Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury. The pilgrims tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. Chaucer intended that each pilgrim should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on the way back and the winner got a free meal.
In the general prologue we meet the Prioress who is shy and modest. Her real name is Madame Eglentyne and is one of the most fully described pilgrims. As you read down the page he talks about her portrait being more concerned with how she eats than how she prays. He describes her as
“She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe;
Wel joude she sarie a morsel and wel kepe
That no drope ne fille upon hire brest.”
He is saying that she never let a crumb fall from her mouth and that she never got her fingers dirty when dipping things in her sauce. After he says that her greatest pleasure is in etiquette – “In curteisie was set ful muchel hir lest”
The nun is rather too kind to animals, while there is no mention of her kindness to people. “She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.”
It shows that the nun is very pitiful and shows a lot of affection towards animals. In the next sentences it describes how she feeds her small dogs on bread and white wine. She may relate to these animals because of being a nun and having to remain celibate and remain in the monastery. She treats dogs and mice as humans and treats them all equal.
Se has a costly set of beads around her arm, which should be used for prayer, but they end with a brooch inscribed ambiguously Amor vincit omnia which translates from Latin as “Love conquers all”. This appears to say that she must be a very loving person and this quote might have been popular at the Monastery she came from.
In the middle ages nuns were supposed to always stay in the monastery unless they were going on a pilgrimage this was to keep contact away from the outside world because it was believed that being with other people brings you away from god and it can distract you from thinking about him. The nuns were also expected to remain celibate as this shows their devotion to god. With a strict daily timetable of food sleep and worship at the monastery keeping animals and feeding them might be the only entertainment you could get. So with a lot of devotion to animals comes deep sorrow at the sight of a dead mouse.
The Friar was a beggar but a gentle, merry man. He did not have much money but he was very good at getting other people to part with theirs. He was a very imposing person who was versed in talk and flattery- “so muchel of daliaunce and fair language.” He was very much a early day con-man because he could talk his way into anything he wanted and even paid for marriages to take place so that he could have sex.