The individuality and the typicality of the Pilgrim’s Inn in The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales has been recognized by all critics. Chaucer’s pilgrims have another quality about the,. They embody universal traits of human nature, which are basic and permanent to human beings, thus, Chaucer’s characters are type, individual and universal, all at the same time.
William Blake made an observant comment he said “the character of Chaucer’s Pilgrims are the characters which compose all ages and nations; as one is false, another is rises; different to mortal sight, but to immortal only the same for we see the same character repeated again and again, in animals, vegetables, minerals and in men; nothing new occurs in identical existence; accident ever varies, substance can never suffer change nor decay.” While it would not be true to say that the portraits are holy universal, for they has individual trades as well, it would not be wrong to agree that there are some elements which are to be found in all the ages and all hands.
The name and titles of Chaucer’s characters may change the ages, but the characters themselves remain unaltered. Name after, says Blake, but thing never do. The essential human characteristic and nature find expression in different human beings through the ages. Chaucer has varied the heads and forms of personages into all Natures verities, so that they are physiognomies or lineaments of universal human life, beyond which nature never steps.
The knights, Squire and the Yeoman came at the top of the portrait procession. The Knight is a true hero—a good, great and Wiseman. He is that species of character which in every age stands as the guardian of man against the oppressor. The Squire combines in himself the art and the warlike qualities. The Yeoman is perfect in his profession, and persons which are worthy attendants on noble heroes are to be found in all ages and lands.
The Prioress follows with her Chaplin. She is of the first social rank, rich and honoured. Her sentimental kindness and tenderness as well as her carefulness about the appearances trends which we find in most women, who forever try to intimate the higher class. The Monk is a man of social rank, rich, and expensively attired. The Friar is worldly like the monk. He sells absolution, and is not above seducing young women for pleasure.
The characters of The Canterbury Tales then have in themselves universal trends, which are to be met in all ages and all nations. It is true they are not nearly representative of universal traits. If they were, they would have become symbols of personification in the fashion of medieval allegory