Comic Religion

By , River Forest, IL
The Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer, criticizes his own religion and the significant characters that are represented in his tales. Religious members are highly insulted and mocked in many of Chaucer’s pilgrim tales. “The Pardoner’s Tale” and “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” have many instances of religious mockery intertwined in the tales. The mockery of religion is there to represent the greed that became people’s lifestyle during the bubonic plague. Chaucer was living through the midst of the social problems due to the plague which corrupted the religious views of society. Poet Chaucer was able to represent the struggles society had in his lifetime by displaying the corruption in “The Pardoner’s Tale” and “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”.
The Pardoner’s tale is based upon the corrupt people who would attach themselves to the church in order to make money they so desperately needed. The chaos and economic problems that fallowed the time period were so outstanding that people reached a new high for greed. Chaucer tells the stories of those people through “The Pardoner’s Tale”. In the prologue, the Pardoner speaks of how he sells relics for his love of money, not to truly help people with their religious views. He also mentions that he has had much success in persuading people with his lies. To start off his tale, the Pardoner says, “I know by heart all that I tell. My theme is always centered the same, and ever was-the love of money is the root of all evil.(4)” By saying this, the pardoner has admitted to his greed. Also, saying that “money is the root of all evil” is ironic because evil is a word commonly associated with the devil, but he is convincing people to use their “evil” money to buy their way into heaven. By saying this, Chaucer is taking a humorous way to show the extent of greed and desperation people had. Chaucer shows the society was so desperate to reach heaven since the plague was killing them off so rapidly that the fear of Hell was becoming a reality to those who were religious. The pardoner even reveals that he is lying when he says his relics help. The pardoner says that he lies about all these items, and convinces people to buy his relics because they will send you to heaven. The pardoner says, “By this trick I have won, year after year, a hundred marks since I became a pardoner…ignorant people have sat down, I preach, as you have just heard, and tell hundred other falsehoods.(61)” The significant of that quotation is to demonstrate what exactly he does to the people he preaches to. Chaucer is using the Pardoner to make fun of how ignorant and easily tricked the people of his time were. Though the most prevalent instance where Chaucer is mocking his society is at the end of the story. After the Pardoner had told the people that he lies of his relics and gave a sermon he tells the people that his relics are for sale. By saying that he is showing the society to be stupid enough to hear that all his remedies are lies and still buy them. That was one of Chaucer’s most offensive and humorous demonstrations of his society, Chaucer completely used “The Pardoner’s Tale” to mock his religion and society.

“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is also an example of how Chaucer sees the religion and people of his society. Throughout the story there are multiple instances relating to religion but the most common one is the roosters and chickens. The reason this is insulting is because Chaucer is making the people of Christian faith to be chickens. But most of all the common slang for a rooster is a cock, and cock has another derogatory meaning. So by calling those people chickens he is also implying that they are cocks.
Chaucer never seems to leave the insulting to just people of his faith but he targets himself in this mockery as well. He is teasing himself by naming the main rooster Chauntecleer. This in a form is making fun of him for fallowing the religion by placing himself in the scene to make fun of. This part of “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” demonstrates the humor Chaucer has as a writer.

The most prevalent example of a religious mock-heroic would be the idea of dreams. In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” the beginning sets off with both chickens discussing the past dream. Chaunticleer says, “By God, me mette I was in swich mischief, right now, that yet myn herte is sore afright.” This means he was startled by the dreams he had that night. But response of the other bird is that he must have eaten something and he should take a laxative. This exert is saying there is no meaning to dreams. This statement goes against the religious beliefs; there are countless references to dreams in The Bible. The Bible commonly used dreams as a way of God speaking to a person. For example genesis 37 Joseph had dreams which God had given him as a revealing of a prophecy. So referring to a dream as the result of bad food is very clearly making a joke out of the religious views of dreams. Chaucer has taken a much known biblical reference and changed it to make a comical pun.
Though Chaucer does not just fool with his own religion he also brings up part of the Iliad into play in the tale. The potion where the fox is chasing the chickens has a strong relation to the part in the Iliad where Achilles is chasing Hector. Chaucer not only took knowledge of his religious literature but expanded it to the religion of others. All being formed into a mock-heroic to show the chaos of his time period.
The problems of Geoffrey Chaucer’s society are heavily reflected in a comical revision in his tales. Chaucer shows his extreme devotion to his writing when he has so many underlying puns in practically every tale. Poet Chaucer has taken the chaotic religion based instance and turned them to comical tales and fables. Chaucer criticizes religion and society throughout both tales. Geoffrey Chaucer made a complete mockery of religion and people of his lifetime and placed them into his brilliant tales.





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