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Church Characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Updated January 11, 2022
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Church Characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales essay

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During the fourteenth-century, Europeans lived in a place where everything was governed and influenced by the church. In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, he has clearly used some of these religious views his stories. The factors that made a huge impact on Chaucer’s life and would later dominate some characters in his tales are, the Great Schism, Pope Leo IX and Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, the Italian Renaissance, and The Monk, Friar, and Prioress.

In 1300 AD, the Italian Renaissance was becoming very popular across Europe. This was a renewal of art, Latin, Greek writings, philosophers, and specifically in the Catholic Church. Even with the civil growths, the renewal of religion did not reach England for over a century which was due to the corruption. At this time in history, England was still left clueless until Chaucer had slowly began developing the country with his literature. It starts becoming more obvious with the Canterbury Tales characters, because of the Renaissance-like characters who are on a holy crusade partake in storytelling.

The beginning of the corruption started with the Great Schism. In 1054, the Catholic Church had two popes across Europe, Pope Leo IX was the first official pope the church had. He had the power of a modern papacy. However, there was already a pope in France, which led to an argument with the Romans insisting that the new Pope had to come from Rome and the papacy should be moved back to Rome. This created two papacies, one in France and one in Rome which meant different countries would divide up as to which papacy they were going to side with. This become a religious issue that lead people to become very skeptical of the clergy which caused them not to lose faith in the religion but the clergy.

The Prioress, in the book, is described as humble and soft lady. She is the head nun of her convent but she strives to have elegance. One could say she’s more of a lady of nobility rather than a nun of the church. Even though she may seem graceful, her physical features say other wise with chaucer describing her with a large forehead and small lips. She also has clothes made from expensive materials and instead of a rosary has vanity beads. Her character is very misleading and tries too hard to be seen a specific way.

Moving on to The Monk, he is described as a handsome man, a lover of hunting, and a great rider. Monks during the fourteenth century had to follow Saint Benedict Rules. Those rules consisted of what they can’t do, such as not to seek wealth and not to be self-indulgent. Monks were supposed to live a very modest lifestyle, meaning they should eat and dress humbly. With him not following the rules of monasticism, the reader can presume that he did not want to become a monk. The reader can see one more instance of how the practices of the church were just being abandoned by people who took advantage of what the church had to offer.

Lastly, Hubert the Friar, he is a priest that has no relations to a monastery. During Chaucer’s time, friars were the topic of major denunciation due to the Great Schism taking place, this affected people by realizing that the church doesn’t really have authoritative power over people. After that, people still blamed friars on there conflicting worships for the church. The Friar is suppose to travel from place to place to forgive people of their sins and ask for donations. Clearly, he acted completely different such as seducing women, becoming friends with rich men who might need his assistance like confessions or marriages. Someone could strike him as poor beggar man but, in reality, is truly selfish but he conceals that corrupted side with a innocent persona. This is another example of how corrupt the church was during Chaucer’s time.

The Friar, Monk, and Prioress highlight many of the dilemmas that the church was having. Chaucer representation in his characters may not make sense, it even states in the General Prologue “The salient features of each pilgrim leap out randomly at the reader, as they might to an observer concerned only with what meets the eye.” (Greenblatt 243). It’s obviously evident that the church had a huge influence on the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer’s own opinion plays a huge role in these stories, it displays he what believed the Catholic Church was doing and how religious life was like. It seems like these people couldn’t even trust God. These are the factors that made a huge impact on Chaucer’s life and would later dominate some characters in his tales are, the Great Schism, Pope Leo IX and Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, the Italian Renaissance, and The Monk, Friar, and Prioress.

Church Characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales essay

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Church Characters in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (2022, Jan 11). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/church-characters-in-chaucers-canterbury-tales/

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