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Symbols

Learn about symbols in Geoffrey Chaucer's collection of stories The Canterbury Tales with Course Hero's video study guide.

The Canterbury Tales | Symbols

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Springtime and Flowers

The Prologue begins with an elaborate and famous description of springtime, symbolic of increased sexual desire, fertility, and spiritual rebirth. Many of the stories take place in the spring, especially those that have sexual themes. Flowers, such as those that are embroidered on the Squire's clothing and those gathered by Emily in her garden, often symbolize the youth of the character.

The imagery of spring seems appropriate for the Tales' frame story, a pilgrimage. Each of the pilgrims is traveling to Canterbury to seek (presumably) some spiritual renewal or benefit. Part of the irony of The Canterbury Tales, however, is that spring does not represent the resurrection of Christ or spiritual rebirth as often as would be expected. Instead—with the exception of the Second Nun's Tale, in which heavenly flowers represent baptism and eternal life—the imagery of spring is more often parodied through stories about the follies of youth and sex.

Blood

Blood is a metaphor for family lineage and, therefore, class. The noble knights Arcita and Palamon of the Knight's Tale are "Princes of the Royal Blood." It also signifies Christ's blood. Constance, in the story told by the Man of Law, prays for Christ's blood to protect her from evil. The blood of martyrs is also a religious symbol that is present in several tales, such as those of the Prioress and the Second Nun.

Clothing

Clothes, simple or elaborate, reflect the personality of the wearer. The Knight, for example, wears clothing stained with use, reflecting his humble attitude. The Squire's clothing is covered in the flowers that represent his freshness and youth. In contrast, the Monk, who is a member of a religious order that is supposed to put aside worldly things, has fur-trimmed sleeves and a gold pin, showing his lack of piety. The Prioress, who is supposed to be above vanity, wears her wimple in a way that shows off her facial features to their best effect.

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