General Prologue


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general prologue Character Sketch of Chaucer's Knight

Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, written in approximately 1385, is a collection of twenty-four stories ostensibly told by various people who are going on a religious pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral from London, England. Prior to the actual tales, however, Chaucer offers the reader a glimpse of fourteenth century life by way of what he refers to as a General Prologue. In this prologue, Chaucer introduces all of the characters who are involved in this imaginary journey and who will tell the tales. Among the characters included in this introductory section is a knight. Chaucer initially refers to the knight as "a most distinguished man" (l. 43) and, indeed, his sketch of the knight is highly complimentary.

The knight, Chaucer tells us, "possessed/Fine horses, but he was not gaily dressed" (ll. 69-70). Indeed, the knight is dressed in a common shirt which is stained "where his armor had left mark" (l. 72). That is, the knight is "just home from service" (l. 73) and is in such a hurry to go on his pilgrimage that he has not even paused before beginning it to change his clothes.

The knight has had a very busy life as his fighting career has taken him to a great many places. He has seen military service in Egypt, Lithuania, Prussia, Russia, Spain, North Africa, and Asia Minor where he "was of [great] value in all eyes (l. 63). Even though he has had a very successful and busy career, he is extremely humble: Chaucer maintains that he is "modest as a maid" (l. 65). Moreover, he has never said a rude thing to anyone in his entire life (cf., ll. 66-7). Clearly, the knight possesses an outstanding character.

Chaucer gives to the knight one of the more flattering descriptions in the General Prologue. The knight can do no wrong: he is an outstanding warrior who has fought for the true faith-according to Chaucer-on three continents. In the midst of all this contenton, however, the knight remains modest and polite. The knight is the embodiment of the chivalric code: he is devout and courteous off the battlefield and is bold and fearless on it.

In twentieth century America, we would like to think that we have many people in our society who are like Chaucer's knight. During this nation's altercation with Iraq in 1991, the concept of the modest but effective soldier captured the imagination of the country. Indeed, the nation's journalists in many ways attempted to make General H. Norman Schwarzkof a latter day knight. The general was made to appear as a fearless leader who really was a regular guy under the uniform.

It would be nice to think that a person such as the knight could exist in the twentieth century. The fact of the matter is that it is unlikely that people such as the knight existed even in the fourteenth century. As he does with all of his characters, Chaucer is producing a stereotype in creating the knight. As noted above, Chaucer, in describing the knight, is describing a chivalric ideal. The history of the Middle Ages demonstrates that this ideal rarely was manifested in actual conduct. Nevertheless, in his description of the knight, Chaucer shows the reader the possibility of the chivalric way of life. ... more

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Analysis of "The Age of Anxiety" by W.H. Auden




Analysis of "The Age of Anxiety" by W.H. Auden

The themes and ideas in Auden's "The Age of Anxiety" reflect his belief that
man's quest for self actualization is in vain.

  I.  Auden's background
A.  As a 1930's poet
1.  Views of Society
2.  Diagnosis of the industrial society
B.  Major conflicts of his works
 II.  "The Age of Anxiety" overview
A.  As a quest poem
1.  Characters' search for self-actualization
2.  Characters' inevitable failure in the quest
B.  Characters' views on the general situation
1.  Their belief to be in Purgatory when they are
                       allegorically in Hell
2.  Their disbelief in impossibility
III.  "The Age of Anxiety" character analysis
A.  Quant
B.  Malin
C.  Rosetta
D.  Emble
 IV.  Part I
A.  Commonly called "Prologue"
B.  Introduces scene and characters
C.  Characters think aloud to reveal their nature
1.  Quant views himself with false admiration
2.  Malin examines the theoretical nature of man
3.  Rosetta endeavors to create an imaginary and happy past
4.  Emble passes his youthful judgment on the others' follies
  V.  First act of Part II, "The Seven Ages"
A.  Malin's domination of this act
1.  Serves as a guide
2.  Controls the characters through his introduction of each age
B.  Others support Malin's theories by drawing from past, present, and
               potential future experiences
C.  The ages
1.  The first age
a.  Malin asks the reader to "Behold the infant"
b.  Child is "helpless in cradle and / Righteous still"
                               but already has a "Dread in his dreams"
2.  The second age
a.  Youth, as Malin describes it
b.  Age at which man realizes "his life-bet with a lying
                               self"
c.  Naive belief in self and place in life is boundless
d.  It is the age of belief in the possibility of a
                               future
3.  The third age
a.  The sexual awakening
b.  Distinction between dream and reality
c.  Discovery that love, as it was thought to be, is a
                               sharp contrast to love in the bounds of reality
4.  The fourth age
a.  Presents circus imagery "as a form of art too close
                               to life to have any purgative effect on the
                               audience"
b.  Rosetta's definition of life and the world
5.  The fifth age
a.  Conveys the image of man as "an astonished victor"
b.  Man believes he has made peace with the meaning of
                               life
c.  Anxiety declines as "He [man] learns to speak /
                               Softer and slower, not to seem so eager"
d.  Man is no longer confined to a prison of prismatic
                               color, but is free in the dull, bland place
                              that is the world
e.  Emble's opposition of the fifth age
(1)  Refuses to go willingly into middle age
(2)  Demands to know why man must "Leave out
                                       the worst / Pang of youth"
(3)  Is disturbed by time unlike the others
                                       for he is still young enough to have
                                       a future
f.  Quant's domination of the fifth age
(1)  Attempt to eliminate all hope
(2)  View on man's adaptation to the fifth age
6.  The sixth age
a.  Man begins to show age
b.  "Impotent, aged, and successful," Malin's portrayal
                               of a man of this age is indifferent to the world
7.  The seventh age
a.  Hypothetical man is tired out
b.  Malin is ready for this age in contrast to the
                               others' reluctance to die just yet
 VI.  Second act of Part II, "The Seven Stages"
A.  Unlike "The Seven Ages," this act is nothing more than a dream
B.  "The Seven Stages" is an attempt to find the perfect time of life
C.  The stages
1.  The first stage
a.  Each character begins alone, "isolated with his own
                               thoughts"
b.  Justification of the view that the quest is for
                               naught
2.  The second stage
a.  Is initiated by the first pairing of characters
(1)  Shows possibility of hope
(a)  Emble
(b)  Rosetta
(2)  Shows futility of hope
(a)  Quant
(b)  Malin
3.  The third stage
a.  Begins as the couples turn inland
(1)  Emble and Rosetta by plane
(2)  Quant and Malin by train
b.  The characters complete the third stage without
                               success in their search for self
4.  The fourth stage
a.  Malin speaks for them all in his derogatorative
                               statements about the city
b.  Malin passes judgment on its citizens based on
                               the urban surroundings
5.  The fifth stage
a.  Rosetta visits a mansion in which she wishes
                               she were raised and to which she wishes she
                               shall return
b.  While Rosetta is within the house, the others
                               examine its exterior and its comparison to
                               he human body
c.  Rosetta finds life inside the house no better
                               than before
6.  The sixth stage
a.  A "forgotten graveyard" is ... more

general prologue

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