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Humour in Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales"

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  1. Examination of the building blocks of laughter
  2. Demonstrate that the humour used by Chaucer is multifaceted
  3. Definition of 'humour' in the Middle Ages
  4. The presence of irony and satire

The English Middle Ages are often thought of as bright times, when, except for a few brief periods of discontent, people were satisfied with life, wore bright clothes, drank beer and sang in cozy pubs. In short, England was merry. It is very easy to paint such a glamorous picture of the times and it is equally easy to draw a different one. In 1348 and 1349, the Black Death killed hundreds. In 1381, the Peasants' Revolt caused major social and political disturbances. The wickedness, stupidity, cruelty, ignorance and filth of the men of the age are as notorious as the colorful religious processions and gay maypole dances that were held. In such a situation, humor and comedy seem bound to play a complex, if not ambiguous, role. The powerful ambivalence of humor during the late Middle Ages, surfaces frequently upon reading Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales into which various kinds of humorous episodes are incorporated. Many tales (especially of the "fabliau" kind) are often associated with laughter and rude, slapstick comedy. But apart from the frequent burlesque episodes and straightforward parodies, we can also find examples of wit, subtle irony and satire. In that sense, certain tales can be read as mixtures of bawdy and moral comedy and consequently, differences of interpretation might occur over time.

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