The General Prologue - The Five Guildsmen

A haberdasher and a carpenter,
An arras-maker, dyer, and weaver
Were with us, clothed in similar livery,
All of one sober, great fraternity.
Their gear was new and well adorned it was;(5)
Their weapons were not cheaply trimmed with brass,
But all with silver; chastely made and well
Their girdles and their pouches too, I tell.
Each man of them appeared a proper burgess
To sit in guildhall on a high dais.(10)
And each of them, for wisdom he could span,
Was fitted to have been an alderman;
For chattels they’d enough, and, too, of rent;
To which their good wives gave a free assent,
Or else for certain they had been to blame.(15)
It’s good to hear “Madam” before one’s name,
And go to church when all the world may see,
Having one’s mantle borne right royally.

Footnotes

  1. Going to church for the "world to see" rather than for one's faith in God suggests that these men are too concerned with appearances. This suggests that the narrator's description of these guild members has been slightly satirical.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. "Chattels" meaning property or money. The "For" at the start of this line compares their riches to both their wisdom and ability to be an alderman, the head of a guild. In this way, Chaucer associates money with intelligence and power. Note that because of the tone of the General Prologue that this may be a satirical association.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A "Burgess" in Chaucer's time was a person elected to represent their town in the English House of Commons. The English House of Commons is the lower house in Parliament, comparable to our House of Representatives. This metaphor works to emphasize the guild member's stately dress and air of authority.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. "Livery" is a particular type of clothing or uniform that distinguishes someone as a member of a guild. It also signifies a distinguishing feature or characteristic of the person wearing it. Notice that throughout the introductions Chaucer has used dress in order to describe a character's personality. Here, the characters themselves wear livery in order to intentionally present their occupations as personality characteristics.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. A Guild was a group of people that practiced a similar trade who banded together in order to regulate their products and protect their members from exploitative feudal lords (similar to a modern-day union). These men were probably part of a craft guild since a "haberdasher" is a hat maker, an "arras-maker" made tapestries, a "dyer" dyed fabrics, and a "weaver" weaved cloth.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor