Many critics place Geoffrey Chaucer as ‘the father of English poetry.’ Chaucer is especially known for his excellence in meter and rhythm. In The Canterbury Tales, one of the most renowned works in the fourteenth century, Chaucer shows both his poetic and storytelling skills. When Chaucer’s talent for poetry is highly noticed, his great contribution to the rhetoric and oratory, however, is unknown to the public. Therefore, this research demonstrates how certain characters, the wife of Bathe, Prudence, Justinus and Chauntecleer in The Canterbury Tales use their clear, precise and unbiased statements and give reasons for or against much of the subject matter, such as marriage, revenge, advice and dream vision with the aim of persuading other people. Four stories, The Wife of Bathe’s Prologue, The Tale of Melibee, The Merchant’s Tale and The Nun’s Priest’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales are relevant to the topic. This study of debate in The Canterbury Tales is based on Plato’s Sophist, Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Cicero’s De oratore, and Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria.
In Chapter One, this thesis provides a clear definition of debate and presents its historical importance. Other rhetorical devices, such as analogism, syllogism, enthymeme, and exemplum, are also presented as they relate to debate. Chapter Two focuses on the importance of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian to Chaucer. Chapter Three discusses the Wife of Bathe’s rich experience and unparalleled philosophy of marriage which appear to be all her own but which is, in fact, based on sophistry. Chapter Four examines Prudence, the representative of ideal orator that Chaucer has in mind, and her strategies in reasoning. The exemplary debater supports her views with reasons and facts and presents her ideas in natural order and finally succeeds in persuading others to follow her. Chapter Five presents Justinus, a learned debater who fails to convince his audience to change their minds, because his manner of speech is either awkward or unyielding. Chapter Six investigates how Chauntecleer, the proud cock, convinces his beloved wife, Pertelote, of the importance of dream visions, but ignores the prediction and foolishly trusts a sly fox’s blarney and falls into the trap. Chapter Seven is conclusion.
Taking Chaucer’s four stories in the tales as examples, this thesis introduces an interesting access to the study of rhetoric that the contemporary readers may not otherwise find easy to approach. This study is designed specifically for all who are interested in rational thinking and in using rhetorical devices to achieve victory in debate. Through a series of dialogues among the skillful debaters in the tales, Chaucer presents the difference between sophistry and oratory. In addition, he points out the key factors of a successful debate. Chaucer’s great techniques of debate that lie within the rhetorical tradition are proved to be crucial to oratory. His contribution in The Canterbury Tales shows Geoffrey Chaucer as a remarkable orator and the tales as a splendid collection of debates.