’s Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper
In Geoffrey Chaucer?s The Canterbury Tales, a collection of tales is presented during a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. The pilgrims on the journey are from divergent economic and social backgrounds but they have all amalgamated to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas. Chaucer uses each pilgrim to tell a tale which portrays an arduous medieval society. The values, morals and social structures of the society can be examined through the fictitious tales, unravelling a corrupt, unjust and manipulative world, a world that is based around an ecclesiastical society.
Society was closely associated with the Church. Chaucer was clearly unhappy with the way members of the Church were exploiting the people; that is why so many religious figures are on the pilgrimage. In the General Prologue, the narrator describes each character. The religious characters include the Prioress, the Friar, the Monk, the Summoner and the Pardoner. Many of these characters are quite high in their respective division of church structure. They should be completely pure in mind and be role models for others. However, this is not the case as Chaucer portrays the Prioress and Monk as having romantic ideas rather than religious. The Prioress knows what love means when she should not. On her, “heeng a brooch of gold ful sheen, / On which ther was written a crowned A, / And after, Amor vincit omnia” (ll. 160-162). This means love conquers all; a well-behaved nun should not be thinking about love. She should be “statilch of manere” and “digne of reverence” (ll. 140-141), meaning she should be worthy and dignified but it seems as if Chaucer is portraying her in a different fashion. The Monk also does not fulfil the responsibility of his position. As a follower of the rule of Saint Benet, he should abide by the strict code of conduct. However, he “didn?t give a plucked hen for that text” (l. 177 (translated)) and he also went hunting but “hunteres been nought holy men” (l. 178). The monk is very similar to the Prioress, as he does not want to live the life that he has vowed to live and is better-suited living in the higher classes.
The Friar and the Summoner also exhibit non-conforming behavior which again highlights the wrong in the Church. The Friar is a member of a religious order that is completely poor and has to beg to survive. The Friar, though, did not like the vow of poverty and is somewhat praised by Chaucer for knowing who to ask for money and where to go; “He was the beste beggere in his house” (l. 252). The Friar?s dubious manipulations earned him enough money to become a landowner. This did mean though that he is completely dishonest. The Summoner, on the other hand, is blatantly dishonest. He works for the ecclesiastical court, his job is to bring offenders to the court for justice. Chaucer is extremely critical of the Summoner, giving him “a fir-reed cherubinnes face” (l. 626). Children were even afraid of his visage (l. 630). His gruesome appearance is ironically correspondent with his afflicted soul. The Summoner was really a blackmailer who played on the fears of sinners so if they paid him enough money, he would not pursue them. The Summoner and Friar outline the huge flaws of the Church as does the Pardoner.
The Pardoner is also a sinner as he is guilty of selling indulgences and false relics to the na?ve. Chaucer says the Pardoner made “the peple his apes” (l. 708) in the General Prologue. The Pardooner also preaches against greed when he is in overt violation of his own preaching. Even though Chaucer describes him as a snivelling cheat, he then commends him as a “noble ecclesiaste” (l. 710). This is ironic because Chaucer has been using the aforementioned characters to point out the flaws of the Church, and now for him to praise this obviously crooked member of the Church, shows how low the respect he holds for the Church is.
According to the religious characters described in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, the Church does not do enough to cleanse itself from attracting such figures. They all violate the demanding lifestyle of what they should be but they still manage to hold their positions in the structure of the Church. Chaucer develops an ardent attack on the degeneration and corruption of the medieval church. He covertly exposes the evils attacking the very foundation of Christianity. In doing so, he also shows how the society that almost completely relied on the Church for adherence, was extremely fragile and could imminently destruct because of the disorganization caused by the corruption.