Event Title

Harmony in Peril: Interactions Between Red and White in The Canterbury Tales

Date

April 2022

Location

Schewel 217

Description

This presentation analyzes Chaucer’s treatment of the historically harmonious pairing of red and white hues in medieval literature. I present four categorizations of the contexts in which Chaucer creates an ironic synthesis of these two colors. The first is a “tragic distortion” in the Knight’s Tale, where well-meaning characters are led astray by twists of fate and place the colors of white and red in literal conflict. The second is a “comic distortion” in the Miller’s and Reeve’s Tales, where the vulgar context of red and white entertains and cautions audiences to respect the sanctity of the synthesis or face similar humiliating consequences. The third is a “hypocritical distortion,” where the Prioress and the Physician present apparently sound syntheses of white and red in their tales, but a closer inspection reveals the pairings’ inappropriate nature due to these pilgrims’ own vices. The final category I suggest is a “role reversal,” where the Pardoner references white and red in an unholy matrimony, the font of pure vice rather than pure virtue. The overarching color theme of red and white indicates the omnipresence of spirituality in the Canterbury Tales, yet its distortion in each instance highlights the physical and spiritual infirmity of the corresponding characters on the pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Presentation Type

Presentation

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Harmony in Peril: Interactions Between Red and White in The Canterbury Tales

Schewel 217

This presentation analyzes Chaucer’s treatment of the historically harmonious pairing of red and white hues in medieval literature. I present four categorizations of the contexts in which Chaucer creates an ironic synthesis of these two colors. The first is a “tragic distortion” in the Knight’s Tale, where well-meaning characters are led astray by twists of fate and place the colors of white and red in literal conflict. The second is a “comic distortion” in the Miller’s and Reeve’s Tales, where the vulgar context of red and white entertains and cautions audiences to respect the sanctity of the synthesis or face similar humiliating consequences. The third is a “hypocritical distortion,” where the Prioress and the Physician present apparently sound syntheses of white and red in their tales, but a closer inspection reveals the pairings’ inappropriate nature due to these pilgrims’ own vices. The final category I suggest is a “role reversal,” where the Pardoner references white and red in an unholy matrimony, the font of pure vice rather than pure virtue. The overarching color theme of red and white indicates the omnipresence of spirituality in the Canterbury Tales, yet its distortion in each instance highlights the physical and spiritual infirmity of the corresponding characters on the pilgrimage to Canterbury.