Canterbury Tales Essay: Immorality and the Friar

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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
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Furthermore, we are told that the Friar is well acquainted with the franklins and worthy women of his territory (lines 216-217), but he felt it beneath him to fraternize with other beggars, lepers, and the "poor trash" around him (lines 242-247). This is very out of place with his position when one considers that the original aim of the friars was to minister to the sick and the poor; his position on matters is as absurd as that of a gardener who hates plants. Clearly, he feels that many of his duties are beneath him and he chooses to associate with members of his own social class. By today’s definition, the narrator paints the Friar as a snob.

Another common practice of corrupt clergy in the Middle Ages was that of selling religious "favors". Be it indulgences, pardons, or what have you, the monetary "sale" of "divine influence" was certainly corrupt, and our Friar has taken full advantage of it. We are told that he is licensed to hear confessions (lines 218-220), and that he gives easy penance if he knows that he is going to receive a good monetary donation (lines 223-224). The narrator tells us, tongue buried in cheek, that the Friar views himself capable of judging whether a penitent is fully contrite; if someone is "too grieved" to appear repentant emotionally, he can certainly prove it by allowing his coin-purse to make the confession

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