Geoffrey Chaucers Prologue to The Canterbury Tales showcases twenty seven characters that live under the rule of the church like everyone else in the 1300s. Chaucer describes each character not only physically but also their personality and behavior. The rise of the middle class influenced the beginning of immoral activities of the church workers which led to a corrupt government. Chaucers use of satire reveals the truth of how the church was run at that time and how the pilgrims symbolized the lifestyle of the people.
During the 1300s the church started fading away from the beliefs of giving and started caring in the beliefs of money and extortion. Chaucers exaggeration of the Summoner, the Friar, and the Prioress reveal their true priorities and ways of living. For example, We should beware of excommunication. Thus, as he pleased, the man could bring duress on any young fellow in the diocese. He knew their secrets, they did what he said. He wore a garland set upon his head large as the holy bush upon a stake (Holt 75). The Summoner abused his name and power to blackmail the intended people of his notes. This quote describes how the Summoner obtained his money through extortion. These new beliefs were influenced by the gain of the middle class and the increase in the economy. As people began to populate Eastern Europe, the demand for jobs increased and therefore new trades and jobs were created producing newly invented goods. As these goods became high in demand the crave for money reached its peek. Descriptions of the Summoner, the Friar, and the Prioress point out these new interests of the estates and their desires and obsession for money.
The Summoner was a shady character that was a weasel and a scammer. Chaucer described him as ugly, slender, and up to no good (Holt 74). As the messenger for the church, he handed out court orders for those convicted of crimes. He extorted money from those convicted and accepted money in return for no court order. This was how the church had changed from the 12th century to the 13th century. Chaucer tried to point out that not every worker of God spoke the truth nor did what was right. His use of satire and descriptive language put his observations on the board without directly speaking out about the church and how it was corrupt. Why, hed allow- just for a quart of wine- any good lad to keep a concubine (Holt 74). The Summoner would only do something for others as long as he was getting something in return. This mentality had spread through the nation with the rising of the middle class and directly impacted the government.
The Summoner was not the only pilgrim that was taking advantage of his duties and responsibilities. The Friar was a scam artist that was finest beggar of his batch (Holt line 250). He had created an image for him to seem as if he was a poor humble man of God but deceived each man he had come in contact with, ripping them off and begging their possessions into his hands (Holt line 261-272). A Friar of that time period roamed the lands looking for people that needed his help and blessed all in his path. The Friar must live as the poor lived and be one with all and love any that believed in the Christian way (Holt). The Friar had obtained this money through immoral ways. For his profit, he only accepted bribes and blew off all with no money or unworthy items (Holt line 259). He had always accepted rich gifts in return for pity. Therefore instead of weeping and of prayer one should give silver for a poor Friars care (Holt line 229). This was neither the purpose nor the moral duty of a Friar of this time, which proves Chaucers point of the corruptness of the church.
The Prioress displays similar characteristics as of the Friar. She is described as a very up tight lady that takes her manners very seriously. She is more concerned with her overall appearance and impression rather than her moral duties to the church and her community. Her accessibility to money has allowed her to change her sworn lifestyle to a more sophisticated and irresponsible one. Her description reveals her wealth has physically had and impact on her body creating her larger than the average woman as well as dressing in the best clothing even though she is supposed to live with the bare minimum. She was indeed by no means undergrown. Her cloak, I noticed, had a graceful charm. She wore a coral trinket on her arm, a set of beads, the gaudies tricked in green, whence hung a golden brooch of brightest sheen on which there first was graven a crowned A, and lower, Amor vinvit omnia (Holt 62). It can also be inferred that she is one to fly under the radar to take money from the church and people.
The Prologue not only targeted the church people but targeted normal folks. The Miller was a farm worker that was a sinful man. For example, Of tavern stories, filthy in the main. His was a master-hand at stealing grain. He felt it with is thumb and thus he knew its quality and took three times his due- A thumb of gold, by God, to gauge an oat! (Holt 72). The church in the 1300s was beginning to spread out so far that it began losing power and control of its people. This is what Chaucers trying to capture with the Miller. Not only were the church workers taking advantage of their positions, but so were the every day folks.
The church people were not completely religious; their actions influenced the new direction of the church and its followers. Chaucer was the only one who could capture these immoral actions in writing. Typical stereotypes of religious figures in the 1300s and the 1400s were that they were holy and right. Through Chaucers revelations, this wasnt the truth and showed many people that the desire for money was destroying the morals of the church and estates. The churches loss of power over its people influenced the appalling behavior throughout the countries.
Chaucers use of satire throughout the tales shows his true feelings of how corrupt the church was. His descriptions do not directly point out their flaws but he gives the reader clues to how he feels and what he is thinking. The church pilgrims that he most critically describes in the prologue are the Summoner, the Friar, and the Prioresses. Chaucer reveals that these characters are liars, extortionist, and hypocrites. He pokes fun at the church by revealing the truth about the head clergy. The actions and mentality of the pilgrims directly reflects the corruption of the church as well as the lifestyle of the nation.