How does Chaucer Portray the Ecclesiastical Characters in the General Prologue? 

Shape Shape

The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is a notable literary work by Geoffrey Chaucer. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.


How does Chaucer Portray the Ecclesiastical Characters in the General Prologue? 

 Or In what Light does Chaucer Represent the Clergy in His Prologue To The Canterbury Tales?

In 14th century England, religion had control over the minds and souls of the people. So, the ecclesiastics had become notorious for their corruption and dishonesty. They had forgotten their sacred duties. For them, religion became corrupted. Moralities and ethics were fading. In The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (1340-1400) has drawn some portraits of the ecclesiastical. He satirized the corrupted ecclesiastical and admired the good clergy members. A short description of the ecclesiastical characters of The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is highlighted, throwing light on Chaucer’s attitude towards religion given below.

The Prioress: The Prioress is the first ecclesiastical character in The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. She smiles politely but is not an ideal Nun. She signifies high-class, religious-minded ladies of the 14th century. She wears a fashionable dress with a golden broach engraved with the words: ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’, which means ‘Love conquers everything’. Chaucer satirizes her by saying that she is aware of the manners of society and knows how to carry morsel to her mouth. Chaucer says,

‘She carie a morsel, and wel kepe

That no drope ne fille upon hir brest”

Summoner: The Summoner is a nasty figure. He loves to drink. He loves onion, garlic, and red wine. He is a hypocrite. He knows the secrets of young women and men and exploits them for his interest. He forgives people for his small donation and allows them to carry on their sins. Children are afraid of him. So, Chaucer rightly remarks,

“Of his visage children were aferd.”

The Friar: The Friar is a greedy and corrupt fellow. He neglects his duties and does not maintain his religion. He is fond of singing and merry-making. He likes to visit inns and public places. He builds relations with wealthy women. He is a vagabond, a seducer of women, and a scoundrel. He misuses his authority, exploits others in terms of their sin and encourages sins by setting an easy solution of apology. He is also an expert in the art of begging.

The Monk: The Monk is a fellow of pleasure-loving. He does not like the strict rules and discipline of the abbey. He likes hunting and has fine horses and rangers in his stable. He leads a relaxed life and passes his time eating, drinking, and merry-making. He is fat, like a lord of 14th-century England. Chaucer reveals his interest in delicate dresses. He wears fur-lined sleeves, gold pins, and love-knot.

“A love knot in the gretter end there was”

The Pardoner: The Pardoner is a more corrupted fellow than other ecclesiastical characters. Chaucer has a poor opinion of him and ironically calls him ‘a noble ecclesiastical’. His bag is full of false relics, which he sells to the country folks and earns a lot. He deceives the simple folk. He sings sweetly and attracts people.

The ClerkChaucer claims that all the ecclesiastical characters are not bad, materialistic, and dishonest. The Clerk is studying at church. He is not entirely an ecclesiastical character. The Clerk is one of the idealized characters. He is described as well-versed in logic by Chaucer.

“A clerk ther was of Oxenford also,

That unto logyk hadde longe ygo.”

He does not run after worldly luxury and showiness. He is poor and also quick and accurate in his speech. He is interested in learning and glad to teach. He is the accurate picture of the poet’s learning.

The ParsonChaucer portrays a delightful picture of the poor Parson. He is a shepherd and protects his flock from the wolf. Parson leads a very simple and virtuous life. He is devoted to his service. He preaches sincerely and tries to practice what he preaches. Chaucer says about him,

“A good man was ther of religioun,

And was a povre persoun of a toun;”

To conclude, it is clear that Chaucer has given a very genuine and realistic picture of the ecclesiastical characters of his age in The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. He appreciates the good characters and, on the other hand, satirizes the corrupt and worldly-minded clergies. Here, Chaucer’s portraits of clergies make them alive and represent them perfectly.