Canterbury Tales meets criminal profiling


In The Canterbury Tales, a frame story by Geoffrey Chaucer dating from the late 14th century, you are introduced to a cast of memorable characters with carefully selected physical features. I say carefully selected because the author’s choices concerning his characters’ physical features reveal something about their personalities.

wife5 The Wife of Bath, MS Cambridge GG.4.27. []

Here are some examples from Chaucer’s ‘General Prologue’:

  • The Wife of Bath: gap-toothed (gat-tothed, l. 468). Being gap-toothed indicated a nature that was ‘envious, irreverent, luxurious, bold, faithless, and suspicious’ (pp. 818-19).*
  • The Miller: a ‘short-shouldered, broad, and thick figure‘ (short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre, l. 549), red beard (his berd … was reed, l. 552), a nose with a wart (werte, l. 555), and a wide mouth like a large cauldron (His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys, l. 559). These qualities indicated

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