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The Canterbury Tales influence can view today’s society

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

Geoffrey Chaucer re-examines the stereotypes and roles of 1300’s society in The Canterbury Tales. To bring issues into light by discussing different stereotypes, Chaucer gives his characters ironic and unusual characteristics. Specifically, in the tales of The Wife of Bath and The Miller, women and men are examined as an effort to see the inequality between the two. The poems may be from the 1300’s, but it does not mean it is not still relevant today. For the gender stereotyping still exists today and women are trying best to shatter the glass ceiling.

There are several women on the pilgrimage to Canterbury, the Wife of Bath, the Prioress, and the nuns, among large number of men. All throughout history, women have been taught to act ladylike or else they would be regarded as disgrace and often shamed during those days. The Prioress tries to be very gentle and utter grace of a proper lady because it is expected of her, unlike men who can act however they want without any consequences. An example of how she acts is when, “… she would wipe her upper lip so clean That not a trace of grease was to be seen”. An unkempt woman receives a negative look and frowned upon, but the same for the man is natural and accepted.

The Prioress

The Wife of Bath speaks about having power, but not an education. All throughout history, women have been oppressed and not given opportunities as men. Women were forbidden to receive formal education, leaving them illiterate. The Wife of Bath had said, “… if women had but written stories… More had been written of man’s wickedness” to show how men were just as bad as women were said to be and it would surely be written about. Her fifth husband, Jankyn, had a book called Theophrastus and Valerius, which was a book of deceitful wives, as if the Wife of Bath was one. As time went on, women were able to have access to education, creating jobs for women those men previously held. Now, women get closer and closer to being equal to men, but they may always be one step behind. Therefore, The Canterbury Tales should still be read and studied because it relates to problems and issues in today’s society.

The Wife of Bath

In addition to women being seen as inferior, society and its people are still corrupt. Almost every person on the pilgrimage is corrupt, whether he or she is greedy, envious, prideful, lustful, or wrathful. These are five of the seven deadly sins, one not mentioned above is gluttony. Monks are men who have withdrawn from the world for religious reasons and live under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The Monk in the story is described by Chaucer as a fat, hunter who does not follow church rules. Chaucer also writes, “… hunting was his sport… He was a fat and… He was not pale…”, to explain how the Monk does not devote his life to work and prayer. Instead, he is dedicated to hunting, so he can wear the fur proudly, and eat without the fear of starvation. A fine example of gluttony.

The Monk

Another corrupt person is the Summoner. His job is to bring people accused of violating a church law to court by the church. The problem with him is his greed and ability to bribe, “He knew their secrets, they did what he said”. People do what he tells them to do since he knows “their secrets”. The Summoner takes people’s money, so they will not have to be brought to court, allowing guilty people to roam free while he grows rich. The church must be corrupt if the Monk and the Summoner are corrupt. There are different areas that are corrupt today. For example, the government is said to be corrupt due to politicians and strong beliefs in the greater good.

The Summoner

Along with corruption, people are still deceitful and always will be like the Pardoner. A pardoner is a person who is licensed to sell pardons or indulgences to people to be forgiven for their sins. The Pardoner has brought along his relics with him, which are pieces of clothing, bones, and other objects that once belonged to long-departed saints. He also claims to have Mary’s veil and a piece of Saint Peter’s sail. With these objects, he travels around to help people and gets money for it. During his prologue, he openly tells the others, “I preach, as you have heard me say before, And tell a hundred lying mockeries more”. His relics are fake, so the help he gives people does nothing for them. He is the only one who benefits. After he tells his tale, as if everyone had forgotten about what he confessed, he says, “I’ve some relics in my bale And pardons too, as full and fine, I hope, As any in England, given me by the Pope”. The Pardoner is telling everyone his relics and pardons have been given to him by the Pope, so it must be real and to make himself look better than anyone else. He had just told everyone about his sin, but expects them to pay him for his relics. Many people still lie and deceive to get what they want. Famous people, for instance, can be deceived by contracts, managers, and in other manners. Media has the ability to deceive people by publishing false stories just to create a hype. This is often done to receive money because the bigger the story, the more attention it gets. The Pardoner’s tale had served as a distractor for what he was attempting to do, similar to the media.

The Pardoner

On the other hand, some may argue that The Canterbury Tales should not be read and studied because it is outdated. One of the reasons for this is courtly love which no longer exists. The Wife of Bath is an obvious rulebreaker. She first married at the age of twelve and her fifth marriage was at age of forty. While being married to her fourth husband, she had already made a on marrying another man by saying, “And I suggested, were I ever free And made a widow, he should marry me”. But luck favors her side and her then husband passed away and one month later, she was married again. Although the damage was done as she broke the rule. Wife of Bath was required of a widowhood for two years before marrying. She married her fifth husband, at least, for love and not money. The requirement of two years of widowhood is no longer obeyed because people remarry quickly, but are they judged. If a man’s wife had passed away six months ago and he is about to remarry, many may look down upon this. Not only because it may be too soon after the death, but also because people may suspect the spouse had something to do with the death. Such events are relevant today too for many are suspected for the sudden death of the spouse as a criminal by committing crimes for extramarital affairs or seizing of property and wealth.

Above mentioned points are highlighted in negative light yet there are many Chaucer’s character that can be seen in positive side even today. The Parson is a highly esteemed figure in the general prologue. He is patient, virtuous and an ideal person. The exemplary description of this character serves as a clue to understanding the sinful role of priests in the 14th century. A clerk by profession, the Parson is unquestionably a knowledgeable person who eagerly preaches Christian doctrine. He is generous and readily help the needy parishioners with his meager income. Chaucer further highlights the saintly nature of Parson by adding biblical references of the shepherd tending to the flock of sheep, which means he preaches what he practices. Therefore, he is the best example of a priest in modern era.

The Parson

The Plowman is Parson’s brother and another ideal figure in the general prologue. He is a true laborer, who lives in peace and helps his neighbors. The Plowman performs one of the dirtiest jobs of filling the carts with cow’s manure, yet never complains. He fulfills his duty with great pride. He upholds true faith in God, and wholeheartedly serves the church. He can be view as a farmer of today, where this profession is necessary for our survival. The farmers work hard under the scorching sun, heavy pours of rain or chills of winter to provide us with food supplies.

The Canterbury Tales is a reflection of then and now. Women are still seen as inferior, there is still corruption, and people are still deceitful. Also, we learned the Canterbury Tales have also explored the good side of human nature which still existed today and help us progress towards better tomorrow. The Canterbury Tales should still be read and studied. Students can learn about the past and see how relatable it is to today. The problems and issues in the world now are similar to those in the 1300’s, but of course there are a few people who disagree. Yes, the tales may be outdated but has strong relevance in the present day.

The Plowman


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