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What impression does The Prologue give you of the Church in Chaucer’s England?

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Introduction

THE GENERAL PROLOGUE What impression does The Prologue give you of the Church in Chaucer's England? Chaucer uses The General Prologue to highlight the predicament and the shortcomings of the Church in England at his time: by the use of satire and irony he manages to effectively criticise the Church in the 14th century. I have chosen to use three of Chaucer's portraits to illustrate the impression he gives of the Church. The first of these characters is the Monk; a man who one must remember has vowed to lead a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. It can immediately be seen that Chaucer is not partial to the Church and the clergy. The first two lines set the scene for the portrait; Chaucer starts by telling the reader that the Monk outshines all other monks ('a fair for the maistrie' - line 165), this at first appears complimentary, though when one reads on one discovers that this monk outshines the other monks in his negligence of his duty to God. This "exceptional" monk is in fact a gluttonous, self-centred man, who would rather concentrate on hunting ('venerie' - line 166) and increasing his chances of a career promotion. ...read more.

Middle

Then Chaucer says that if this is the case, then 'How shal the world be served?' this could be the Monk asking what a state the world would be in if this was all monks did; "how could the monks effectively serve the world from the 'cloistre'?" On the other hand it could be Chaucer asking what a condition the world would be in if all monks took the Monk's perspective. The striking fact is that the Monk appears to completely miss the point of living a life in an isolated monastery, where rather than serving 'the world' he can in fact perform his true duty, serving God. The Monk says 'Let Austin have his swink to him reserved!' asking for Augustine to do his own work, his justification for his abandonment of monastic life. The hunting imagery returns as we hear of the Monk's 'Greyhoundes', clearly a sign of wealth and once more a defiance of his monastic vows. However this time we also hear of the Monk's sexual interests; in hunting hare ('priking') the Monk is hunting an animal renowned for its extremely prolific breeding. This is an image of sexual indulgence and hints once more at the fact that perhaps the Monk is not only decadent, fairly affluent and negligent to the Church, but he is also not chaste. ...read more.

Conclusion

The second character is the Friar; whom, like the Monk does Chaucer attack for his misuse of power, his manipulation of the vulnerable and his sexual promiscuity. Chaucer opens the portrait by getting to the point, saying that the Friar was 'wantowne and a merie', automatically targeting the disordered behaviour and frivolous nature of the Friar. Chaucer attacks him, saying that there is no friar in any of the four religious orders that can speak in such an obsequious nature ('so muchel of daliaunce and fair langage' - line 211). Chaucer immediately exposes the Friars sexual promiscuity, depicting how he used to exploit young girls, by seducing them and then paying them off in marriage. This is immediately followed by the Friar being described as being 'Unto his ordre he was a noble post' this is Chaucer ironically saying that in being an honoured member, the order itself must be deeply rooted in this sexual promiscuity. Also Chaucer's use of the word 'noble', which is used frequently throughout The General Prologue, is for ironic effect, making the Friar appear at first honourable and initially shrouding his immorality from the reader. This friar keeps company with 'frankleyns' and, showing his corruption and his Stuart Finlayson English 09.10.00 RBMi Chaucer: The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales ...read more.

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