Reading the General Prologue Pilgrim Portraits Like a C14 "Insider"

        The marvelous compactness and dexterity of Chaucer's pilgrim portraits can be fully appreciated only if you understand the culture he was working in and the literary tradition which taught the composition of such "miniatures."  As in the case of painted portraits, there is nothing accidental about the inclusion and exclusion of details. 

Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire, 1973, developed the first new way to read the General Prologue since scholars began reading the Tales in the late Renaissance.  She compares the GP portraits with other poems that clearly are intended to satirize, gently or savagely, their subjects based on occupations and membership in the three "estates" (nobility, clergy, commoners).  It's like "doctor" or "lawyer" jokes when you get to the Man of Law and Physician, but in this era, every guild and craft and trade and rank and clerical position had its own satirical tradition based on public perceptions of their foibles and vices.

Chaucer and medieval estates satire : the literature of social classes and the General Prologue to t
  Main Collection  826.2 C49HproSm         AVAILABLE

Laura Hodges studies the more "optional" dress of Chaucer's secular pilgrims for clues about social codes and the changing post-plague language of status.

Chaucer and costume : the secular pilgrims in the General Prologue / Laura F. Hodges
  Main Collection  826.2 C49HcaShod         AVAILABLE