'Ho,' quoth the Knyght, 'good Sir, no more of this;
That ye have said is right ynough, I wis,
And mokell more; for little heaviness
Is right enough for much folk, as I guess.
I say, for me, it is a great disease,
Whereas men have been in wealth and ease,
To heare of their sudden fall, alas!
And the contrary is joy and solas.'
The Monk's definition of tragedy in the proem to his tale is worth repeating:
'Tragedy is to tell a certain story,
As olde books us maken memory.
Of them that stood in great prosperity.
And be fallen out of high degree,
Into misery, and ended wretchedly.'
Though a man of luxury, pride, and pleasure, he is a master of art and learning, though affecting to despise it. Those who can think that the proud Huntsman and noble Housekeeper, Chaucer's Monk, is intended for a buffoon or burlesque character, know little of Chaucer.
For the Host who follows this group, and holds the centre of the cavalcade, is a first-rate character, and his jokes are no trifles; they are always, though uttered with audacity, equally free with the Lord and the Peasant; they are always substantially and weightily expressive of knowledge and experience; Henry Baillie, the keeper of the greatest Inn of the greatest City; for such was the Tabarde Inn in Southwark, near London: our Host was also a leader of the age.
By way of illustration, I instance Shakspeare's Witches in Macbeth. Those who dress them for the stage, consider them as wretched old women, and not, as Shakspeare intended, the Goddesses of Destiny; this shows how Chaucer has been misunderstood in his sublime work. Shakspeare's Fairies also are the rulers of the vegetable world, and so are Chaucer's; let them be so considered, and then the poet will be understood, and not else.
But I have omitted to speak of a very prominent character, the Pardoner, the Age's Knave, who always commands and domineers over the high and low vulgar. This man is sent in every age for a rod and scourge and for a blight, for a trial of men, to divide the classes of men; he is in the most holy sanctuary, and he is suffered by Providence for wise ends, and has also his great use, and his grand leading destiny.