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The Canterburry Tale By Geoffrey Chaucer

1541 words - 7 pages

Chaucer lived in a time of great flux. His world was not only different from the world of his parents and grandparents; it was different from the one that he grew up in himself. The Black Plague had decimated the population and created voids in the labor force. The 100 Year’s War was ongoing and required countless men and resources to continue. Traditions, customs and rituals were questioned as society changed. The divisions within social strata were blurring and the organization of Europe was changing. Because of this enormous change on all fronts, no one had the ability to predict what would come in the future. It was this context in which Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, so it’s no wonder why he wrote his poem about a group of people who are in a transitory phase, a pilgrimage, which is completely different from their day to day existences. The three pillars or estates of society, the nobility, the Catholic Church and the peasants were changing and competing for a stronger foundation within society. Chaucer took the opportunity to comment on all of the estates in his poem, especially the Church. His keen insight allowed him to differentiate between the rules and the actors within Catholicism, and it appears that he was able to see the virtue of religion as well as the corruption within it.
The Canterbury Tales is about a religious journey, a Catholic pilgrimage to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket. Chaucer does not disparage the mission itself; rather he seems to uphold the value of such an expedition, even though he may question the motives of the individuals who are taking this journey. I believe that the major point that Chaucer was trying to advance was that the beliefs, rites, and customs of the Catholic Church do have great value, but the Church in actuality is what the people who maintain it desire to create. In the hands of wicked people, the Church becomes a malevolent force. Throughout the poem, the virtue of the individual seems to be determined by how he or she follows the dictates of the Church both in thoughts and in actions. But Chaucer doesn’t seem content in making such a simple argument; he seems rather nuanced in his criticism of the Church. Chaucer’s use of the Knight may be a commentary against the Crusades and the Church itself.
We were first introduced to the Knight in the “General Prologue.” He was a chivalrous man of great morals and virtue. “He was very worthy in his lord’s war” (General Prologue, Line 47). Chaucer never indicates whether his use of the word “lord” describes god or a nobleman. On the surface, the explanation of the Knight seems to be devoid of any direct reference to the Catholic Church. But Chaucer may be making a comment on the Crusades, when describes the battles and killings that he had experienced. The battles were specifically listed, but none of the battles associated with the Hundred Year’s War were included. Every battle was part of the Crusades. “Chaucer...

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