Human Issues in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’

The Parson and the Plowman

The story of Parson can be described as the sermon on virtuous living. Parson may be regarded as the only member of the clergy in Chaucer’s cycle who is depicted in a positive light. Parson, asked by the host Harry Bailly to tell the fable rejects on the ground that he is not good at rhyming. But he tells the sermon the subject of which is penitence. Its description is split into several parts – confession of a mouth, contrition of the heart, and satisfaction. How Parson addresses the issues of Seven Deadly Sins and other moral and religious problems show that he is not corrupted and is preoccupied with religious problems but not wealth and money. The Parson is depicted by Chaucer as an intelligent and clever person, morally pure if compared to other members of the clergy.

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Plowman is not represented as the character in Plowman’s tale but we have the necessary information on how Chaucer depicted plowmen. They are usually depicted as dirty and working men, with rude manners that characterize them as the members of the lower class but some remarks of Chaucer show that he had many positive attitudes toward ordinary people. Plowman’s story itself deals with religious and political problems discussed between Pelican and Griffon. But due to uncertainty with the authenticity of the tale scholars stills hesitate to make any conclusions.

Franklin and Reeve

A franklin in the medieval hierarchy was a landowner and this pilgrim’s words when he interrupted the Squire shows social tendencies of new group growing importance. He is critical of dominant feudal traditions and clergy and seems to express it in his remarks concerning different issues. His idealist approach to people relations is presented in his tale. In this story, he presents an extraordinary and fantastic (in social terms) story of equal marriage between knight and woman, his departure, her devotion to husband, the noble relations between her husband and another man who seeks Dorigen hands but being noble refuses to struggle as he sees that Dorigen loves her husband. Idealism is presented in Franklin’s story as an ideal of normal relations between people and different classes.

The reeve in comparison to Franklin is depicted by Chaucer as a completely negative character. A reeve named Osewold is presented as the manager of a large estate who took great profits for himself and his master. He is described in Chaucer’s tales as being bad-tempered and skinny. He previously was a carpenter which was mocked in other tales of the cycle. In this way, Chaucer shows his attitude towards this character.

Physician and the Pardoner

The physician’s tale seems to have a relation to moral issues as he tells the story about nobility and honor. Virginia, the worthy daughter of Virginius, a noble Roman was the object of Apius’s (judge) lusty ambitions. Thus, he decides to prove that she is a free slave and in this way seize her. But Virginius for whom the nobility of his name and the honor of his daughter are the most important things kills her. After that, the plot of malicious Apius is revealed and he is punished. Thus, the physician’s story deals with the traditional tragic description of the feudal nobility.

The pardoner is portrayed as grotesque and aware of his sin of corruption since he gets money for indulgences. But notwithstanding this fact, he tells a sermon against gluttony, gambling, and greed. The pardoner is described in General Prologue as having a voice ‘small as hath of a goat’. He is portrayed as spiritually and sexually deficient.

After his sermon the Pardoner asks other pilgrims to pay him for indulgences, thus proving the ironical nature of this text. Compared with Physician Pardoner represents bad morality and the corruption of the clergy but the stories are connected thematically and structurally.

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StudyCorgi. "Human Issues in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’." August 13, 2021.


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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Human Issues in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’'. 13 August.

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