Essay on Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales

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Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales

In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer comments on moral corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. He criticizes many high-ranking members of the Church and describes a lack of morality in medieval society; yet in the “Retraction,” Chaucer recants much of his work and pledges to be true to Christianity. Seemingly opposite views exist within the “Retraction” and The Canterbury Tales. However, this contradiction does not weaken Chaucer’s social commentary. Rather, the “Retraction” emphasizes Chaucer’s criticism of the Church and society in The Canterbury Tales by reinforcing the risk inherent in doing so.

In The Canterbury Tales Chaucer portrays the Roman Catholic Church as an institution in
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Chaucer clearly indicates that many leaders of the Church act only for their own good, rather than for spiritual reasons.

In his description of other pilgrims, Chaucer points out how the lack of morality within the Church is echoed by the rest of society. Several pilgrims have non-religious reasons for going on the pilgrimage. The Wife of Bath, for instance, is looking for her sixth husband, hoping that “Som Cristen man shal wed me [her] anoon” (WBT 54). Many of the characters have little or no regard for others, but instead are focused only on their own desires. The Franklin is so gluttonous that “It snewed [snows] in his hous of mete and drinke, / Of alle daintees that men coude thinke” (GP 347-8). Chaucer even suggests that the Sergeant at Law, a prominent figure in society, “seemed bisier than he was” (GP 324). The corruption of the Church has, according to Chaucer, affected the way individuals act. If the Church is immoral it is not surprising that much of society mirrors the Church’s immoral actions. The Parson cleverly describes the effect of a lack of morality in the leaders of society by comparing the corruption of individuals to the rusting of metals: “if gold ruste, what shal iren do? / For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste, / No wonder is a lewed man to ruste” (GP 502-4). Chaucer attacks not only the behaviour of the Church officials but also the immorality of the laypeople in Medieval society.

Contrary to the critical tone used in The Canterbury

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