A Knight Nobler Than a Monk
The Canterbury Tales, written at the end of the fourteenth century, is a frame story written by Geoffrey Chaucer. In the novel, the narrator joins a diverse group of twenty-nine pilgrims who are traveling from Southwark to the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas’a Becket. While the pilgrims are gathered at the inn, Chaucer observes the pilgrims and records a descriptive account of twenty-seven of the pilgrims, which include a knight and a monk. When reading The Canterbury Tales, the reader quickly discovers that this group of traveling pilgrims are extremely different from each other. The Knight and the Monk are two characters that differ in almost every way imaginable. In The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, the Knight and the Monk differ in the narrator’s opinion of them, in their appearance, and in their actions.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s opinion, the Knight is the noblest of all the pilgrims. We can see evidence of this in Chaucer’s narration:
There was a Knight, a most distinguished man,
Who from the day on which he first began
To ride abroad had followed chivalry,
Truth, honor, generousness, and courtesy (43-46).
Geoffrey Chaucer describes the Knight as an ideal medieval Christian man-at-arms during this era. The Knight is a polite man who would have never been found saying an unkind word about any person. Chaucer also reveals that the Knight is a brave, distinguished, and experienced knight when he describes his countless successful endeavors. It is clear that the narrator believes that the Knight is a man who embodies military excellence, honor, and loyalty.
The Monk, on the other hand, is not thought of as highly as the Knight. Holding the title of Monk and Prior of the Cell, the Monk is bound to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Monk is aware of the rules and restrictions that come with these vows, such as studying throughout most of the day, but he dismisses such regulations as worthless. “And I agreed and said his views were sound/ was he to study till his head went round” (187-188). It can be assumed that Chaucer believes that the Monk should be living up to his title and standards of living, rather than living a secular lifestyle.
The Knight’s appearance seems to stand out among the other pilgrims in the novel. The Knight brings fine equipment and horses with him on this journey. As for his apparel, he only wears a stained tunic that is stained and dark with smudges from the numerous great crusades that he participated in during this era. “Speaking of equipment, he possessed/ fine horses, but he was not gaily dressed” (75-76). Although the Knight came from noble descent, he was not interested in boasting of this through his apparel.
Contrastingly, the Monk is a man who is extremely concerned with dressing in fine clothing at all times. Dressed in gold accessories and fur clothing, the Monk resembles a prosperous lord rather than a humble and devoted monk. “I saw his sleeves were garnished at the hand/ with fine grey fur, the finest in the land” (197-198). A monk is called to be devoted to the things of the Lord, rather than the things of the world. The Monk’s devotion to luxurious apparel and accessories is something that should not be apparent in a man of his title.
“He was a true, a perfect gentle-knight” (74). This statement proves to be true as we analyze the Knight’s actions. Knights were expected to protect the weak and defenseless and to fight for the general welfare of all. The Knight is dedicated and fulfills his duties without hesitation. Although the Knight is a strong and powerful knight, he never boasted. “And though so much distinguished, he was wise/ and in his bearing modest as a maid” (70-71). The Knight is admired by all because of his protection and respect for them.
Contrastingly, the Monk’s actions did not prove to be as noble as those of the Knight. As mentioned previously, a monk is bound to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Monk finds these virtues to be worthless and does not live by the rules and regulations that he was expected to follow. “The rule of good St. Benet or St. Maur/ as old and strict he tended to ignore” (177-178). Instead, he indulges himself in his worldly desires, such as wearing fine clothing and traveling around the country to hunt. Although the Monk’s title make him out to be a holy and honorable man, his actions prove otherwise.
In The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, Chaucer manages to capture human nature in its various forms. Each pilgrim is their own person and each have unique characteristics that make them different from each other. This point is evident in the different descriptions of the people along with the tales that each of them tell.
In the final analysis, the Knight and the Monk are two characters that are very different in many aspects such as the narrator’s opinion of them, their appearance, and most importantly, their actions. Although the Monk displays undesirable traits such as corruptness and distrustfulness, the Knight displays desirable traits such as respectfulness and trustworthiness.