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The Canterbury Tales is more than a collection of stories, many of them taken from popular folk tales or existing stories in other languages.

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The Canterbury Tales is more than a collection of stories, many of them taken from popular folk tales or existing stories in other languages. It is a picture of life in England in the fourteenth century. The three main levels of society at the time are represented in the stories - knights, the clergy and the common people. In addition, the professional classes and the merchant class have their representatives. The tales are the social comment of the highest order. Chaucer is cynical about many aspects of society but none more so than the church. He shows in several stories the corruption of organised religion at the time and portrays the highest members of the church as pleasure loving and wealthy, in contrast to the most basic tenets of abstinence and poverty espoused officially by the church. An analysis of the tales for elements of anti-clericalism as responses to the prevailing political, social, and religious setting requires some basic historical knowledge about Late Middle Age conditions in England, as well as the belief that literature in general reflects the historical conditions under which it is written because a piece of literature cannot be fully understood without such historical knowledge. In the years before the Reformation, members of the Catholic clergy were notorious for their immoral acts. The abuses of clerical power and privileges by the medieval clergy permeated all parts of their daily lives. Members of the Catholic clergy were financially, politically and socially corrupt. ...read more.


Alison consciously uses the system to her best advantage, at the same time holding onto and expressing her "natural" sexual self without apology. Next to religious hypocrisy, Chaucer seems to abhor the type of "blind faith" exemplified by the carpenter John, who states earnestly, "The unlettered man is blessed indeed, who doesn't know a thing except his Creed!" The underlying irony is unmistakable. The Miller describes John as a "white doke after hire drake," illustrating not only his blind following of Church doctrine, but a sort of feminization, a reduction of power, as well (MT 3576). John's naive and somewhat superstitious faith, along with his ambivalent attitude of both distrust and admiration for Nicholas' "learning," lead him to both a broken arm and round ridicule from the town's inhabitants. In both The Miller's Tale and The Reeve's Tale, the "learned" students, Nicholas, Alan, and John, fare best at the end. Critics are not in complete agreement about Chaucer's religious thinking. Although the hypocrisy Chaucer points out in several of the religious pilgrims is obvious, many scholars are hesitant to conclude that Chaucer's intent was to satirize and criticize the Church as a whole. This view has the right to exist, of course, but after examining the Pardoner and the Friar, Chaucer's condemnation of the institutions of the medieval Church become more convincing. Furthermore, a more complex reading of Chaucer's religious beliefs is evident when the Parson and the Plowman are juxtaposed to the Pardoner and the Friar. ...read more.


Chaucer, being one of the most important medieval authors, uses this prologue and tale to make a statement about buying salvation. The character of the pardoner is one of the most despicable pilgrims, seemingly "along for the ride" to his next "gig" as the seller of relics. As a matter of fact, the pardoner is only in it for the money. In his tale, the Pardoner slips into his role as the holiest of holies and speaks of the dire consequences of gluttony, gambling, and lechery. The Pardoner's place in Chaucer's idea of redemption becomes evident in the epilogue of the tale. After offering the host the first pardon the host berates the pardoner. By this, the idea of the pardoner as the most important man on the pilgrimage is brought to fruition and Chaucer makes the main point of this tale: salvation is not for sale. Another example of the medieval obsession with redemption. The picture of a corrupt Summoner is Chaucer's an ultimate portrayal of religious hypocrisy of the Medieval Catholic Church. The man who takes money from people to expunge their sins does it on false pretences, thus being guilty of an act for which, by the rules of the day, he himself should have paid money to the church. But Chaucer is certainly not against religion. Rather, he wishes to expunge the depraved creatures that are bringing it into disrepute, so that its true value can be restored. Perhaps the overall theme is of life as a journey, to heaven helped or, in many cases, hindered, by the acts of the religious professionals. ...read more.

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