Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Chaucer's Humour


Masefield calls Chaucer, ‘A great Renaissance gentleman mocking at the Middle Ages’.

Chaucer may be regarded as the first great English humorist. His distaste for all extravagance and follies helped him to become a great comic poet.

Chaucer's Many Sided Humour

We know that humour can be used in a broad as well as in a limited sense. In a narrow sense, it means a gentle mirth. In the broader sense, it stands for boisterous humour (fun), intellectual humour (wit), and bitter humour (satire). Chaucer's work reflects all these different types of humour.

Humanity In Chaucer's Humour

As a humorist, Chaucer is a great humanist, because he loves mankind in spite of its foibles. Even while he gently unmasks the roguery of the rogues, he feels grateful to them as they give pleasure. There is no malice, spite or animosity in his inborn attitude of benevolence and tolerance.

Chaucer Laughs At His Own Self

The height of tolerance comes when the writer makes fun of himself also. That is exactly what Chaucer does. In the Prologue, he refers to himself As A Simple Unlettered Man:

‘My Wit Is Short As You May Well Understand.’

Humour for the sake of humour - that is the underlying attitude of Chaucer.

Some Humorous Expressions

·         The Prioress wept when anybody wounded her dog or mouse.
·         The Monk had as swift hounds as the flying birds.
·         Harry Bailly, the Host, is a lamb before his shrewish wife and a lion before the pilgrims.

Chaucer's Satirical Tone Is In Fact Sympathetic

Chaucer's satirical tone is noted here and there when he depicts some characters in the Prologue and the Tales. He has employed pure irony against two culprits, the Pardoner and the Summoner. Chaucer's aim is primarily to entertain us by his art of narration. For that he never tends to be a satirist, a moralist or a preacher because he does not wish to instruct and preach.

He observes his age sympathetically, humorously and liberally.

He makes us appreciate a character even when laughing at it. Moreover, Chaucer makes fun more of the individual than of the institution. The genial sympathy in his humour has saved Chaucer from bitterness and bias.


Chaucer was gifted with the power of ridiculing the follies and hypocrisies of his day but never like Swift. His object is to paint life as he sees it and like Henry Fielding to hold up to nature a mirror which reflects and does not distort the image. True humour enables us to love while we 'laugh with' others, and do not 'laugh at' others. Most of Chaucer's humour is perfectly innocent fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment