With respect to “The General Prologue” and “Chaucer’s Retraction” possibly being written in different times, Chaucer the author wants to distance himself or at least portray a different character in the “Canterbury Tales” through the different approaches he uses to tell the stories; like for instance his independent beliefs in despair in his Retraction or the frame narrative of the “Canterbury Tales” linking his characters together with possible metaphors, allowing Chaucer the author to hide allegories in plain sight as well as criticism or appreciation of social status or religious wars.
In the General Prologue, Chaucer introduces the journey and pilgrims, with respect to their background and social standards. Chaucer the pilgrim builds on the Knight in the General Prologue, developing his own narrative and perspective with respect to Chaucer the author attempting to distance himself from his stories as seen in the Retraction; herein looking at the Knights characterization by Chaucer the pilgrim, his critique, whether unrealistic or representative; and Chaucer the author’s detachment from his self inserted character in order to distance himself from the Canterbury Tales blasphemous plots by looking at the retraction.
Chaucer introduces the pilgrimage and describes the pilgrims in the General Prologue to create the sense of “Felawshipe” (line 26) which denotes by the Middle English Dictionary as a “religious brotherhood”; starting with the Knight due to his virtue, high social class, and values. The Knight from the start “loved Chivalrye/ Trouthe and Honour, freedom and curteisye” (45-46). The Knight’s “Trouthe” represents the connotations and literal denotations of the nobleman as the Middle English Dictionary defines the word as “fidelity”, “divine righteousness”, and “confidence”. These words conjure a sense of loyalty, worthiness and strength towards the characterization of the Knight. In contrary, the Knight “loved” these attributes, thus the Knight consciously aims to embody these notions in mind, and almost unaware of the nature of his own egotistic desires or simply unspoken pride.
Chaucer the pilgrim praises the Knights stately battles, honor to his lord and courage. The narrator shifts the tone from positive to negative when he describes “his hors were goode, but he was nat gay” (74). The narrator gets to the Knights physical description of his attire which is made from coarse thick cloth and a rust-stained chain mail; particularly claiming that he was not “gay” (74) meaning he was not “joyous”, “merry” or dressed in shining “bright colors” or “elegant” due to the rust from his armour. The Knight seems to embrace the aftermath of war and status of his nobility by keeping and wearing the rusty chain mail instead of wearing a cleaner one.
The Knight conforms to the ideal set of beliefs that comes with the characterization of a horseman like character, respect, courtly features and high class or morality; nonetheless it is exaggerated and adds a personal perceptions or projection into the standard ideas of a Knight. Chaucer the narrator seems to be aware of the Knights deeds and possibly criticizes his conscious actions of wearing the rust-stained armour, which is the Knights hubris but nevertheless the Knight is humble as told by the narrator “He nevere yit no vilainye ne saide” (70) .
Whether or not Chaucer the author critiques the Knight’s expeditions or crusade wars, the narrator is aware of the Knights deeds and criticizes his pride perhaps out of jealousy. The narrator seems to have a subjective point of view because as far as the plot introduced in the prologue, we as readers are unaware of why exactly is the Knight still wearing a stained armour, nonetheless it can be removed with respect to time. What is visible is the physical appearance, embodiment of the knight and personal pride but no claims regarding the actual reason of not replacing the stained chain mail other than his return from his voyage and the narrator criticizing him for his clothing’s and need for attention.
The verisimilitude is representative of a knight, with characters strength and respect, personal flaws like his pride due to the high social notions of a knight, and success in crusades or expeditions in at least fifteen battles. The author looks at his self inserted character as judgmental or at least naive of the Knight’s situation or background given the fact that Chaucer is also a member of the emerging middle class. Chaucer the author may have added this characterization to his narrator fully aware of finding faults of other pilgrims, with respect to the knight being of a higher social class which signifies some jealousy from the narrator or the author.
On the other hand, the improper appearance of the Knight, a member of the high social class and stains which could be blood represents the aggressiveness and criticism of the crusades and force converting societies into Christianity or vice versa with other religions and wars. The Knight’s pride is personified by his attire.
The Retraction of Chaucer the author praises the lord “Jesu Christ” and asks for forgiveness for his blasphemous stories or obscene plots like the impression of cuckolding John the carpenter in the Miller’s Tale. Similarly, the retraction poses as his last testament or resort towards the end of his life and perhaps a personal insight to his spirituality and repentance, nevertheless his stories may signify something else like his critique of pragmatic religion and its logic in the will to believe.
Meanwhile, The religious allegory in the Miller’s Tale of John building the boat and a coming flood mimics the story of Noah in the bible and Noah’s ark, thus Chaucer one way or another is conjuring religious archetypes all being told by the drunken pilgrim miller, Robin. Not to be forgotten, the frame narrative reminds the readers that Robin the pilgrim miller is drunk and to tell stories that mock religious notions is generally undignified and ridiculous the entire journey of his zealous pilgrimage; being intoxicated is traditionally considered a sin as it creates confusion and ignorance towards spirituality.
Maybe hypocritical, but Chaucer the author approaches and approves Christianity perhaps as a final option shown in his retraction but critiques or mimics much of its stories and pragmatic beliefs in the Canterbury Tales, this allows Chaucer to create a sense of detachment from his surrogate the thirtieth pilgrim and safely critique the culture without getting into much trouble with the church. To completely draw differences between the narrator and author, comparing the prologue and retraction shows a complete different approach and understanding of at least not only religion but also to the society and culture like the Church or offending religious people.
The dutiful religious knight just got back from war and wants everyone to know it by consciously wearing the rust-stained armour and embodying the representative characters of a knight bounded by Christianity and high social class in late-medieval culture, leaving the sense of seeking attention from other members to boast his satisfaction or sense of achievement. Nonetheless his character flaw is shown through his excessive pride and perhaps a downfall to Chaucer’s eye even if he is humble and never had any vileness spoken.
The pilgrim wants us to know particular things of the characters and fits the criteria in which the social standards of a knight require; such as his fighting expeditions and communal respect. Nonetheless, the narrator could have a subjective point of view of the Knight’s personality due to his higher social hierarchy with respect to the author born into the middle class. This creates a deeper understanding of the narrators characterization and the author with respect to Chaucer’s retraction thus fabricates a merely opened detachment between the narrator and author .