Evaluate Chaucer's thought of, "If gold ruste, what shall iren doo?" with reference to his Church orders.

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hmartin17 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quote can be found in the General Prologue of Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales." It is used when describing a Person of a Town, who is surprisingly a good and learned man. He preached the gospel devoutly, and was a shepherd to his people. His Church office was that of a clerk, which meant he was in charge of the documentation of his parish. He led by example, and believed that other church figures should do the same. However, Chaucer declares that the Person often used the phrase, "if gold ruste, what shall iren do?" (line 502). The phrase is immediately followed by explanation: "For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste, No wonder is a lewed man to ruste" (lines 503-504). The Person means that if even the servants of God, the people who hold Church office, are corrupt, then the average man cannot be expected to act any better. The phrase is a metaphor, with the gold being the church figures, the iron being the average man, and rust being corruptness. Because the Person believed in leading by example, it can be assumed that the Person would prefer if people in Church offices were gold without rust, so that even the average person could avoid rust, too. Chaucer narrates this section of the General Prologue in positive favour of the Person of the Town for his wisdom and goodness, exampled in a way by this famous quote.

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The Canterbury Tales

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