The way that Chaucer portrays the ecclesiasticals proves to be a stark contrast to how he portrays his first pilgrim, the Knight. He speaks highly of the Knight but with an air of mockery and distaste towards his three ecclesiasticals; the Prioress, the Monk and the Friar. The way that Chaucer tells of his religious pilgrims could be seen as a reflection of his attitude towards the Church. It seems that as Chaucer progresses through the ecclesiasticals, his portrayal of them seems far more extreme, and seems to go further from expectation, this is perhaps because he is easing the reader into what are his real attitudes towards the Church.
Fashion and appearance can be seen as a reflection of the characters personalities. The Prioress, in particular, attempts to be fashionable and attractive in all aspects of her life. Although the prioress is wearing what is typically expected of a nun, there are some slight, subtle differences. On line 152 we are told that she has a fair forehead. At the time, a broad forehead was thought of as a mark of beauty. On line 159 Chaucer speaks of a ‘piere of bedes’ worn by the nun. It is common for a nun to wear rosaries but they are usually black, not the colour ‘grene’ as worn by Chaucer’s prioress. On line 200 it says that ‘he was a lord ful fat and in good point’. Chaucer implies that the Monk must be well fed. This idea is reinforced on line 206 ‘A fat swan loved he best of any roost’. To eat such food would have required money and we as readers are led to wonder, where does he receive such money? Some of the fashions adorned and appearances conveyed by the religious characters are not what we would expect. Perhaps Chaucer is suggesting that the church is not as it seems – that it is deceiving.
Although the Prioress is immediately portrayed as being different from how a Nun is expected to be, Chaucer is not too harsh on her. “…she was cleped madame Eglentine” line 121. Her name was a fashionable name at the time meaning ‘Wild Rose’, but the name is better suited to a romantic heroine than a saint. Throughout the tale of the Prioress there are further links to romanticism. Chaucer speaks of a gold broach worn by the Nun which has written on it “Amor Vincit Omnia” translated to ‘Love conquers all’.
This is quite inappropriate for a Prioress who has vowed to live for the Church and who has, supposedly, sacrificed all her desires. Not only is she portrayed as being a romantic but also of yearning to be seen as feminine and a lady of the court. Chaucer says of how “hir smiling was ful simple and coy” which suggests she is trying to be perceived as attractive, this reinforces the theme of romanticism; it is as if she is looking for love. Similar to this, the Friar behaves differently to what would have been expected of him in that he is a very sexual man. This open sexuality is different to the romanticism felt by the Nun though. “He hadde maad his owene cost”. The Friar is shown as being sexually promiscuous whereas the reader is given the impression that the Prioress yearns for a more traditional, heroines love.
When telling the tales of his ecclesiasticals Chaucer speaks of them at times with mockery and irony. When, in the Knights tale Chaucer claims on line that he was ‘a worthy man’, he is speaking honestly. However in The Monk’s tale Chaucer says on line 183 ‘And I seyde his opinion was good’ which it clearly isn’t. This is an ironic joke made by Chaucer which highlights the outrageousness of the monk. Chaucer also uses this technique in the Friar’s tale when he says on line 214 that ‘he was a noble post’ and then on line 271 that he was, like the Monk, ‘worthy’. To call his ecclesiasticals such things is clearly inappropriate considering what we are being told of them. Chaucer seems to show a general lack of respect for these characters. This could perhaps be paralleled by a lack of respect that Chaucer may have felt towards the Church.
Chaucer reveals his attitudes towards the Church through his portrayal of the Prioress, the Monk and the Friar in a number of ways. The fashions adorned by the ecclesiasticals show how they don’t want to be seen as traditional but modern and fashionable. As well as this, there appearances, in terms of looks, are unexpected. In all aspects of what Chaucer tells us of them they tend to differ from what would be expected of them, this sets the reader up for the mockery that flows through the tales. The mockery highlights all of the features that Chaucer seems to dislike about the ecclesiastical pilgrims. Chaucer seems to show particular distaste for these characters and it can be seen as revealing in terms of his attitude towards the Church.