The Good and Bad in the Canterbury Tales
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem, Canterbury Tale, life in fourteenth-century England is realistically and satirically exposed. Through the Knight, Parson, and Summoner, Chaucer portrays the good and bad people in fourteenth-century England. The Knight represents the chivalry during this time, whereas the Parson represents the God-fearing, respectable people. Although there were many good people in England, Chaucer also shows many bad ones such as the Summoner, the Pardoner, and the Miller. The Knight portrays as a representation of good people in fourteenth-century England. The Prologue from The Canterbury Tales, claims the Knight exhibits “chivalry,/ Truth, honor, generousness, and courtesy” (Chaucer 45-46) and that “He was a true, a perfect gentle-knight” (74). The Knight shows courage by acting noble in war, and going into battle whether it is alone or with others. He shows his loyalty by always killing his man in jousting tournaments. The Knight did not only possess courage and loyalty, he also was modest. Although he owned excellent horses, the Knight wore a cloth tunic that was usually dirty and marked with stains from battle. Personality wise, the Knight never had a rude thing to say about anyone or anything.
In addition to the chivalrous characteristics of the Knight, Chaucer also introduces another Pilgrim, the Parson, who is “right in holy thought and work” (489). The Parson is an ideal priest “Who truly knew Christ’s gospel and would/ preach it/ Devoutly to parishioners, and teach it” (491-492). Thought the Parson lives very poorly, his relationship with God is not poor at all. His one motive is to make sure the people know the gospel and they know it well. He practices what he preaches and does not let his poverty stand between his path to Heaven.
Even though the Knight and Parson represented England so well, Chaucer also describes the Summoner. The Summoner was a man that “was hot and lecherous as a sparrow” (644). The Summoner’s appearance was not very attractive, and No quicksilver, lead ointment, tartar creams,
No brimstone, no boracic, so it seems,
Could make a salve that had the power to bite,
Clean up or cure his whelks of knobby white
Or purge the pimples sitting on his cheeks.(647-651)
The Summoner was with another man, The Pardoner, who is equally as bad as him. The Summoner speaks in Latin, somewhat, to try and make himself seem educated. If only he knew that what he says half the time does not make sense. The Pardoner, being a man of the Church, has no business in being with another man. This shows the hypocrisy of fourteenth-century England. The Summoner loves drinking, and is easily annoyed.
All together, Chaucer does an excellent job in portraying each kind of personality shown in fourteenth-century England. Each of these different personalities make the medieval period what it is. The Knight, showing chivalry, shows that people respected others and offered one another hospitality. The Parson explains the importance of God during this time. In addition to the good in England at this time, the Summoner exemplifies that there were not just good people in this period. With the combination of good and bad people, Chaucer gives a broad view of England, making it as realistic as it can be. Only showing good people would make England seem perfect when it was not, and only showing bad people would be degrading to England.