The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer Reviewed
The Canterbury Tales is a collection of twenty-four short stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century. It is considered a foundational work of English literature that popularized the English vernacular. The individual stories are presented as part of a story-telling contest hosted during a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury Cathedral. Approximately thirty pilgrims are introduced in the prologue, and each tells four stories. Two of the most significant pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales are the Parson and the Monk, who are very different in moral character despite superficial professional similarities.
Both the Parson and the Pardoner gained their power and social status through affiliation with the Church. The Parson is a devout, educated town priest that preaches the Gospel and lives in poverty because of his excess virtue. He donates the church collections to the poor but remains “riche…in holy thought and work” (Chaucer 143). In contrast, the Pardoner travels around the country selling fake relics and indulgences, a certificate that allows the owner to be forgiven of all their sins in exchange for a fee. He is greedy, manipulative, and even violates the host’s rules by attempting to sell indulgences to the group. Although both characters preach the values of the Church, the Parson truly attempts to live his life in accordance with them, while the Pardoner exploits them for personal profit.
By contrasting the Pardoner and the Parson, Chaucer reveals the hypocrisy of the Church as an institution. Church officials such as the Pardoner are corrupt, avaricious men who manipulate Christian rhetoric to accumulate money for their personal gain and comfort. However, believers that are truly dedicated to the Gospel and virtue still exist. The potential of Christianity is represented by the simple life of the Parson, who is unconcerned with his personal comfort and donates church collections to charity. This comparison reveals that there is a vast difference between preaching certain values and exemplifying them.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Penguin Classics, 2005.