“My jolly body shall a tale tell, and I shall waken all this company; But it shall not be of philosophy, nor of physic, nor termes quaint of law; There is but little Latin in my maw.” So writes Geoffrey Chaucer, in the prologue of his literary epic, “The Canterbury Tales,” a work that serves as a historical and sociological introduction to the way of life of the late Middle Ages. Chaucer incorporates the use of a pilgrimage to create the capability of including a vast range of people from all societal ranks and professions. From the honorable Knight, to the wealthy Merchant, to the modest Prioress, each character introduced within the Prologue offers a new insight of his or her respective place within medieval society. One of the unique characters Chaucer introduces to us is the Skipper, a pirate and expert navigator who is the captain of a ship named Maudelayne. In the poem, the description of the Skipper tells you that people in his profession do not live extravagantly and lack concern for morality.
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The first thing we realise about the Skipper through Chaucer’s description of him is that he is not a man of fine extravagance or wealth. In only the third line of the Skipper’s description, it states “He rode a farmer’s horse as best he could, in a woolen gown that reached his knee”. This gives the impression that not only can the Skipper not afford his own horse, but also can not afford fancy clothes, and has to resort to wearing a basic woolen gown. The second thing that Chaucer reveals about the Skipper is that people of his profession lack morality towards others that cross their path. “The nicer rules of conscience he ignored. If, when he fought, the enemy vessel sank, He sent his prisoners home; they walked the plank”. These lines flat out tell the reader that the Skipper does not follow any sort of conscience, and that he forces prisoners resulting from battle to walk the plank, presumably leading to their deaths. The Skipper’s lack of morality is further exemplified with the following line: “Many a draft of vintage, red and yellow, He’d drawn at Bordeaux, while the trader snored”. This tells you that the Skipper will steal from someone else when the opportunity is provided.
Although the Skipper is not as an important character as say the Knight or the Wife of Bath, his brief description is still enough to provide the reader with enough information to know some characteristics of people in his line of work. Chaucer elegantly reveals to you that the Skipper does not obtain any sort of wealth or extravagance, nor does he have a conscience to navigate his treatment towards others.
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