At first read of a story that is over 600 years old, one may, as myself had, find it surprising that Canterbury Tales contains such frequent use of irony. With knowledge that this story was written during an especially religious time period, one finds it surprising as to the mockery he gives to most characters. In the General Prologue this becomes most apparent with the monk, a man of religious profession who displays qualities on the contra. While much of the initial writing on the monk is satirical, I found lines 169-171 to contain the greatest use of irony. These lines are written in the following way:
“And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel here
Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere
And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle.”
As mentioned just earlier these lines seem to contain the greatest use of irony. Although these lines on their own may look pretty standard in describing a man of religious profession, taken in there proper context they are not. Through knowledge of the lines prior to these three, the reader is introduced to a monk keen on hunting, a trait not typical or wanted by a man of the profession. Therefore when the reader arrives at this scene there is already an understanding that whatever is mentioned in accordance with the typical standards of a monk must not be taken literally at first glance. Thus, when the reader comes to the lines mentioned above they encounter a great usage of irony.
To give a general definition of what irony is, especially in regard to its use by Chaucer, it is a type of language to have levels of meaning, that are ambiguous so that the reader is not entirely certain how to interpret a particular phrase. In regards to the Monk this use of irony may not seem as ambiguous in its meaning, yet it still does the job successfully in its effect. In looking at the above lines the ambiguity is made successful in the humorous simile used in line 171. This ironic simile is set up by the prior lines which remark...