Sunday, October 13, 2019
Geoffrey Chaucers The Canterbury Tales English Literature Essay
Geoffrey Chaucers The Canterbury Tales English Literature Essay Life in England wasnt always easy in the early fourteenth century. On the surface, it looked as if nothing was going on but everyday life; however, In Geoffrey Chaucers The Canterbury Tales, it is revealed that you cant always believe what is on the outside. A group of travelers gather together at Tabard Inn to begin a pilgrimage to Canterbury. In the General Prologue, the readers are introduced to each of these characters. The stories which range from animal fables to epics about love and comedies of sexual comeuppance (Chaucer) are important factors in the story. During the pilgrimage, each traveler has to tell two stories on the way to Canterbury, and on the way back. Chaucer wrote the story around the late thirteen hundreds, but it was meant for a private reader because of its controversial stories. He died before he could finish the tale. He used the pilgrimage to create literary works that could last over a hundred years. Chaucers precise description of the harsh reality of soc iety includes controversial topics like the corruption of church, sexuality, and abuse of power; but regardless to say, Chaucers story helps unravel some of the corruption in society. In England, life was not easy for everyone. There was famine, poverty, corruption in politicians and people of high status. By the late fourteenth century, the Catholic Church, which governed England, Ireland, and the entire continent of Europe, had become extremely wealthy. It cost a lot of money to build and decorate the lavish cathedrals. The leaders of lay society were less patient with the special privileges of the clergy; laymen of all ranks questioned the vast wealth of the church wealth that was not all that much greater than before, but which seemed more irritating; and many genuinely religious people, lay and clerical both, criticized the spiritual failures of the church (Muhlberger). Due to expenses caused by war, and many deaths by the Black Plague, many people have lost patience with the church because of how it seemed like the church and its clergymen seem to have a more luxurious life compared to others. This triggered many stories and tales about how the church was g reedy and selfish. The religious figures Chaucer represents in The Canterbury Tales all deviate in one way or another from what was traditionally expected of them (Spark Notes Editors). The characters themselves are just the stereotypical representations of how religious figures acted during this time. The Monk, Prioress, and the Friar were religious figures, but in the general prologue, it is revealed that they are not who they seem to be. For example, the Prioress (a nun who is head of her convent) was described as modest and quiet, she aspires to have exquisite taste, and dressed very lavish and lived a life that most nuns do not. Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde with rosted flesh, or milk and wastel-breed (Chaucer 5), in translation it says that she gave roasted mean or milk and bread to her dogs. During this century, there was a lot of famine and poverty. Many people could even afford milk and bread, so the fact that the Prioress can give her food generously to animals instead of sharing with others is an ironic representation of a nun who are usually kind and sharing. Another example of the representation is of the Monk. Most monks devote there life to work and prayer, and lived in monasteries, but the Monk on the pilgrimage didnt care for this rule. He enjoys hunting and eating as his pastimes instead of prayer and fasting. It is ironic because Monks are typically known for the quite calm nature, and love of life and gods creatures, and in this case the Monk enjoys hunting down the creatures he is supposed to love. Chaucers stereotypical representation of the characters doesnt represent everyone of the profession, just the ones on the pilgrimage. As stated earlier, it was a common stereotype that religious figures often abused their power for greed; in which some cases took advantage of the position they hold to cease opportunities for personal gain. It is human nature to want to have dominance over others and control over their lives. Some people just want power to be understood and treated better. Like the Wife of Bath, who used her story to send a message to the other men in the journey. The wife of bath told a story of a Knight who rapes a young maiden because he felt that he had the power to do so because of his authority. He was sentenced to death but the Wife gave him one chance to make amends, Thou standes yet, in swich array that of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee. I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me what thing is it that women moost desiren (Chaucer 182). A year later, he returns to the castle with an old hag who had given him the answer in exchange for any request she wanted. He told the Wife of Bath that what women wanted most was to have control over their husbands and lovers. The queen decreed that the knight was to be pardoned, but he was in horror because he was forced to marry the Hag. Over the next few days , the wife of the knight confronts him as to why he is acting repulsed by her. The women tells the knight that beauty is only skin deep, and that even though you are at of a high status in social hierarchy, it doesnt make you better then the peasants on the lower level. In essence, the Hag can represent the Wife of bath who is telling the story, because later on she turns into a beautiful maiden when the knight surrenders himself to her control. She wants to be considered beautiful and have power over her husbands, where as she has had five marrages already. The Wife of Baths story shows the significance of sexuality during this time, because back then it was common to not treat females right, it was a male dominated world. But her story shows that in some cases, bad men can change, and that women can have influence upon their lovers. Now not every male can be converted like the knight in the Wife of Baths tale, because in reality not all mens pride allows them to let their lovers dominate them. Although sex paid an important role in society, whereas being a male means that you have more dominance and power than others, it doesnt mean that all men use their powers wisely. Many of the religious figures in the Canterbury tales often abused their power, which can add on to the assumption that the Church of England was corrupted. The Friars and Summoners took advantage of the jobs they had. The Friars were traveling priest who spread religion in a wide, diverse area, along with collecting money for the church. In the story, the Friar was said to have taken advantage of people who wanted to atone for their sins. He would travel from town to town and demanded bribes when peasants and lords wanted to have penance for the sins they have committed. He would also take advantage of women. The friar can be seen as a symbol of corruption, because he uses his power as a man of god to gain money for himself, instead of fulfilling his duties for the lord. During the Pilgrimage, the Friar and Summoner often got into arguments because they did the same thing, take advantage of others and collected money. This clearly is an act of corruption, in our viewpoint it looks as if the church is the cause of the problem, but thats not always the case. It is the actions of an individual that creates the conflicts in society, not the group the person is associated with. Chaucer used the Canterbury tales to show how the church was assumed to be corrupted because of how people took advantage of their power. People took advantage of social status and people without knowledge to make money for personal gain. These people who have grown wealthy had stained the church during the time. During the Fourteenth century, the roles of sexuality led to several factors. Whether you were male or not determined how others treated you and what you were able to do, thus creating a need for power in the more neglected side as stated in the Wife of Baths tale. This abuse of power feeds those who prefer to advance their own selfish ambitions rather than help others for the good of man, which inevitably caused many to believe in the corruption of the church. Chaucers Canterbury tales helped readers see the darker part of society, whereas those do whatever they can to survive and for happiness, neglected who they affect in the process. Works Cited Page Chaucer, Geoffrey. Canterbury Tales. Alfred A. Knope, INC., 1958. 607. Print. Halliday, F.E. A Concise History of England. New York: Viking Press, 1965. Print. Muhlberger, Steven. Religious Conflict in Fourteenth-Century England. The Orb. Steven Muhlberger, n.d. Web. 15 Dec 2010. . SparkNotes Editors. SparkNote on The Canterbury Tales. SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2003. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.