Imagery in The Canterbury Tales: Examples & Meaning

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

What exactly is imagery, and why does it matter? If you have ever asked yourself this question, or if, and let's admit this is far more likely, your teacher wants you write about imagery, then look no further. In this lesson we will take a look at the definition of imagery as well as a few examples from ''The Canterbury Tales'' by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Imagery and Why it Matters

'This taco is good.' 'This field is pretty.' These two sentences are pretty lame, right? One of the reasons for this lameness is that there are no details and there is no imagery. That's fine for general conversation, but what about when you want to spice things up? If we added imagery to the first sentence, it might look something like this; ''This crispy taco is slathered in sour cream, hot sauce and shredded cheese.'' The difference is that this sentence helps us visualize the taco. If we worked on the second sentence and added imagery, it might look something like this' ''The smell of grass wafted through the air as we stood together in front of the daisy-paved field.'' If you compare that to the sentence ''The field is pretty'' you can see how helpful imagery is. Imagery is when a writer provides details that appeal to our senses using descriptive language. Chaucer knew the value of imagery and he used it often in The Canterbury Tales.

Character Descriptions

One example of imagery is when the narrator describes the Shipman. We learn that ''A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he / Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun. /The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun.'' This roughly translates into ''He wore a dagger that dangled from a cord around his neck. The sun had turned his skin brown.'' The description of the dagger and especially the Shipman's tanned skin helps us picture what he looked like.

Another example from the description of the travelers comes when he wrote about the Wife of Bath. We are told ''Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed, / Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.'' Have no idea what that means? Don't worry, I got you covered. The narrator is telling us that her stockings were scarlet red, laced up tight, and that her shoes looked soft and new.'' Because of this description, we can better picture the Wife of Bath's bright red stockings and fancy shoes.

The Prioress's Tale

Another solid example of imagery comes from the Prioress's Tale. In her story, a young boy is killed by having his neck cut. After he is killed, a series of events occur and he is able to speak and explain to his mother who killed him. When she asks him how he can still speak, he mentions that 'My throte is kut unto my nekke boon.'' In other words, his throat has been cut all the way through to his spine (at the back of his neck). The imagery of this graphic and slightly gory detail helps us visualize the scene and it also makes the violence of his murder more clear. He wasn't simply killed, his neck was hacked to the spine.

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