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Medieval times were dominated by the corrupt Catholic Church and social status. The poor worked hard and the rich tried to buy their way into heaven. Geoffrey Chaucer's writing of The Canterbury Tales reveals the manipulative quality of the church and its major influence of England's society within its different ranks.
In the "General Prologue", Chaucer maps out the various ranks of England's society while they all take a trip or "pilgrimage". He brings together all social classes for one main and just reason of salvation. The problem back then was the corruption that existed within all the social ranks and the church. For instance, the Pardoner who is put on a pedestal by society yet he steals from the St. Mary Rouncesval hospital. First, you can't buy your way into heaven or buy forgiveness for your sins as he persuaded people that you could. People back then were so brainwashed by the church that they were willing to do anything to get to the pearly gates. The Summoner, who brought falsely accused sinners to church so they could charge them with penalties, was also portrayed by Chaucer. The Pardoner and Summoner in the prologue seem to be working together for profit which was typical of the Catholic Church in the late thirteenth hundreds. Chaucer also goes through other social ranks with the Knight and his Squire at the top of the social rankings. In Chaucer's time the culture was full of chivalry and nobility. He portrays the Knight just as nobles were expected to act in that time frame. They were fierce warriors who were loyal to their kings and church but, they were also quite and mannerly in all other aspects. The last on the totem pole would be the Miller. He was a commoner who made jokes about all his thieving ways. Chaucer doesn't portray all commoners this way. There is the student who is also poor but he doesn't perceive him as devious at all. Chaucer also defines all these characters and more with their social rank by the way they are dressed. For instance, the Nun who wore small coral beads and larger green ones and a huge golden brooch on her cloak who was so scared by her religion that she would become emotional over things that normal people would overlook. Although Chaucer doesn't come right out and say she is devious, most nuns do not dress this way. Just like the monk, he wore gray fur on the sleeves of his coat. These people were looked up at and yet they made no secret of their money by wearing it on their body. I think they must have been somewhat corrupt. These various characters all represent the social hierarchy of the English society and the influence the church had on them in medieval times.
In The Miller's Tale, Chaucer perfectly illustrates just how corrupt the priest and society were. Absolom knows very well that the carpenter's wife is taken, but his love lust overpowers his churchly duties. His job is to listen to all the wives confessions but instead all he can do is look at them as pieces of meat for his taking. This priest sees Alison and tosses out all the rules he has been trying so hard to follow. Chaucer pinpoints just how powerful our sexual emotions can be over our religious beliefs. Absolom knows that one of the Ten Commandments is not to commit adultery but he was corrupt and expected Alison to give in to him at any cost. The problem is that Alison was giving into her temptations with someone else. When Absolom realizes that he has not been chosen he decides to take revenge by harming Nicholas. Revenge is another thing that is taught is bad in the bible. In this sense, the priest is even more corrupt by going against more rules and teaching that he is supposed to portray to the public. Chaucer uses Nicholas, Alison's lover, to portray the ultimate religious corruption by using your faith against you. The corrupt church was enough to handle in that time period but when added to the devious minds of those who knew what medieval society would do for redemption made the whole scenario much worse. By using Noah's flood and God's prophecies against John, the story outlines just how much the church influenced society. The people of England were willing to do everything including making a fool of themselves just to fulfill God's wishes. Nicholas knew John was an honest man of faith and he used religion and the church against him just as the Summoner and Pardoner did to gain a profit. His profit just happened to be his friends' wife instead of money that the church gained. The Catholic Church controlled England and its society. It honestly had people running scared. They were afraid to think for themselves or to step out of line in any way if they didn't have the wallet to repent. How people in Chaucer's time could believe all this is beyond me but, I guess the church was all these people had. Chaucer makes it pretty clear that everything society did in one way of the other involved the church. In society today, politics and religion are something that shouldn't cross paths but in that time frame they seemed to go hand and hand.
Geoffrey Chaucer's portrayal of medieval society and the church could have cost him his life and reputation. He wrote about all the flaws he saw within the various systems of English life in a serious tone but with a little sense of humor. He did this to try to hide his messages within the story so he wouldn't be killed for his expressions. Little did he know that he would become one of the greats of English Literature by doing so? His writings were perfection at laying out the manipulative quality of the Catholic Church and of England's society and its rankings.