How does Chaucer portray the ecclesiastical characters in the general Prologue

  • How does Chaucer portray the ecclesiastical characters in the General Prologue?
  • 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 clergymen.

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. She 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’ 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


The Summoner is a nasty figure. He loves to drink. He loves onion, garlic, and red wine. He is a hypocrite. He knows the secret of young women and men and exploits them for his interest. He allows people to carry on their sins and forgives them for his small donation. 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 the religion. He is fond of singing and merry-making. He likes to visit inns and public places. He builds relations with the wealthy women. He is a vagabond, a seducer of women, and a scoundrel. He misuses his authority and exploits others in terms of their sin and encourages sins by setting an easy solution of apology. He is also very 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 Clerk

Chaucer claims that all the ecclesiastical characters are not bad, materialistic, and dishonest. The Clerk is studying at church. He is not fully 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. He is quick and accurate in his talk. He is interested to learn and glad to teach. He is the real picture of the poet’s learning.

The Parson

Chaucer sketches a delightful picture of the poor Parson. He is a shepherd. He protects his flock from the wolf. He 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 pretty clear that Chaucer has given a very true and realistic picture of the ecclesiastical characters of his age in The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. He appreciates the good characters, on the other satirizes the corrupt and worldly-minded clergies. Here Chaucer’s portraits of clergies make them alive and represent them perfectly.

Ruhul Amin
Ruhul Amin

This is Ruhul Amin, working and researching for English literature to make it discovered and available to the world.

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