Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Unlike many medieval writers whose backgrounds were religious, Chaucer was a man of the world: a courtier, diplomat, and customs official. Yet his greatest work, The Canterbury Tales, containing many worldly elements, is a literary version of a major Christian endeavor, the pilgrimage to a holy place. A pilgrimage could of course attract worldly people, and such types are certainly found among Chaucer’s pilgrims, but all medieval people recognized it as a holy exercise. Three of the tales are plainly religious: the Prioress’s concerns a miracle of the Virgin Mary, the Second Nun’s is a biography of Saint Cecilia (a form that in Chaucer’s time was commonly called a “legend”), and the Parson’s is a sermon, or perhaps more properly a theological tract. The prominence given to the last of these works in itself supports Chaucer’s insistence on the reigning importance of Christian doctrine.
In a number of respects, the medieval Christian perspective permeates other tales. Several are influenced by the De consolatione philosophiae (523; The Consolation of Philosophy, late ninth century) of Boethius, who lived in the early sixth century, wrote Christian theological tracts, and was honored at least in Italy as Saint Severinus. The Boethian concept most attractive to Chaucer, gentilesse, is not precisely a Christian term but signifies virtuous nobility. Because “The Franklin’s Tale,” the most positive of...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
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