Criticism of the Church in the Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales, a collection of tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, was written in Middle English at the end of the 14th century (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011). It is considered to be the best work of literature in English in the Middle Ages (Johnston, 1998). Chaucer uses literary devices as no one had ever done. In addition, he chose to use English instead of Latin. This masterpiece is structured in a similar way as Bocaccio's Decameron. The tales are organized within a frame narrative (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2011) explained in the General Prologue by the narrator: a group of pilgrims that are going to visit St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury's Cathedral. These pilgrims are from different estates of the medieval society: nobility, the church and peasantry (The Norton Anthology, 1993: 76). Through the characters, Chaucer reveals some aspects of the society he lived in. In other words, instead of creating typical role models, the characters are exaggerated individuals very different from the prototypical idea. The author uses hyperbolic characters and irony to create humour and criticism. For example, the knight is not the typical medieval soldier the reader would expect. He avoids conflict being a very romantic person. In a similar way, the characters that are part of the Church are also very peculiar. At the time when Chaucer wrote this poem, the Catholic Church was very powerful and rich. The clergy enjoyed great fortunes and a high quality of life compared with the peasantry who was starving and dying. In this essay, I'm going to deal with the criticism towards the Catholic Church analysing the ironic portrays of the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar and the Pardoner.

Chaucer begins writing about the hypocrisy of the church in the General Prologue when the Prioress is introduced. The Prioress is a nun with very good manners (e.g. she wipes her lips before drinking, lines 133-134) that behaves as if she were a lady of the court (e.g. she speaks French but with a very bad accent, lines 124-125).The Prioress is also very romantic as we can see in her brooch and her motto: "Amor vincit omnia" -"Love conquest all"- (Dr. Melillo, 1996). She is also very kind and sensitive. For instance, she cries when a mouse falls in a trap and feeds her dogs meat so they do not starve. This image of nice person contrasts with the reality of the time. If her words and actions are analyzed, the audience can understand that this was not the typical behavior of a nun. She is more worried about her pets than the commoners who actually did starve and rarely ate meat. The narrator is portraying her as a very naive person in a very nice tone that hides the irony. Nevertheless, the audience was aware that she is not fulfilling the aim of the Church: take care of people (The Norton Anthology, 1993:76).

The Monk is the following pilgrim described in the General Prologue. According to his description he is very interested in hunting and in horses (line 166). A monk should not be riding and hunting but obeying, praying, copying and studying. In addition, the Monk is fully aware that his order does not allow these practices and he admits that he does not follow the rules of his order (Jokinen, 2010) (lines 174-175). When the portrait of the Monk finishes in the General Prologue, the man described is bald, fat and well-dressed. Any person in that time that heard this description would immediately think about a lord not a monk. Although the narrator likes the life style of the Monk and his description is not very acid, we can see how Chaucer is criticizing some monk's lives. Monks are supposed to be obedient and to embrace vow of poverty not to reject rules and live the life they want.

After analyzing two characters against who the narrator does not show great rejection, I am going to analyze the Friar and the Pardoner who the narrator describes in a very ironic and bitter tone. A friar is a roaming priest that begs for living whose goal is to help...
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