What are the Monk's traits, and what medieval class does he represent in the The Canterbury Tales?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The Monk is described quite well in "The Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales and is a member of the clerical/ecclesiastical class in that he is a member of the clergy.  Generally, the Monk is described as "fat" and "personable," a fine sort of "manly man" who loved to hunt and owned many horses.  What is most interesting is the way Chaucer describes the Monk in reference to him being in the clergy:

Old and strict he tended to ignore; / He let go by the things of yesterday / And took the modern world's more spacious way. (24)

In other words, this Monk wasn't going to bog himself down with the strict rules of the Catholic Church.  He was a more "modern" clergyman and, therefore, could connect with people much better.  Another interesting thing is that the Host is on the Monk's side! 

And I agreed and said his views were sound; Was he to study till his head went round / Pouring over books in cloisters? (24)

One can assume, then, that the Host's words echo those of Chaucer, who makes an interesting statement about modern churchgoing here.  One must remember that it was at this time that the very first Bible was finally printed and read in English (instead of Latin).  I think of Chaucer's description of the Monk to be a commentary on this event. 

There is more to the Monk, however, than meets the eye.  The Monk has one of the longest descriptions in the prologue precisely because it isn't often that you find a member of his class who is also a member of the upper class.  Chaucer wastes no time in letting us know that the Monk is most certainly rich

He spared no expense/  I saw his sleeves were garnished at the hand /With fine grey fur, the finest in the land, / . . . Many a dainty horse he had in his stable. / . . . He liked a fat swan best, and roasted whole. (24)

The Host makes no commentary as to whether this is good or bad and, I suppose, either "everyone deserves the good life" or "clergymen should be poor" could be proved in this regard.  What a fun masters thesis!

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