Sergeant of the Law



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This is an important point; for if the text is read taking that for granted, then Chaucer’s tone takes on a far more satirical and mocking tone – and nothing is easier to mock than a stereotype. “So greet a purchasour was nowher noon” says Chaucer of the Sergeant – if taken at face value, a positive remark on the success of the lawyer in his profession, but if taken in the context provided by the Alexanders, then it acts as an indictment of the lawyer’s practice – and as such of all lawyer’s practice.

A far stronger argument can be made for the Sergeant of Law having a character of his own than can for the Merchant – for example, this lawyer knows “every statut… pleyn by rote” (knows every statute by heart). This is, if taken literally, not only quite an achievement for anyone, but also quite a distinctive feature of a person. There are precise dates of the legal battles he knows of – all since William the Conqueror. There is, of course, a flip side to this.

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If we take it not literally, but as a prime example of Chaucerian hyperbole, then this quite distinctive lawyer, with particular traits, becomes every lawyer – especially from the point of view of the reader, to whom it probably seems as if every lawyer knows everything about everything. We must also question why Chaucer brings attention to the extreme limitations of his description of the Sergeant of Law’s attire. The two lines devoted is unquestionably a small amount, but the fact that Chaucer highlights this by saying “Of his array telle I no lenger tale” – basically, “and that’s all I’m saying on that”.

Here is a parallel between the Sergeant of the Law and the Merchant, both of whom have Chaucer pointing out his omissions, thereby bringing them to the foreground of the reader’s mind – for example, we never learn the Good Wife of Bath’s name, and Chaucer doesn’t explicitly mention that he knows it, but it is assumed that he does. The most obvious reason for this would be that Chaucer wants to point out the lack of individuality of the character he describes, adding more fuel to the fire set around the feet of those arguing that the characters exist in their own right.

The Franklin is a landowning man who needs not to work for his money. More than that, he is the only one of the three on whom the question is based who Chaucer seems to regard with any actual opinion. A genuine sense of fondness is clear in the metaphors and the lexis used by Chaucer – sometimes far more an accurate measure of Chaucer’s own opinions than Chaucer’s own words, which are susceptible undue praise. The simile used in the second line, “Whit was his berd as is the dayesye;”, is important in characterising the Franklin.

The poetic device not only describes his beard, but also gives us a positive overall impression of the Franklin; had Chaucer, for example, likened the Franklin’s beard to a puddle of sick, then we may well not be so endeared to him. The white imagery continues through, with “It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke” a very pretty image – again giving the reader a positive image of the Franklin. This is all very important, as it adds depth to his personality. He is clearly far more a considered character than, for example, the Merchant.

Of the Franklin’s 29 lines, only two are expended on his work, whilst a whopping twenty are used to portray his home life. In order to add yet more depth to him, the thirteen of these lines are concerning food – this gives him a sort of motif, a humorous element that we can relate to. Whereas it could simply state that he was rich, and give examples, Chaucer’s description tells us how his money is spent, how he is “Epicurus’ owene sone”, he loves pleasure and delights in being a host. I believe this evidence is by far enough for us to see the Franklin as a true character as opposed to a stereotype of his class.

Apart from anything else, far too much time is spent describing his particular personality traits, whilst very little time is spent on his career. The question is difficult to answer with any certitude, as a case can be made for every character in the general prologue being a stereotype; a representative of his or her own class. Each character has their own traits; the evidence presented here points to the Merchant and the Sergeant of the Law being examples of an archetype, but the Franklin being a very real seeming person.

Adding to the difficultly is the contextual difficulties – having not been around in the fourteenth century, it is difficult to say how well the portrait of the Franklin fits in with what would be “normal” for a Franklin. Jeremy Pierce 13HJB Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Geoffrey Chaucer section.

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