The Prioress Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha has Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology, as well as a Bachelor's in Marketing. She has extensive experience creating & teaching curricula in college level education, history, English, business and marketing.

The Prioress runs an abbey, but she spends her time on this trip trying to be perceived as a woman taught at court, and focuses more on behaviors of a regular woman, than she does of a pious one. This lesson examines relevant quotes from the Prioress.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is the story of a group of 29 individuals that meet randomly at the Tabard Inn as they are all on their way to see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket. They decide to travel together and tell each other tales for entertainment, and settle a wager. The wager is whoever tells the best tales win a dinner on the losers. Each of the group was meant to tell two tales on the way and two tales on the way back. Although Chaucer appeared to want this format, he did not manage to finish the book in this way before he died. By the time he passed, he only had 22 full tales, and two partial. The book was published posthumously, 78 years after his death.

The Courtly Prioress

A prioress is a woman who runs a nunnery, and this prioress is no exception. However, her behavior on their travels makes her companions wonder if she runs it well. During the trip, she has three priests and a nun who are there to help her along the way and during sermons or services she is involved in. The host, in his witty way, discusses the Prioress immediately as being a woman who is not all that she seems. He states:

''There also was a Nun, a PRIORESS,

Her smile a very simple one and coy.''

Like many of the other religious figures on this ride, this woman is not behaving with proper piety, and although she wears a wimple and habit, she curiously also wears normal jewelry instead of a rosary or cross. She also tries to exude the airs of a woman who has been to court and is fashionable in the ways of the world. However, her size is what really makes an impression. She is large and overweight, with a severe forehead, glassy grey eyes, and a small mouth. The host says:

''Of table manners she had learnt it all,

For from her lips she'd let no morsel fall

Nor deeply in her sauce her fingers wet;

She'd lift her food so well she'd never get

A single drop or crumb upon her breast.''

Although he does mock her, he acknowledges that she was enjoyable to travel with. The prioress was well educated and easy to talk to, making her nice to have around. She was not the drunk or the conflict like the Miller, but she does come off as artificial because of her weird behavior. The host says:

''And certainly she was good company,

So pleasant and so amiable, while she

Would in her mien take pains to imitate

The ways of court, the dignity of state,

That all might praise her for her worthiness.''

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