Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

Tones, Moods, and Irony in the Canterbury Tales

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Forms of speech and intonation are extremely important to capture the attention of the audience, whether it is in writing or spoken aloud. In literature, the author uses some literary devices to entice the reader and extract some sort of reaction from him or her. Tone is a literary technique that shows the author’s attitude towards the audience or reader. The tone of a literary work can be informal, formal, serious, angry, playful, intimate, etc.

Similar to tone is mood, which is the created atmosphere with the intention of coaxing a certain emotion from the audience, and is created through setting, theme, and tone. Irony, however, is a tone in which the real meaning is contradicted by the words that were used. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a suitable novel for showing various examples of tone, mood, and irony through the many different characters, their personalities, and their narrations. As far as literary tone goes, it is basically the same as the tone used when verbally speaking.

Chaucer balanced the serious and deathly tales with the tales set for comedy. In the General Prologue, the portrayals of the Knight, the Parson, and the Plowman show a solemn tone while the Prioress, the Monk, the Merchant and many of the others have comical, ironic, and satiric tales which settle in great comedy. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer uses irony and straightforwardness more often than other tones. In the Wife of Bath’s Tale, there is very little emotion within the narration.

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For example, the story goes that for the knight’s deed, he should die because it is the law. There is no room for argument or hesitation, just follow the law. The Knight’s Tale is one of great magnitude. One can notice how Chaucer had honor towards the Knight, because of how grand he is portrayed and how epic his tale is. Everything that happens in the tale feels extravagant and larger than life. The tone of the Knight’s Tale is Chaucer’s way of convincing the audience that the Knight is worthy and important.

Throughout the entire novel, Chaucer creates different atmospheres that point out that not only are the characters traveling together, but some of them also have relations with one another. Sometimes, there are quick shifts of mood from sincerity to mockery and form criticism to sarcasm. Chaucer makes it clear that there is tension and hostility between the Reeve and the Miller in the General Prologue and their tales. The Miller, drunk, tells what seems to be a parody of the Reeve and includes that the Reeve’s wife has been cheating on him. As a comeback, the Reeve tells a tale about a miller who gets tricked and cuckolded.

In addition to showing issues in the relationship, Chaucer also forms a comedic atmosphere through the novel. Chaucer makes a parody out of the Church, showing how all of the religious travelers in the story are, instead of being models of holiness, they are corrupt, break their vows, and are definitely not models of holiness. Ironically enough, the narrator, who is called Chaucer, gives the reader the impression that he is naive, but sometimes turns out to be knowledgeable about how the travelers want to be portrayed and how they actually are.

When he describes the Monk, Chaucer agrees with the Monk’s opinions of how a monk is supposed to really act, whereas when he describes the Prioress, Chaucer paints her portrait to appear like a woman of high class while in reality, the Prioress is just a Nun who is concerned with how etiquette and how she eats. The Pardoner’s Tale is one that shows the most irony, because the three men vow to die for each other, but in the end, they kill each other. Also, what the Pardoner does is ironic because he makes people happy when they unknowingly fall for his tricks.

Another example of irony is in the Franklin’s Tale when the rocks that Dorigen prays for disappear, all the trouble begins. The Miller’s Tale is also ironic because since John is concerned that his wife would cheat on him, he becomes extremely jealous and possessive, which makes his wife cuckold him. The travelers all have different reasons for telling his or her own tales, whether it is to make fun of someone else in the group, to make the rest of the travelers laugh, to show off, to confess, or to give a story of moral exemplum.

With each story comes both different or similar moods and outcomes, and some even include moral teachings. Chaucer as the narrator wrote by memory about the profiles and stories told by the travelers. He included whether or not he liked certain travelers and how he felt about them just by how much or how little he wrote. The Canterbury Tales is a novel full of comedy, satire, irony, and reality. It is a cornucopia of tones and moods. The Canterbury Tales is truly a masterpiece of literature.

Tones, Moods, and Irony in the Canterbury Tales essay

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