I have recently finished studying an anthology of poetry by Geoffry Chaucer called “The General Prologue”, having done so I am completely enraged and horrified to discover the appauling and disgusting behaviour of the religious people in the 14th century. Three out of four religious characters were corrupt, and it was shocking that the disgraceful behaviour was not stopped. I am writing to you to share my knowledge of this corruption in the church at this time.
The first and maybe the most important point I would like to bring to your attention, is the fact that many of these characters did not perform their religious duties. The monk was expected to spend his whole life in prayer but instead, he spent most of his time outside the monastery, “An outridere.” Chaucer uses the word “outridere” and this implies to us that the monk spends most of his time on horseback, this is truly disgraceful because he should be in the church performing his religious duties. This shows he is not a honourable monk that does not want to worship god. The monk is very greedy and self-absorbed he is there just for the money; he does not care about serving the world “Let Austyn have his swynk to hym reserved”. The monk is extremely self indulgent because as a religious person he should dedicate his life to god and his people. However, we can clearly see that this monk has not because his duties include praying but he does not seem to take any pride in that because he is always busy riding his horses.
The friar is not any better because even though he performs his religious duties, he misuses and takes advantage of his power “Yet wolde he have a ferthying, er he went”. Chaucer’s tone of language suggests to us that the friar is very greedy, he had a licence to beg and he always got more money than he needed. As a religious person, the friar should not have a lot of money and if he has extra he should give it to the poor and the needy. Chaucer’s choice of words influence our opinion about the friar because he seemed to keep the money for himself and even begged money off poor, starving, homeless people. This defiantly highlights the fact that he is incredibly greedy.
I am shocked that only one person took their religious duties seriously, the parson. The parson is the lowest of all the religious people, but he is the only one to perform his religious duties honestly and responsibly. His parish is very big yet he would travel to the furthest house if someone was in need of him “The ferrests in his parish, muche and lite.” This implies to me that he is a very noble man and takes his duties seriously. The monk or the friar would never do this, the only time they would go to a poor, sick person is if they were paid. The parson is not greedy, Chaucer’s choice of language makes the parson look extremely generous, helping and giving because he would go to anyone at any time for no money.
I am completely outraged by the way the religious characters broke and changed the rules. The friar is breaking Gods rule because he is allowing people pay for absolution “men moote vere silver to the povre freres.” As a holy, religious person, the friar should not take bribery from anyone. The friar is described to be very devious and he seems to be causing a lot of corruption in the church. Absolution cannot be brought because on judgement day you will not be forgiven for your sins and will go to hell. He is not truly giving people absolution, he is giving them an easy way out; you cannot buy forgiveness.
The prioress does not break the rules but she changes and adapts them to satisfy her own needs “ful semyly hir wympul pynched was.” Chaucer highlights to us that she is not modest because she is changing the way her wimple looks. Nuns had to cover their foreheads to show modesty but the prioress used the wimple as a fashion statement to frame her face. This will encourage other nuns to copy her, causing corruption in the church. The language used to describe the prioress clearly suggests that she is trying to impress someone. She pleated it so people would notice her, she should not be dressing up for anyone because she lives in a nunnery. The prioress should not care how her wimple looks because she should not be trying to impress anyone.
I believe that truly religious characters should not show off and should treat everyone equally, but this is not the case with the friar. The friar is not modest and he definitely does not show equity towards everyone “But he was lyk a maister or a pope.” Chaucer’s choice of language gives us the impression that the friar enjoyed to dress up and show off. The friar is not modest, we can identify this because as a religious character he should not care how he looks. All he should care about is helping other people. It was very easy to recognise that the friar did not show equity towards everyone “For unto swich a worthy man as he accorded nat, as by his faculty.” Chaucer’s tone of language highlights to us that he is very greedy and does not care about helping the poor and the needy. He just wants to talk to people who will make him rich. This level of corruption is truly shocking in the church.
It was very worrying to discover that the prioress was not modest and actually liked to show off “For, hardily, she was not undergrowe.” This illustrates that she is showing off her figure. Nuns had to wear long, black, loose fitted dresses to show modesty. However, Chaucer gives us the impression that her clothes are too tight and you can see her figure. First of all, the prioress should not show her figure off and secondly she should have no one to show it off to because she lives in a nunnery. This is where Chaucer suggests to us that maybe the prioress is trying to attract men, that’s why she is dressing up. The prioress is more concerned about her appearance than about serving god, this implies to us that she is not modest and is self-absorbed.
It was truly disgraceful to discover that most of the religious characters cared more about the money and did not care about worshiping god. The perfect example of this is the monk “With grys, and that fyneste of a lond.” We know for a fact that the monk is very rich and wealthy, but Chaucer does not suggest anywhere that he uses his money to help the poor. This highlights that the monk is very greedy and entered the church because it gave him a good standard of living. Chaucer’s tone of language clearly highlights to us that the monk is very self-indulgent because as a man of god he should not care about money, he should dedicate his life to prayer and help other people achieve this.
The friar is also using his position to gain money, instead of giving people honest, religious advice “And everich hostiler and tappestere Bet than a lazer or a begestere.” This illustrates that he is very greedy. He should not care about money, he should help the poor who have nothing and offer them prayers and donations. Chaucer makes it very clear through his writing that money and good standards of living are incredibly important to him. This influences my opinion about the friar because it shows that he is truly corrupt.
It is absolutely dreadful that there was only one religious character in the church to actually help people and was not there for the money “He was a shepeherde and noght a mercenaire.” This show that he is very giving and takes his duties seriously. The parson was an educated man so he could have earned more money by hiring himself out. However, the parson did not want to do that, he wanted to stay with his people so he would be able to help them follow the right path and help them end up in heaven. This shows that he is truly a honourable man, unlike the friar or monk.
It is very disappointing and shocking that these characters got away with this disgraceful behaviour. How did this happen? Surely, somebody was responsible for checking on the religious members of the church to make sure they were performing their duties properly. Why wasn’t the parson rewarded for all his hard work, and the monk given punishment for his sins? I hope this behaviour and level of corruption does not exist in the church today.