Humor, Irony, and Satire in The Canterbury Tales

Humor, Irony, and Satire
in The Canterbury Tales
A Character Map
Harry Bailey
The Miller and the Knight
John and Alison
Nicolas and Absalom
The Reeve
"A fabliau is a brief comic tale in verse, usually scurrilous and
often scatological or obscene. The style is simple, vigorous,
and straightforward…the characters are ordinary sorts tradesmen, peasants, priests, students, restless wives; the
plots are realistically motivated tricks and ruses.
The fabliaux thus present a lively image of everyday life among
the middle and lower classes.
(The Riverside Chaucer 7)
Genre: fabliau ("cherles tale"/l. 61 but "a legende and a lif"/l. 34)
1. Set in contemporary world, not the epic or heroic past
2. Characters lower class (peasants, clerks, laborers), not aristocratic
3. Stories involve sex, food, and money, not idealized love
4. Emphasis on cunning, duplicity, and folly, not virtue
5. Opposes and overturns authority and hierarchy
“The true test of comedy is that it shall awaken
thoughtful laughter.”
-George Meredith
The Comedic Ladder
Low Comedy (Farce)
High Comedy (Satire)
Comedy of Manners
Comedy of Ideas
Romantic Comedy
Inconsistencies of Character
Verbal Wit
Plot Device
Physical Mishap
The expression of one's meaning by using language that
normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous
or emphatic effect.
A kind of writing that ridicules human
weaknesses, vice or folly, in order to
bring about social reform.
Canterbury Tales
In what manner does Chaucer
weave elements of literary humor to
create “thoughtful laughter”?
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