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Canterbury Tales Essay: Immorality and the Friar

Immorality and the Friar in The Canterbury Tales

It is a sad commentary on the clergy that, in the Middle Ages, this class that was responsible for morality was often the class most marked by corruption. Few works of the times satirically highlight this phenomenon as well as The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer’s “General Prologue” introduces us to a cast of clergy, or “Second Estate” folk, who range in nature from pious to corrupt. The Friar seems to be an excellent example of the corrupt nature of many low-level clergymen of the times- while his activities were not heretical or heinous, his behavior is certainly not in accord with the selfless moral teachings he is supposed to espouse. According to the Narrator’s account, he is a snob, corrupted by greed, and acts in very un-Christian ways. It is clear that he is a man of low moral standards.

When we are first introduced to the Friar, we are told that he possesses a level of social grace far above his station in life. We are told that in the four begging orders, there is no one as knowledgeable in fair language and sociability as he (lines 210-211, Norton), and that he is a very ceremonious fellow (line 209). This seems out of step with a man who is supposed to make a living by begging, a man who is supposed to go through life without a roof over his head. This level of breeding and affinity for ceremony has likely come from an aristocratic birth- often, the younger sons and daughters of nobles who could not be provided for simply entered the clergy. This contributed to a large body of clergy members who came to the church not because they felt a divine calling, but simply because that is what was expected of them (his fellow pilgrim, the Prioress, als…

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…th money from those who can barely afford bread. This Friar’s morals are much closer to vice than virtue; any doubts that he is a man of low morals are now completely swept away.

Chaucer’s “General Prologue” is remarkable in that it allows us to see not only what characters may claim to represent, but also how they really are inside. Chaucer’s depiction of the Friar, who should be a man of upstanding piety and virtue, makes it readily apparent that he is quite the opposite. The Friar’s elitist background and behavior, his begging-supported greed, and the vices that oppose true Christianity prove that he is a man of low moral standards. Certainly, Chaucer paints a masterful contrast of image vs. reality.


The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Sixth Edition, Volume 1.

M.H. Abrams, et al, Editor. W.W. Norton and Company. New York: 1993.

The Theme of the Suffering Innocent in Blake’s London

The Theme of the Suffering Innocent in Blake’s London

The poem “London” by William Blake paints a frightening, dark picture of the eighteenth century London, a picture of war, poverty and pain. Written in the historical context of the English crusade against France in 1793, William Blake cries out with vivid analogies and images against the repressive and hypocritical English society. He accuses the government, the clergy and the crown of failing their mandate to serve people. Blake confronts the reader in an apocalyptic picture with the devastating consequences of diseasing the creative capabilities of a society.

Choosing the first person form in the first and fourth stanza, the poet reflects his personal experiences with the city of London. He adheres to a strict form of four stanzas with each four lines and an ABAB rhyme. The tone of the poem changes from a contemplative lyric quality in the first to a dramatic sharp finale in the last stanza. The tone in the first stanza is set by regular accents, iambic meter and long vowel sounds in the words “wander”, “chartered”, “flow” and “woe”, producing a grave and somber mood.

The verb “wanders” connotes contemplative walking without specific destination through streets that are described as “chartered”. But the word “street” is ambiguous. While it could be the home of people, a neighborhood and a place for emotional refuge, the streets and the river Thames are “chartered”; they are defined as commercial entities where business and cold cash dominates. The scene is set in which the poet sees the unhappy citizens of London. Their faces reflect the common man’s physical and spiritual suffering through “marks of weakness, marks of woes”. The repetition of the…

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…ld of art and literature. Since the “marriage”, the parent generation, is already dead or dying, therefore every new creation is now also afflicted with disease and condemned to death. Consequently this means the end of hope for a renewal of society, but since the stanza begins with the word “how”, this is also a voice of accusation and a demand for change.

The theme of the suffering innocent person, dying and being diseased, throws a dark light onto the London seen through the eyes of William Blake. He shows us his experiences, fears and hopes with passionate images and metaphors creating a sensibility against oppression hypocrisy. His words come alive and ask for changes in society, government and church. But they remind us also that the continued renewal of society begins with new ideas, imagination and new works in every area of human experience.

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