Title Background

Langland’s and Chaucer’s Prologues.

Langland’s and Chaucer’s Prologues.

Argues Chaucer’s knowledge of the A text. Sees the differences between A.Prol. and Chaucer’s General Prologue as often exaggerated: the dream allegory of PPl often turns literal, while Chaucer’s poem moves from comparative naturalism in the General Prologue to overt art and fiction in the tales, and Chaucer’s stress on the individual must be considered in terms of estates conventions. A.Prol. presents more coherent estates enumeration than the B and C texts, and is thus structurally closer to Chaucer’s Prologue (twenty-seven and thirty estates, respectively). Both works include figures not standard in the genre (e.g., Pardoner and Cook, with the latter in both works placed at the end of a list of assorted burgesses). Of the more expected figures found in both poems, there is a generous coincidence of detail (e.g., the Merchant’s appearance of wealth and the similarities of plowman figures, which are not sanctioned by the estates tradition). A.Prol.46-69 suggests how a pilgrim-story collection could be generated. WL’s poem gains coherence and direction as pilgrims understand their pilgrimage is to Truth, while the Canterbury Tales becomes more diverse. Chaucer begins with a moral ideal at the top of society; whereas WL distinguishes between good secular and religious lives, Chaucer conflates the two in the ideal triad of Knight-Parson-Plowman. The appearance of moral neutrality in the General Prologue is dropped in the Parson’s Tale, which suggests that one can move from one estate to another, from sin to penitence, just as in A. 7 where individual vocations are subordinated to the collective search for Truth. Nevertheless, Chaucer, unlike WL, elevates moral schizophrenia into an artistic principle, and there is in his poem no figure like Piers who reconciles God and the world.


YLS 1 (1987): 71-81.


Cooper, Helen.