Criticism of the Church in the Canterbury Tales

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Criticism of the Church in the Canterbury Tales

By | April 2012
Page 1 of 4
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...