grew pale
He slept as little as a nightingale.
“The prevailing feature of Chaucer’s humor is its urbanity; the man of the world’s kindly tolerance of the weaknesses of his erring fellow mortals” (Albert).
Chaucer was a gentle satirist. He hit no unfair blow to any of his characters in The Canterbury Tales. There is not a single taunt which can be called ungenerous or unkind. Chaucer castigated only in smiling.