The critical acclaim for The Canterbury Tales as a whole is matched by the puzzlement over the work’s conclusion, the “Parson’s Tale” and Chaucer’s retraction. By modern standards, it hardly seems the “merry tale” the Parson promises his audience, and after the liveliness of much of the rest of the Tales, it appears to close the work not with a bang, but a whimper.
However, this does not mean that the tale and retraction aren’t worthy of consideration, both independently and in the larger context of Chaucer’s masterpiece. Indeed, within the last century we have seen scholars arguing for the Parson’s sermon and Chaucer’s retraction as the capstone of the work, as ironic comment, and even as Chaucer’s own response to his life, which was nearing its close as the pieces in question were written. The truth of the matter may well be a combination of all of these elements, as well as others not yet mentioned.
The sermon’s sources seem to lie in the manuals of penance that were widespread in England in the fourteenth century. As Mary Flowers Braswell has observed, the concept of penance as a repeatable sacrament seems to have originated in the Celtic church, and was officially adopted as doctrine by the Lateran Council in 1215. As part of the penitential process, the Celtic monks devised manuals for confessors, which took into account such factors as the sinner’s intent, whether the sin was habitual, and even lists of questions the confessors could use to elicit information from the sinner (20-21).
The cardinal sins were used as a sort of sieve, allowing for classification of specific sin. Interestingly enough, Morton Bloomfield notes that early Celti...
... middle of paper ...
Penance.” In Literature and Religion In the Later
Middle Ages: Philological Studies in Honor of
Siegfried Wenzel, Richard G. Newhauser and John A.
Alford, eds. Binghamton, NY: Medieval & Renaissance
Texts & Studies, 1995. 61-80.
Olmert, Michael. “The Parson’s Ludic Formula For Winning on
the Road (to Canterbury).” The Chaucer Review 20:2
Shaw, Judith. “Corporal and Spiritual Homicide, the Sin of
Wrath, and the ‘Parson’s Tale’.” Traditio: Studies in
Ancient and Medieval History, Thought and Religion 38
Wenzel, Siegfried. “The Source of Chaucer’s Seven Deadly
Sins.” Traditio: Studies in Ancient and Medieval
History, Thought and Religion 30 (1974), 351-378.
Wood, Chauncey. “Chaucer’s Most ‘Gowerian’ Tale.” In
Chaucer and Gower: Difference, Mutuality, Exchange.
Victoria, BC: U of Victoria
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- The Parson: What He Said and Why The Canterbury Tales offer many characters whose vocation does not match his or her tale. This often provides humor and provokes much thought. Yet Chaucer makes the parson match his tale. This provokes a more serious train of thought. Thus Chaucer shows forth his brilliance in his versatility of subject matter. The first thing one should notice in the Parson's tale is that the Parson refuses to tell a fable. In lines 30-36, the Parson gives his reasoning for a straightforward prose.... [tags: Parson Essays]
359 words (1 pages)
- The Character of the Parson of Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer is considered by many critics as the father of English literature. His literary masterpiece was "The Canterbury Tales." In these tales, Chaucer writes about pilgrims who are on a journey to Canterbury. Each pilgrim has a tale that they tell on this journey. Chaucer expresses themes and messages through the characterization of each pilgrim. Through the Parson, one of the pilgrims, Chaucer is able to portray the life of a true Christian through the general prologue, prologue to the Parson's tale, and the Parson's tale itself.... [tags: Parson Essays]
590 words (1.7 pages)
- The Canterbury Tales is more than an amusing assortment of stories; it is an illustration of the society in which Geoffrey Chaucer lived. It portrays the culture and class system of the medieval ages in microcosm. Every strata of human life at the time were represented by the many characters whose tales are told. Each character’s basic human nature also plays a role in their stories, and each one has within them the strengths and weaknesses that make up all of humanity. Each character exemplifies their life and reputation through the stories they tell.... [tags: The Canterbury Tales Essays]
1322 words (3.8 pages)
- It is clear that Geoffrey Chaucer was acutely aware of the strict classist system in which he lived; indeed the very subject matter of his Canterbury Tales (CT) is a commentary on this system: its shortcomings and its benefits regarding English society. In fact, Chaucer is particularly adept at portraying each of his pilgrims as an example of various strata within 14th century English society. And upon first reading the CT, one might mistake Chaucer's acute social awareness and insightful characterizations as accurate portrayals of British society in the late 1300s and early 1400s.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales]
5134 words (14.7 pages)
- Geoffrey Chaucer, in The Canterbury Tales, uses both a frame narrative and satire to describe the pilgrimage of thirty pilgrims. The purpose of Chaucer’s use of the frame narrative is to display to the reader the stories within. These pilgrims, as described in the outer frame of the work, embark on a great journey to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury, England. Chaucer created a character from most of the classes to ensure that his work has the characteristics of verisimilitude, yet excluded from the motley crew pilgrims of the highest and the lowest of the social ranks, royalty and serfs, respectively.... [tags: The Canterbury Tales, General Prologue]
1879 words (5.4 pages)
- ... One of his most famous arts of works from Chaucer was "The Prologue." It introduced The Canterbury Tales, which started with the pilgrimage. During the pilgrimage, the pilgrims would entertain themselves by telling stories while on their way from London to Canterbury (Gould 6). Reasoning for writing "The Prologue" was during the time his wife died, in 1387, and when he was sued twice (Ellis 11). Chaucer died on October 25, 1400, (Ellis 9) and was buried in the section of the Abbey; later known as the “poets corner” (Laird 5).... [tags: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer]
2013 words (5.8 pages)
- The Root of Evil Exposed in The Pardoner's Tale "The root of all evil is money." Because this phrase has been repeated so many times throughout history, one can fail to realize the truth in this timeless statement. Whether applied to the corrupt clergy of Geoffrey Chaucer's time, selling indulgences, or the corrupt televangelists of today, auctioning off salvation to those who can afford it, this truth never seems to lose its validity. In Chaucer's famous work The Canterbury Tales, he points out many inherent flaws of human nature, all of which still apply today. Many things have changed since the fourteenth century, but humanity's ability to act foolish is not... [tags: Pardoner's Tale]
1099 words (3.1 pages)
- The Canterbury Tales The Canterbury Tales, a masterpiece of English Literature, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, is a collection, with frequent dramatic links, of 24 tales told to pass the time during a spring pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket in Canterbury. The General Prologue introduces the pilgrims, 29 "sondry folk" gathered at the Tabard Inn in Southwark (outside of London). Chaucer decides to join them, taking some time to describe each pilgrim. According to the Norton Anthology, "the composition of none of the tales can be accurately dated; most of them were written during the last fourteen years of Chaucer's life, although a few were probably written earlier and inserted... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Essays]
969 words (2.8 pages)
- The Canterbury As April comes, the narrator begins a pilgrimage to Canterbury from the Tabard Inn at Southwerk. Twenty-nine people make the pilgrimage toward Canterbury and the narrator describes them in turn. The pilgrims are listed in relative order of status, thus the first character is the Knight. Chaucer describes the knight as a worthy man who had fought in the Crusades. With him is a Squire, the son of the Knight and a 'lusty bachelor' of twenty. The Knight has a second servant, a Yeoman.... [tags: Canterbury Tales Knights Essays]
1417 words (4 pages)
- The Canterbury The Canterbury Tales begins with the introduction of each of the pilgrims making their journey to Canterbury to the shrine of Thomas a Becket. These pilgrims include a Knight, his son the Squire, the Knight's Yeoman, a Prioress, a Second Nun, a Monk, a Friar, a Merchant, a Clerk, a Man of Law, a Franklin, a Weaver, a Dyer, a Carpenter, a Tapestry-Maker, a Haberdasher, a Cook, a Shipman, a Physician, a Parson, a Miller, a Manciple, a Reeve, a Summoner, a Pardoner, the Wife of Bath, and Chaucer himself.... [tags: Canterbury Tales Literature Essays]
3507 words (10 pages)