Chaucer’s attitude to the church and churchmen Essay
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Chaucer comments a lot on the church throughout the general prologue, the fact that the story begins with the pilgrimage to Canterbury strongly suggests the religious perspective, the Catholic values of the time encompass the main plot. Chaucer creates a fairly secular world filled with imperfect human beings as shown in the General Prologue. Many of the characters involved with the church are corrupt, yet the reader can enjoy Chaucer’s vivid portrayals of these characters rather than have only negative opinions of them.
The reason lies in the narrator Chaucer’s intended humbleness. In lines 727-740, narrator explains his policy of telling the truth of a person and describing him or her realistically. Often, as for the corrupt characters, the narrator does not give any negative evaluation. He either naively says the person in question is worthy or leaves the evaluation to the reader. As a result, the dark human nature represented by those corrupt characters is disguised by the humorous satire. The Church in the Middle Ages when this prologue was written is still clearly a major part of society.
About one third of the pilgrims going to Canterbury are church officials, and the entire group is celebrating spring by taking part in a traditional Christian ritual, the pilgrimage to an important holy shrine. In doing so they are giving public testimony to things that are valued in their society and their lives. While none of the pilgrims come from the top classes of society, the aristocracy, many of them are quite rich and sophisticated. In examining them, we are, for the most part, looking at members of the middle-class (although the concept of class did not exist at the time).
Some of them have money, a few have traveled extensively. They know about good clothes and books and food. Some ordinary folk have horses. There is a sense of rising individualism among them. While the ideals of the dedication to a traditional Christian communal society are clearly there, it is equally evident that for many of these pilgrims, including the Church officials, the sense of a communal duty is being eroded by a personal desire for money and the fine things money can by.
In fact, there is a strong sense throughout The Canterbury Tales that this money is somehow a threat to something older and more valuable. The characters seem to show how two faced the people were at the time, they will become a nun or a monk and get all the money and praise from that but they will break many of the rules set by the church. The nun doesn’t seem to obey any of the rules that the church has set, she seems to care more for the animals she has than the people she should look after and the monk is more of a business man than churchman.
Chaucer uses these characters to show his opinions of the church and although there are a few people he seems to admire and doesn’t have anything negative to say about them but these are usually nothing to do with the church such as the knight. The literary dualism in the General Prologue depends largely upon Chaucer’s sophisticated literary mechanism of incorporating the religious perspective into the mundane, realistic world.
The humorous tone and vivid descriptions of every sort of characters in the General Prologue remind the actual life in a pleasant way despite the corruption of those people. Meanwhile, the factor of sentence is implicitly embedded behind the narrator’s benign attitude and humorous, yet correct portrayals of the pilgrims. Thus, the balance between the religious and secular world in the General Prologue paves the way for the subsequent tales, which can be safely deemed as one of the most impressive literary achievements ever.