Essay PreviewMore ↓
Light-hearted yet bitingly satirical, Chaucer’s “General Prologue” to his Canterbury Tales is a commentary on the corruptions of the Church at the time. Chaucer, being of noble estate, retains his witticism in his narrator. The narrator devotes many a line to the vivid portrayals of the Prioress and the Frere. Through the actions of these two members of the clergy, it is seen that the lust for material goods, the need for flaunting one’s estate, and the development of hypocrisy all contribute to the shaking of the Church’s foundations.
Enfolded in the coils of luxury, the Prioress and the Frere can hardly recall their missions as part of the clergy. Is not gluttony evil in the eyes of the Church? Although not allowing any “morsel from hir lippes falle” (Chaucer, l. 128) can be viewed as a sign of “wasting not” in the Prioress, Chaucer’s narrator’s detailed and realistic descriptions of the Prioress’s table manners impress upon one that food and drink is the quintessence of this woman’s faith in the Church. The Frere, too, delights in merry living. Not only does he know the taverns in every town, he also knows “every hostiler and tappestere,/Bet than a lazar or a beggestere” (ll. 240-242). The Frere spends most of his time playing the rote and singing ballads (ll. 236-237); he also showers “faire wives” with gifts such as “knives” and “pinnes” (ll. 233-234). How is it then that the Frere needs to beg? He is the “beste beggere in his hous” (l. 252), and he can coax a “widwe [who] hadde nought a sho” (l. 255) to give him money. Is this not ridiculous when, during love-dayes, the Frere can - like a butterfly breaking out of its cocoon - shed his begging clothes and wear ceremonial gowns as rich and as fine as a maister’s or a pope’s? Contrary to the Church’s belief in not hoarding material goods, the Prioress delights in dressing fashionably in a neat cloak, with coral around her arms, and a gold brooch about her neck (ll. 157-162). As feasting and dressing shrewdly seem to occupy the bulk of these religious’ time, it must be that the Church is now based on hedonism instead of faith and humility!
How to Cite this Page
"Canterbury Tales - Downfall of the Church in Chaucer’s General Prologue." 123HelpMe.com. 16 Feb 2019
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Throughout time we have developed a moral conscience refining ourselves in history through this old book called the Bible that records the beginning of our history. For generations scholars have interpreted in one spectrum or another by making the doctrine of the church. The doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages was beginning to receive an uncertainty like Chaucer in the “PROLOGUE TO THE WIFE OF BATH’S TALE” in contrast to Anonymous in the story of “Everyman”. In the tale of “Everyman”, there is understanding of the church’s teachings assimilating the doctrine of the day that humans are revels that mellow with age.... [tags: bible, catholic, church]
524 words (1.5 pages)
- Corrupt and deceitful practices run among the Church’s clergy. Selfish acts such as the selling of indulgences occur all over. Many ignorant people buy into these lies and become the victims of the corrupt clergy of the Church. Author Geoffrey Chaucer shows how he views the Church in his acclaimed work The Canterbury Tales. In the book, Chaucer mentions how many people who are associated to the church take advantage of common people. Such exemplar characters of the book are The Pardoner and The Summoner.... [tags: Chaucer, Corruption, Catholic Church, ]
892 words (2.5 pages)
- Chaucer's The General Prologue Chaucer-the pilgrim starts out “The General Prologue” with detailed descriptions of each pilgrim as he views them. When Chaucer-the pilgrim arrives at the Pardoner, he becomes very focused on his physical appearance and what is seems to be missing. There is something odd about this Pardoner and Chaucer-the pilgrim can’t seem to grasp just what that is. He describes that the Pardoner is all on fire to do is job, just arriving from Rome (Bretful of pardon, come from Rome al hoot).... [tags: Chaucer General Prologue Essays]
706 words (2 pages)
- ... He is by no means religious or holy, he is more of the opposite of who he should be. Again it is explained that the Friar has a way with words, “Ful wel biloved and famulier was he, and eek with worthy wommen of the toun” (Chaucer 215-217). He was loved and known, but mainly he was familiar with the woman in his town. This concept is again expressed, “Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse, to make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge” (Chaucer 265-266). A Friar was a man of God, and his duties was not to seduce and flirt with woman.... [tags: portrait of the pilgrim Friar]
1045 words (3 pages)
- The Concept of Charity in the General Prologue In the "General Prologue," Chaucer presents an array of characters from the 1400's in order to paint portraits of human dishonesty and stupidity as well as virtue. Out of these twenty-nine character portraits three of them are especially interesting because they deal with charity. Charity during the 1400's, was a virtue of both religious and human traits. One character, the Parson, exemplifies Chaucer's idea of charity, and two characters, Prioress, and Friar, to satirize the idea of charity and show that they are using charity for either devious reasons or out of convention or habit.... [tags: General Prologue Essays]
946 words (2.7 pages)
- The Canterbury Tales - The Nun Prioress In the reading "The Canterbury Tales" by Geoffrey Chaucer, there is a detailed description about the nun Prioress in the "General Prologue". Chaucer uses physical and spiritual relationships to show the characteristics of a person. When we see the nun in relationship to other characters, for example the Knight, Chaucer makes the reader see two types of people. On one hand, the nun who gives much importance to minor things. On the other hand, the Knight who gives much importance to things that really matter.... [tags: General Prologue Essays]
879 words (2.5 pages)
- Chaucer and the Catholic Church The Catholic Church, which governed England, Ireland, and the entire Continent of Europe, had become extremely wealthy by the late fourteenth century. The cathedrals that grew up around shrines to saint’s relics were incredibly expensive to build. The amount of gold that went into decorating them surpassed the riches in the noble’s chest. Moreover the boxes used to hold the relics were more jewel-encrusted than the kings crown. In a Century of disease, plague, and scarce labor, the sight of a Church ornamented with unused gold seemed unfair to the people.... [tags: essays papers]
349 words (1 pages)
- The Wife of Bath Depicted in the General Prologue At the first reading of the "General Prologue" to the Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath seems to be a fairly straightforward character. However, the second time through, the ironies and insinuations surface and show the Wife's bold personality. For example, she is rather opinionated. The second line in the passage, "But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe," seems only to indicate that she is a little hard of hearing. However, coupled with a line from the end of the passage noting that she liked to talk, this deafness could mean either that she is really deaf and talks because she cannot hear what others say to her or that s... [tags: General Prologue Essays]
1229 words (3.5 pages)
- Geoffrey Chaucer expresses his disillusionment with the Catholic Church, during the Medieval Era, through satire when he wrote, The Canterbury Tales. The Medieval Era was a time when the Catholic Church governed England and was extremely wealthy. Expensive Cathedrals and shrines to saints' relics were built at a time when the country was suffering from famine, scarce labor, disease and the Bubonic Plague, which was the cause of death to a third of Europe's population and contributed to the rise of the middle class.... [tags: Geoffrey Chaucer essays research papers]
1808 words (5.2 pages)
- Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer comments on moral corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. He criticizes many high-ranking members of the Church and describes a lack of morality in medieval society; yet in the “Retraction,” Chaucer recants much of his work and pledges to be true to Christianity. Seemingly opposite views exist within the “Retraction” and The Canterbury Tales. However, this contradiction does not weaken Chaucer’s social commentary. Rather, the “Retraction” emphasizes Chaucer’s criticism of the Church and society in The Canterbury Tales by reinforcing the risk inherent in doing so.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Essays]
924 words (2.6 pages)
- Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front – An Accurate Description of the Honors and H
- Rafe and Robin in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus
- Genius and Madness in Christopher Smart’s My Cat Jeoffry
- Boundaries in Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Havel’s Temptation
- Idealism and Realism in Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara
- The Supernatural in Shakespeare's Richard III
Appearance and estate takes on high flight in “The General Prologue”, and the Church’s tenant in humility crumbles to the ground. The prim and proper Prioress, in her bid to imitate the nobility, is affected in her mannerisms. Chaucer pounces on this. He deliberately paints the Prioress’s caricature slowly, relishing in all the silly things she does to appear sophisticated. Chaucer’s narrator uses tongue-in-cheek irony to exaggerate how the Prioress speaks French elegantly, but that “Frenssh of Paris [is] to her unknowe” (l. 126). The narrator also praises the Prioress’s singing, only to add in the next line that she sings through her nose (ll. 122-123)! It is indeed interesting to see the Prioress being more concerned with her superficial display of knowledge and talent than with her duties as a follower of God. Moreover, the Prioress seems to believe that to be dignified equates with “digne of reverence” (l. 141) and that to be overly emotional over injured dogs and mice means she is “so charitable and so pitous” (l. 143). It is true that being kind to animals is expected of Christians; howbeit, the narrator does not mention the helping of humankind, even though the Church exacts heavy taxes on the common folk. In fact, the Frere thinks so highly of his own estate that he despises “to have with sike lazars aquaintaunce” (l. 245). He prides himself on knowing frankelains from all over the country. Is it not ironic that the Frere does not aid those whom he is supposed to help? Furthermore, the Frere is proud to be “the beste beggere in his hous” (l. 252), as though begging is a competition! Like the Prioress who excels at singing hymns, the Frere excels at regurgitating his In principio (l. 256). The narrator further emphasizes the dissipation of traditional religious values by ironically relating how the Frere’s In principio is so moving that he can persuade a poor widow to part with her last penny while his own “purchas was wel better than his rent” (ll. 255-258). Instead of aiding all people inclusively, the Church is now seen as taking advantage of its condescended followers.
“What hypocrites these religious are!” Chaucer’s words seem to shout. It is less than exemplary for nuns to swear, yet the narrator – through the use of punctuation – tells us with glee that the Prioress’s “gretteste ooth was but by sainte Loy!” (l. 120). While the traditional values of the Church does not support secular love, the Prioress – who, of all people, should epitomize the values of Christian love – boldly wears a gold brooch that displays the words, Amor vincit omnia (l. 162). Perhaps certain representatives of the Church wish to incorporate the more popular secular culture into their lives? After all, the Frere is a gossiper who delights in making friends with powerful frankelains. He even weds many “yonge women at his owene cost” (ll. 210-216)! To be sure, the Frere is a popular clergyman, for he is “an esy man to yive penaunce” as long as he is given “a good pitaunce” (ll. 223-224). What happened to the tradition of Christ, who freely aided and forgave all those who wished to be forgiven? It is a bleak picture and the narrator relates every detail matter-of-factly, adding credential to his satire.
Succinctly and humorously, Chaucer’s narrator paints the religious lives of the Prioress and of the Frere. These two religious turn the values of the Church upside down by the actions that they consider appropriate. It is no surprise that the collapse of the Church is embodied in the clergymen’s want of earthly goods, their desire to be above the common people in terms of estate, and their deficiencies at being role models for the Church.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The General Prologue.” The Canterbury Tales. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams et al. 7th ed. 2 vols. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2000. 1: 215-235.