By Gail Ashton (auth.)

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Additional info for Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

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Pertelote's words present her practical common sense in opposition to Chauntecleer's masculine authority. How, she asks, can anyone fear dreams, and her common sense seems to deflate entirely Chauntecleer's self-important description of his nightmare. The effect is a bathetic one puncturing the picture given earlier, making it seem exaggerated and even silly. She declares that God knows there is nothing but vanity in dreams or 'swevenes'. This reference to God (and, amusingly, her swearing by God) draws attention to the fact that this is common knowledge supported by the ultimate, the highest authority, God, that no one can challenge.

Twice Pertelote disrupts the metre; her use of 'f)r' in the opening line emphasises her loud cry, while 'Now', which begins the third line of the extract, reverses the metre to give a tyrannical thump of dogmatism to her voice. What this opening gives us then is a sudden flurry of exclamations, an emphatic, disturbed rhythm, and a radical change of diction. All of these elements enable Chaucer to establish the power ofPertelote's voice. Hers is a distinct voice which becomes more developed as her speech proceeds.

How then is her character displayed? Earlier we explored a series of techniques used by Chaucer to sketch his characters. Are any of them helpful here or is the Wife revealed to us in a different way? Alison's is an emerging voice, one which appears by degrees through both the content of her speech and its style. She begins simply enough with a hint that her heart was set on Jankyn even before her previous husband had been decently buried. When her late husband is taken to church she tells us in an almost casual manner that it is her neighbours 'that for hym maden sorwe', not her.

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