Today, when we hear the word monk, it often brings up the image of an old man wearing a brown robe with a shaved head. While this image is based on some level of fact, it is certainly not what the Monk in Chaucers Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is like. Instead, Chaucer presents a monk who goes against all stereotypes, ignoring traditions, engaging in hunting, and even indulging in materialistic goods. This portrayal leads many readers to conclude that the Monk is a man of bad character, because he is not true to his line of work. However, this conclusion seems to be arrived at far too quickly. Upon further investigation the Monk can be seen as a decent man who has found himself in the wrong profession.
One reason that could be used to support the idea that the Monk is a man of poor character is his complete disregard for tradition. The narrator states, This ilke Monk leet olde thinges pace,/And heeld after the newe world the space(175-76)., showing that the Monk had little interest in things of tradition. The Monk even goes as far as to say, lat Austin have his swink to him reserved(188), showing complete disregard to the rules of the St. Augustine. This trait, however, is only frowned upon in professions, like monkshood, which rely heavily on tradition. Had the Monk chosen a different career his liberal thinking would more most certainly be tolerated.
There are many sins and virtues attributed to the characters in Eliduc, Everyman, and The Pardoner’s Tale. The characters that I wish to examine for their sins and virtues are those of Eliduc, Guildeluec, Everyman and The Pardoner. The first character, Eliduc, had both virtues and sins, both beautifully displayed in his tale. He was married to Guildeluec, who had always been faithful to him and he ...
The opinion that the Monk is a man of poor character becomes weaker when compared to many other men of the church in the prologue. An example of this is the corrupt Pardoner, selling pardons for profit, and making the parson and the people his apes(706).
The Pardoner used his position to take advantage of people, a concept foreign to the thinking of the Monk. Thus this personality trait in the Monk leads to the conclusion not that he is a bad person and neglecting his true duties for profit (like the Pardoner), but simply that he is a man in the wrong profession. The next trait that the could be interpreted as a reflection of poor character is the Monks love affair with hunting. Again, however, this is merely a conflict of personal and professional interests, and not a matter of a faulty personality.
It seems almost unfortunate that a man of whom the narrator says, Of priking and of hunting for the hare/was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare(191-2), finds himself in the position of a monk, where hunting is looked down upon. Hunting is a sport which no other profession has any moral objection to, so for the Monk to engage in this is far better than him spending his free time in a similar fashion to the Summoner, another man of the church. The Summoner, uses his powers to forgive a man for keeping a mistress, and then himself turns to a prostitute, as seen in the line Ful prively a finch eek coude he pulle(652).
Instead of turning to immoral means of leisure activity such as prostitutes, like the Summoner, the Monk turns to hunting. Here again, one must acknowledge that his fault is only relative to his professional life, and is not a fault of character. The final trait may lead some to suggest that the Monk possessed weak character was his passion for material goods.
This desire to be attractive, and eat well, however, is another characteristic for which no one would look down on the Monk if he was anything other than a monk. While it is true that the Monk had, to fasten his hood, a gold wrought a ful curious pin(196), and for dinner, a fat swan loved he best of any roast(206), these facts should not be interpreted as a demonstration of the Monks faults. Instead, by comparing these traits to that of the Squire, and the Franklin, it can be seen that these are not bad traits, but traits widely accepted from people outside the monastery. The Squire, is a respected and distinguished young man, who wears clothing, Embrouded was he as it were a mede/ Al ful of fressh flowers, white and rede(89).
Character sketch This is the story of a man possessed by love. He has dark hair and blue eyes, and is wearing a light grey suit. He lives in a deep repressive reverie because he is unable to live in the real world. A world without his "Norma" is one he cannot bare. In the beginning of the story he appears to us as a completely normal man. A happy and moody setting is imprinted with violet skies ...
Thus, flashy clothing is not at all a characteristic of fault in professions other than monkshood. Likewise, the Franklin, a cheerful man with a white beard, loved food more than anything, as evidenced in the line, it snewed in his hous of mete and drinke/Of alle daintess that men coude thinke(347-8).
So while the Squire enjoys nice clothing, and the Franklin enjoys good food, neither of these men are looked down upon by anyone else. The Monk, however, who also enjoys both of these, could be accused of being a man of faults, simply because his actions are not consistent with his profession.
Therefore, when the monk is examined compared to other people, his actions are seen as moral, and acceptable. It is only within the setting of the monastery that the Monk is perceived to be a man of weak character. The Monk, it seems, is nothing more than a man who has chosen the wrong career. So while the Monks personality is, indeed, inconsistent with his profession, he still possesses excellent traits and talents outside his line of work. Perhaps the Monk would have found much more success, and less criticism, as a Squire, a Franklin, or even a businessman. Works Cited Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. A.H. Abrams. New York. W.W Norton and Company, Inc 2000. 215-235..