In Geoffrey Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, with what kind of pin is the monk's hood fastened?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer describes each of the characters who will be going on a pilgrimage, and among them is a monk. A monk is one who has determined to set himself apart from the world in order to contemplate the things of God and pray. A monk does not pursue worldly pleasures, committing himself to abstinence and self-denial in all things. This monk is not typical.

The Prologue passage describing the monk begins with these lines:

A monk there was, one made for mastery,

An outrider, who loved his venery.

The word venery has two unrelated meanings. The first is a term for hunting; the second is an indulgence in sexual pleasure. For most of the passage describing the monk, Chaucer concentrates on the first definition. He mentions all manner of details referring to the monk's love of hunting: riding, horses, stables, bridle, greyhounds, and hare.

Chaucer also spends a lot of time talking about the monk's disdain for the old practice of monks staying in cloisters so they can study; he prefers "new-world manners." He does not believe that 

a monk, when he is cloisterless,
Is like unto a fish that's waterless;

Instead he rides "day and night," hunting hare with his greyhounds, sparing no expense in his hunting pursuits. 

Chaucer gives only two small details about the monk's clothing, and what he wears is certainly not the typical clothing of a man who is dedicated to serving God. The cuffs of his sleeves are decorated with grey fur, "the finest in the land." 

Also, to fasten hood beneath his chin,
He had of good wrought gold a curious pin:
A love-knot in the larger end there was.

His hood is fastened at the neck with a singular gold pin shaped like a love knot. It is an odd thing for a monk to be wearing, as his only devotion should be to God. Instead of abstaining from sexual activities, this pin is an indication that, in addition to hunting, this monk is also interested in pursuing sexual pleasures. He is, indeed, a man of venery. 

Chaucer ends this passage with one last indication of this monk's devotion to worldly pleasures rather than to God. 

Now certainly he was a fine prelate:
He was not pale as some poor wasted ghost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roast.

Rather than being a man of God who studies, wears simple clothes, and abstains from pleasure, this monk is a man of hearty appetites. He spends his money on fine things and obviously does not feel the need to deprive himself of any pleasure. His gold pin is just one indication that this monk is not a true man of God. 

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