The Prioress in ”The Canterbury Tales” is a picture of contradictions.
She is another example of the religious figures in the story not being all that they seem.
The Prioress is one of the main characters of The Canterbury Tales. Her real name is Madame Eglantine, and she is fourth in the list of people discussed by the Host and has one of the longer descriptions. She is also the first religious figure discussed in the book, which shows a certain preference for the Prioress.
A prioress is a woman who is below an abbess in running a nunnery or abbey.
The prioress in this story is no different, however, her appearance and personality are unique. The host paints the picture of the Prioress, or Madame Eglantine, as one of physical contradictions. Her size and forehead are large, yet her mouth is small and her nose is quite fine. As a prioress, she is supposed to be pious and humble, yet her clothes are well made and expensive.
She carries a unique rosary of bright coral beads instead of a plain black one.
The Prioress’ behavior and personality are also confusing. She has a passion for her dogs and loves them deeply, feeding them roasted meat instead of just scraps. Yet, she would cry out at the injustice of catching a mouse in a trap or killing it. It’s as if the animal meat she’s willing to give to her dogs is less important than the dogs themselves, or even a trapped mouse.
The Prioress travels with two priests and a nun who help with her religious duties. During the journey and in the host’s description, the Prioress acts more like a lady of the court, not necessarily a lady of God. She pays serious attention to her manners and etiquette at the table. She is not overtly greedy with food, nor does she ever allow food to fall from her mouth or silverware. She also maintains a pristine appearance, constantly dabbing her upper lip to ensure that she is clean while eating. Yet her story contains some disturbing different undertones.
The Prioress’ tale of a young and beautiful boy who was full of faith and devoted to the Virgin Mary seems to take issue with the Jewish people.
She tells of a saintly boy who is killed by a murderer hired by the Jewish people and thrown into a pit, never be found again. When his mother looks for him, she starts to sing, something her son loved to do. The young boy (though dead) sings back, revealing his location in the pit. His murderers die for their crimes.The Prioress’ anti-Semitism stands in contrast to her courtly and pious behavior and charge to love and forgive everyone. The Prioress uses the tale of the boy and his faith against the Jews to show which faith she thinks is superior.
Madame Eglantine, the Prioress in The Canterbury Tales, is a woman of contradictions who desires to act like a lady of the court although she is a woman of faith. She is a large woman with small features who dresses expensively and tends to cry when a small animal is hurt, yet is willing to feed small animals to her dogs. The Prioress is traveling with a nun and two priests, but even though she is supposedly a woman of faith, her story serves as evidence of her anti-Semitism.