General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Who are two ideal characters in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales?

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The Parson and the Plowman both seem too good to be true, but Chaucer does not seem to be painting their characters with a satirical brush.

Chaucer included several misbehaving ecclesiastical characters (the Monk, the Friar, the Pardoner) to point out that the Church in medieval England was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.  However, the Parson seems to be exactly what he is supposed to be:  a humble servant of Christ.  He is poor, but when he has a small amount of money, he gives it to those in greater need.  He is very concerned about being a good role model and is concerned that "if gold rust, what shall iron do?"  He is compared to a shepherd, thus tying him to the Biblical description of Jesus as "the good shepherd."  There seems to be no satire when Chaucer says, "I think there never was a better priest."

The Plowman is also an admirable character, especially when considering that his job is to haul manure.  He is the Parson's brother, and perhaps that has a bearing on his goodness, too.  Even though he is a poor man doing a distasteful job, Chaucer describes him as "living is peace and perfect charity."  Chaucer brings Matthew 22: 36-39 to life with the character of the Plowman. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

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