Canterbury Tales - Criticism of the Church in the Summoner’s Tale and the Prioress’s Tale

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Criticism of the Catholic Church in the Summoner’s Tale and the Prioress’s Tale

Many pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales held a religious position. Some of these people’s personal ideas have caused debates and criticism over Chaucer’s opinion of the Catholic Church. Critics have discussed the ideas that were presented both subtly and openly. Two of the pilgrims and their tales will be discussed: the Prioress and the Pardoner. Both of these tales offer points of criticism in the Catholic Church.

The Prioress introduces herself as being like a child who does not know many words. She is going to try to tell a tale as best as she can. This child-like language can be seen through the whole tale. The
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She is much more direct and acts more like an adult. She describes the little boys murder and then blatantly says,

“With torment and with shameful deeth echon, this provost dooth thise Jewes for to sterve that of this mordre wiste, and that anon. He nolde no swich cursednesse observe. ‘Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve.’ Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe, and after that he heng hem by the lawe.” (Lines 628-35)

This shows a double standard in the Prioress’s character. Although she is the most compassionate and loving woman, she is very anti-Semitic. She wants mercy for the little boy and anyone grieving for him, yet she supports the action of the Jews being hastily judged and hanged. Ames says, “Chaucer has portrayed the combination with such uncanny accurately that the Prioress seems a prototype of the pious lady who would not hurt a mouse but who would not stop a lynching of those outsiders she fears and hates.” (200)

A true Catholic would not judge others and hold them to different standards. The Prioress should be accepting of everyone and leave judgment to God. However, the Prioress is very openly anti-Semitic as she degrades and insults the Jewish. This is covertly magnified by the Prioress’s demeanor towards anyone or anything that is not Jewish. She is very friendly and also devotes her life to God, yet she does not accept Jews. “The
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