THE PRETENTIOUS AND THE PRECOCIOUS: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer; Analysis of Monk and Oxford Cleric

Essay by CMaXiM87High School, 11th gradeA+, March 2004

download word file, 2 pages 5.0

Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales proves his most famous work; it is indeed one of the most acclaimed works written during the Middle Ages. Authored in late fourteenth century England, The Canterbury Tales is a compilation of tales which can be best described as a work of poetry. Chaucer's chief goal of The Canterbury Tales is to criticize society; he accomplishes this through use of fabliaux and parody, as well as descriptions of two characters, Monk and Oxford Cleric.

Chaucer ridicules--and extols--people through their physical descriptions. The Monk is fat and does not believe that he should waste his time in a monastery or devote his time to God. This is peculiar in several respects; it completely goes against what the church preaches. The vain Monk indulges in eating, hunting and dressing himself in expensive attire rather than living a truly virtuous, honest life cloistered in a monastery.

On the other hand, the Clerk--a bright student of Oxford--is poor and lives in destitution. He is foolishly more concerned with maintaining and growing his mind rather than his body. Indeed, the Clerk was "not too fat," according to Chaucer; this implies that he lived a wholesome, relatively pure lifestyle. Although they play a crucial role, appearances are not the only things that Chaucer uses to criticize and analyze people.

Through these aforementioned physical appearances, Chaucer describes the rank in society each character holds. Monks in the Middle Ages were expected to hold a position in the church and devote their lives to God; as such, their social standing is really quite irrelevant. This monk, on the other hand, is incredibly pretentious. His superficial character is not only evident in his appearance, as he flouts his role of living a life of privation that is dedicated to the church.