Chaucer And Religion Essay, Research Paper
Chaucer and Religion
It is very rare that a book is written without the opinions of the author being clearly expressed somewhere within that book. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is one such book. In the General Prologue alone, by viewing Chaucer’s description of the Knight, the Prioress, and the Friar, the reader is able to pick up on Chaucer’s satirical humor toward the church of the 14th century.
The first male traveler mentioned is the chivalrous Knight. It is interesting that Chaucer chooses to introduce The Knight as the first character. He possibly does this because during the era, Knights were strong, truthful and were to fight the good fight. This tactic would fit in to Chaucer’s goal of relaying the overall message that nothing of the time was as enchanting as it were to appear. Chaucer describes his Knight as a man so honored due to his loyalty in battle. He states, “And evere honoured for his worthyness … No Cristen man so ofte of his degree (2).” This whole statement is hypocritical because the Knight is being viewed as Christian when he kills men and pillages their homelands. Also, because he is loyal to his king and brings him much profit, he is blessed as Christian. Chaucer, in his depiction of the Knight is clearly voicing his disgust in the practices of the 14th century Catholic Church. The church is no longer backing an England that is fighting a holy war to spread Christianity; they are backing an England that is looking to acquire land.
Even more intriguing than Chaucer’s description of the Knight was his introduction of the Prioress as the first woman character. The Prioress, the nun, should be the epitome of female holiness. She is pure, kind, gentle and of peaceful mind. Chaucer chooses his words carefully in describing the Prioress. This detail subtly shows again that all is not what it is to be. A nun is not to be seductive or demure yet the narrator describes her as such. The narrator states, “That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy” (4). He pays much attention to her lips and her breasts and later refers to her lips in saying, “She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle”, and “Hir mouth ful small, and thereto softe and reed” (5). Her lips were red because of lipstick that was worn in vain. If she were such a pure and simple Prioress she would not have worn the lipstick or any of the other vain, earthly things such as a golden brooch upon her breast and a coral on her arm.
The final character, the Friar seems to have held the greatest of Chaucer’s disgust. This could possibly be so because of all the above-mentioned characters, the Friar was to be the most reverent. Instead, he was the most corrupt. Chaucer uses very subtly sexual words in his depiction of most characters and more so in the telling of the Friar. He is described as a wanton man who was “ful wel beloved and famulier … with worthy women of the toun” (7). Not only does Chaucer depict the Friar as sexually inappropriate, he displays him as being corrupt in the church. “For he hadde power of confessioun, as seyd himself … Therefore in stede of wepynge and preyeres men moote yeve silver to the povre freres” (7). The good Friar kept jewels and pin curls in his satchel to give to pretty girls. Instead of keeping his rosary there and showing his interest to be in achieving the grace of god, he kept small gifts and showed his interest to be in achieving the grace of fair maidens.
Chaucer is clear about his feelings toward the Catholic Church through out the General Prologue. He uses specific language and contradiction of statements to convey the corruptness and hypocrisy of the church. While the tales are made for fun and entertainment, they are not without propaganda. As stated earlier, it is rare to find a book that is lacking of the authors opinion on the matter.