The Complex Character of The Nun in The Canterbury Tales

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 600 |

Page: 1|

3 min read

Published: Mar 16, 2024

Words: 600|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Mar 16, 2024

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims as they travel to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. One of the most intriguing characters in this collection is the Nun, or Prioress, who tells a tale of a young boy martyred for singing a song praising the Virgin Mary. The Nun's character and her tale have been the subject of much analysis and interpretation, as she presents a complex and contradictory figure. In this essay, I will explore the nuances of the Nun's character and analyze the implications of her portrayal in Chaucer's work.

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The Nun is described as being delicate and well-mannered, yet her tale of martyrdom is gruesome and violent. This contrast between her appearance and her story highlights the complexity of her character. Some scholars argue that the Nun's tale reflects her desire for gentleness and compassion, while others suggest that her fascination with martyrdom reveals a darker side to her personality. It is important to consider the social and historical context in which Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in order to fully understand the significance of the Nun's character.

In medieval England, religious devotion was a central aspect of daily life, and the cult of the Virgin Mary was particularly popular. The Nun's preoccupation with all things elegant and her sentimental attachment to animals and children demonstrate her devotion to the ideals of courtly love and chivalry. However, her tale of the young boy who is brutally murdered challenges the notion of courtly love and highlights the violent undercurrents of the medieval world. This juxtaposition of the Nun's refined demeanor and her gruesome tale serves to emphasize the contradictions and complexities of human nature.

Furthermore, the Nun's use of French in her speech and her affected mannerisms suggest a desire to appear refined and sophisticated. This affectation may be a way for the Nun to distance herself from the crude and bawdy behavior of some of the other pilgrims. Her attempts to emulate the manners of the upper class reveal her aspirations for social advancement and her longing for a more elevated status. However, this desire for upward mobility also exposes the Nun's insecurity and her fear of being judged by others.

In addition to her outward behavior, the Nun's physical appearance is also significant in understanding her character. Chaucer describes her as having a "fair forehead" and a "small, coral mouth," which suggests a certain level of vanity and self-absorption. Her emphasis on outward beauty and refinement may indicate a lack of inner substance and a superficiality that belies her true nature. This discrepancy between appearance and reality further complicates the Nun's character and adds depth to her portrayal in The Canterbury Tales.

The Nun's complex character has led to a wide range of interpretations and analyses by scholars and critics. Some view her as a symbol of the conflict between the sacred and the profane, while others see her as a representation of the tensions between social aspiration and spiritual devotion. Regardless of the specific interpretation, it is clear that the Nun's character is multifaceted and rich in meaning.

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The Nun in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a complex and contradictory character whose portrayal raises important questions about the nature of human identity and the complexities of medieval society. Her refinement and elegance are juxtaposed with her fascination with violence and martyrdom, creating a character that is both enigmatic and thought-provoking. The Nun's character serves as a microcosm of the larger themes and tensions present in Chaucer's work, making her a crucial figure in the overall tapestry of The Canterbury Tales.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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The Complex Character of the Nun in The Canterbury Tales. (2024, March 15). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“The Complex Character of the Nun in The Canterbury Tales.” GradesFixer, 15 Mar. 2024,
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