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Remind yourself of lines 77-162 of The Wife of Bath's Prologue. How does Chaucer present contemporary attitudes towards the church in this passage?

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Introduction

Remind yourself of lines 77-162 of The Wife of Bath's Prologue. How does Chaucer present contemporary attitudes towards the church in this passage? In most of Chaucer's characters within The Canterbury Tales, we can derive opinions and attitudes towards the church. Some characters, such as the Prioress, Friar and Monk who should be devout and honourable are, in fact, presented as being entirely dishonourable. Chaucer seems to be highlighting the obvious flaws within the Medieval Church, such as its corrupt Friars and money-orientated core. The Wife of Bath, although not a character related directly to the church, presents many points regarding the church's 'ideal' and her own opinion of this. This opinion may be taken as representative of the 'common people' and could depict the popular attitude towards the church at the time. Although in the general prologue, it is mentioned that the Wife attends church, the context in which this is put (that it is merely an excuse to wear nice clothes), immediately highlights the lack of genuine interest towards the church. The Wife, being a loud, gregarious, rebellious woman, does not easily fit the church ideal, "Virginitee is greet perfeccion" [l 105]. Within this passage, the Wife presents the church's 'ideal' as being unreasonable and unrealistic. ...read more.

Middle

Glose whoso wole, and say bothe up and doun..." [ll 118-119] However, aside from this, her need to justify and defend her lifestyle shows us something fundamental about the church at this time. Although few people adhered completely to the church's ideal, finding it too difficult, the contemporary ideas of hell and purgatory were sufficient enough an incentive to at least try and justify their lives in accordance with the bible. Ultimately, Chaucer is highlighting the lack of control the church had on influencing most people's lives. However, the rules were still recognised, even if they were not followed, causing many people to feel obligated to justify their lifestyle by manipulating the bible to their own interest. The Wife also frequently uses the concept of experience as a tool, not only against the scholars but also against the fundamental wishes of the church as well. Her argument against the scholars, regarding the purpose of sexual organs is merely that of her own personal experience, "The experience woot wel it is noght so" [l 124]. The concept of experience versus authority (mentioned in the first line of the prologue) is relevant not only to the Wife of Bath, but also to the population as a whole. ...read more.

Conclusion

Chaucer the pilgrim, acts as the 'middleman' during The Canterbury Tales, remaining fairly objective throughout. By using the Wife's personality to represent the lack of control the church had over some people, Chaucer highlights the flaws within the church and shows how people like the Wife of Bath used it merely as a pretence for a social life. This extract ultimately shows, through the Wife colourful lifestyle, the lack of control the church had over the people and the lack of respect the people had for the church. The impossible standards set by the church were on the whole, not adhered to, with people justifying their lifestyle with other contradictory passages within the bible. However, this is not to say that the church was not still a powerful object at this time. It was still the only main source of jobs and most, if not all people, attended church on a Sunday. The abbeys and monasteries were the greatest landowners in the country and due to the corrupt nature of some aspects of the church, such as the trade in 'pardons', it was very wealthy and powerful at this time. However, overall, and in this passage, Chaucer seems to focus on the negative aspects of the church, and, accurately or not, portrays to the reader an overall lack of respect by the people towards the church. ...read more.

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