English IV Honors
October 29, 2012
The Canterbury Tales: Sir Topaz
The genre is parody of the bourgeois romance. It emerges from a degeneration process demonstrated in the evolution of characters such as King Arthur, who begins as an active warrior but steps down into a betrayal of one’s honor. The degeneration of the hero can take place over hundreds of years.
The tales parodies are love and knighthood. Topaz falls in love with an elf queen, which is nowhere near a real relationship. He lives in a fantasy. He has not met the elf queen but he states that he is in love. “All other woman I forsake, for to an elf queen I’ll betake, in dale and over down!” (L: 794-796).
There is a humorous but very intriguing interpretation of the hidden jokes in the tale. Chaucer is celebrating his own skill by presenting himself as someone who cannot even come up with a single bearable story. He is interrupted by his own characters to abort the tale. “No more of this, for our Lord’s dignity…” (L: 919).
The tale actually points to a remark about the strength of his characterization. Chaucer wrote his characters so well that they give advice about tale-telling to their writer. His knighthood is silly. He forgets his armor when he knew he was going to make his way into a forest with many beast within. His outfit and morals are bizarre, his exploits are nonexistent. English romances often use a tail-rhyme stanza structure. Chaucer adds bad rhymes and poor effects to the tale, “The devil take such rhyming, I beseech!” (L: 924). The tale of Sir Topaz vanishing fits the purpose of what Chaucer is trying to bring out.
The Chaucer in the story is to represent the author as a poor imitation of the real thing, but it is the nearest thing to an omniscient author the audience will ever get. Chaucer’s use of mockery in the Tale of Sir Topaz is an expression of the subversion of the chivalry values in the fourteenth-century in England as a result of the rise...