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Personification in The Canterbury Tales: Examples & Meaning

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the use of the literary device, personification, to describe the characters and setting and to engage the reader in Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales.'

Definition

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories and poems by Geoffrey Chaucer about a group of people that meet each other while each is on his/her way to Canterbury. Along the way, they have a contest to see who can tell the best story. The author incorporates several literary devices when developing the characters and settings, but also is used to embellish the stories the characters tell. One of the literary devices that can be found is personification. Personification is when human qualities are given to things that are not human. Let's look at some examples of personification from these stories.

Prologue

Chaucer opens his collection with a few examples of personification in the very first sentence to describe the springtime pilgrimage of these characters. He narrator says, ''…The drought of March has pierced unto the root And bathed each vein with liquor that has power To generate therein and sire the flower; When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath, Quickened again, in every holt and heath, …So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage…''

The drought's capacity to pierce and bathe the roots is an example of personification because the action verbs that are ascribed to the drought are things that people, not weather conditions, usually do. The Zephyr, which is the wind, is described as having 'sweet breath.' While it makes sense to compare the wind with breathing, breath is something that only living things are capable of doing. Finally, saying that Nature pricks them provides Nature with a capability that is reserved for people. In each of these examples, the author uses personification as a type of figurative language that provides a descriptive image of the setting of this story.

The Man of Law

In The Man of Law Tale, the narrator describes Lady Constance saying, ''…virtue is her guide; Meekness in her has humbled tyranny…'' Virtue and meekness have been personified to give the reader insight into her beautiful character.

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