The General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales set the frames for the tales of different pilgrims. The General prologue is written from the prospective of the poet himself. This section of the poem perfectly depicts the ironic instincts of the poet. The irony and satire of the General Prologue is never pessimistic. It also has some freshness and an insight, which is productive rather than destructive. Chaucer was aware of the prevailing vices and unrest of his time. But Chaucer decided to accept the reality rather than deceiving himself. Most of the critics agree upon the fact the Chaucer was a chronic optimist. Chaucer had never been too harsh in his satire, even when he portrayed the bleak side of society and human nature. His satire was always diluted with lively humor Aldous Huxley said,
“Where Langland cries aloud in anger threatening the world with hell fire, Chaucer looks on and smiles”.
As soon as Chaucer starts describing the lively characters in his prologue, his sense of humor starts to sprout out in his words. Many characters have been satirized in a light way and only few characters are satirized harshly. There are even those characters who have escaped the ironic attack of Chaucer. Among these are the Knights, the Parson, and the Ploughman. These characters have been praised because of their untarnished humanity and honesty with whatever they do.
However, not all the characters have escaped Chaucer’s irony and humor. Chaucer has satirized many characters, but his satire is seasoned with humor. Among these characters are the Prioress, the Mont, the Franklin, the wife of the Bath, the Reeve, the Miller, and so on. Chaucer satirizes the Monk’s worldliness through a witty remark. He also implies irony by calling the wife of the Bather “worthy” and illustrates her worth by telling the reader that she had five husbands at the church door.
There are even those characters who have been gravely criticized such as the Summoner and the Pardoner. The flaws of these characters have been critically accounted and no humor has been used to dilute the satire. Chaucer exposes the Summoner by telling that he allows sinner to keep on committing sins for a whole year. In the same way, the Pardoner has been exposed as a person who robs and deceives his fellow beings.
Chaucer has lampooned the vices of the society wherever it is needed, but most of the time he has implied humor and irony accompanied with humanism. He has never gone too far in his expression of wrong deeds and wrong people; he always remains conscious that his humor or irony must never hurt someone’s feeling.