The Bourgeois Social Class in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Essay

5130 Words 21 Pages
It is clear that Geoffrey Chaucer was acutely aware of the strict classist system in which he lived; indeed the very subject matter of his Canterbury Tales (CT) is a commentary on this system: its shortcomings and its benefits regarding English society. In fact, Chaucer is particularly adept at portraying each of his pilgrims as an example of various strata within 14th century English society. And upon first reading the CT, one might mistake Chaucer's acute social awareness and insightful characterizations as accurate portrayals of British society in the late 1300s and early 1400s. Further, one might mistake his analysis, criticism, and his sardonic condemnation of many elements of British culture for genuine attempts to alter the …show more content…
We cannot read the CT as an honest criticism of 14th century English society without examining the entire picture - and this picture includes Chaucer's ideological contradiction. To better understand Chaucer's real message - criticizing the Three Estates system in order to encourage acceptance of his own Estate, the merchant or middle class - I will briefly discuss the Three Estates system and Chaucer's role in the system's shift to include a Fourth Estate (and how this shift influenced the CT). Then I will examine four stories from the CT (The Wife of Bath's Prologue, The Friar's Tale, The Summoner's Tale, and The Pardoner's Tale) in which Chaucer seems to denounce elements of the social paradigm. I will then examine four stories from the CT (The Knight's Tale, The Man of Law's Tale, The Second Nun's Tale, and The Parson's Tale) in which Chaucer contradicts his criticism of his society. Finally, I will discuss how the dominant social paradigm influenced Chaucer's view of the lower classes, and how the classist structure led to ideological contradictions within the CT. Before we discuss Chaucer's ideological contradictions, however, we must first examine the system he was attempting to change, the Three Estate system.

Although Chaucer's society was in the midst of dramatic transformation regarding traditional medieval hierarchy, the social paradigm in the late 1300s