Canterbury Tales - In and Out

Sit and Spin: Chaucer?s social commentary grows from so-called "intrusion" The relationship Geoffrey Chaucer establishes between "outsiders" and "insiders" in The Canterbury Tales provides the primary fuel for the poetry?s social commentary. Both tales and moments within tales describing instances of intrusion work to create a sense of proper order disturbed in the imaginary, structured universes presented by the pilgrims. The perturbances, conflicts born of these examples of, "intrusion into the inner circle," bear the responsibility for most of the ironic-comedic role reversal on which the Tales thrive. From the knight?s rape of a maiden in the Wife of Bath?s fantastic tale to Absolon?s jamming of a hot iron into Nicholas? rectum in the Miller?s tale, examples of such invasion and inversion represent the foundations of most of the tales? plots. Chaucer exposes his fundamental device in the opening stanza of the General Prologue. The first five lines of the poetry address only major natural forces?"Aprill with his shoures soote," (1) and, "Zephirus?with his sweete breeth" (5). Life forms, first grain and then birds, grow organically from these bricks of the earth. The poet creates a chain of existence molded into a comfortable hirearchy that culminates in "smale foweles maken melodye" (9) after the mountain of nature from which they were born jabs them into action. Man drops onto this finely constructed reality from an unrelated angle. The poet explains that Men, like birds, find Spring?s call irresistable and, "Thanne longen?to goon on pilgrimages" (12). However, people do not arise from the same flow of the narrative. Rather, they relate to it by feeling like the birds. Consequently, the appearance of Man in this first stanza presents The Canterbury Tales? first example of intrusion and role-reversal. But the instance in which Man descends upon this happy structure could result from clumsy poetry. Perhaps the description tries to flow from the physics of the earth to the rise of Man and call for an evolutionary analysis of existence. Likely it does not. First of all, The Canterbury Tales could not have lasted so long as a classic of English literature if the introduction were so flawed as to misrepresent the point of the body as a whole. But, beyond this relatively simple, circumstantial point, no substantial evidence exists (once one looks past Chaucer?s noticable but far from momentous or strange ribbing of the Church) that indicates the poet proposed evolution centuries before Darwin sailed or that he sought to overturn any conventional institutions. In fact, he seems more intent on displaying their separation from the natural state. And the old Christian conception of humanity conveniently segregated people from nature in similar fashion. So Chaucer?s introduction asserts and so his social satire continues throughout its tales. Man and his ways, like nature and hers, stumble outside of the well-designed configurations that we might like to superimpose on them. The Knight?s Tale represents the Tales? most self-consciously structured story. In it the knight, who worries much about remaining sorties into the wrong territory generally lead to tragedy. Each of a series of such intrusions throughout the tale leads to disturbances which push towards the bloody climax. Theseus touches off the whole narrative by stepping outside of his own boundaries. The famous Athenean leader invades the tale?s protagonists?, Palamon and Aricte?s, homeland, Thebes. As the most notable noble involved in the war, Theseus wins. Consequently, the lonely survivors, Palamon and Arcite, find themselves forced far below the station that their "blood roial [royal]" (1018) would naturally secure for them. In this instance, Theseus? transgression leads to Palamon and of the lowest holding cells possible, he situated their prison within a high tower. Consequently, Palamon and Arcite could spot Emily from their "purgatorie" (1226). Emily?s interloping beauty incites another fundamental switch in character interaction within the Knight?s Tale. The Thebians begin the story as friends, addressing each other as, "Cosyn myn" (1081). But almost immediately after Emily?s invasion "thurghout" Palamon?s "ye" (1096), the two knights fall into the conflict that dominates the rest of their lives. In under one hundred lines, Chaucer notes, "Greet was the strif and long bitwixt hem tweye," (1187). But two of the numerous changes born of the clash of inside and out in the Knight?s Tale present themselves as particularly interesting. The first remains primarily tethered to the earth. When both Palamon