Who is the monk in the Canterbury Tales?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Geoffrey Chaucer's classic The Canterbury Tales, the character of the monk is used to represent the common feeling of scorn that was already growing among the masses of England against the clergy.

Chaucer's generation witnessed how the clergy transformed, from a representative institution of Heaven on Earth, into a literal mob of well-to-do families gambling for chances to gain the benefits of the Church: An uber-wealthy corporation which operated in the name of God.

Hence, the monk that we see in The Canterbury Tales is far from the submissive-looking priest who takes poverty vows , charity, and penance. He is far from the images that are often portrayed in idealistic Renaissance paintings.

Chaucer's monk is different. He is stout, lazy, self-serving, and quite lax. He is exactly what the real Medieval monks were. Chaucer was one of the few public figures who dared to state the reality of the clerical "corps" of the time.

Of his laziness and lack of discipline it is said in the story,

He yaf nought of that text a pulled hen.

About his self-serving attitudes, that is, his love for hunting and the Church money he spent on his hobby the story reads,

Of priking and of hunting for the hare was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare

Moreover, far from wearing a monk's robe and obbey the vow of poverty, the Canterbury monk wears a very elaborate garb complete with fur, gold, and even symbols. He does not even wear a rosary! What monk would wear this?

Additionally, it is noted that the monk seems to be a lusty man, a bit too fat for a profession that is meant to fast and sacrifice, and quite satisfied with life...for a person who has vowed to life in complete submission.

However, Chaucer does not attack any of the bad qualities of the monk. We can almost hear him giggling in the background, using his favorite sins and bestowing them upon the monk for the sake of entertainment.

In conclusion, the monk is one more pawn in a game of the times: A man who takes a clerical position in the Church to take full advantage of its material benefits.


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