The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer introduce the reader to a large number of characters that are members of several different classes of society in that time period. Chaucer paints some of the characters in a positive light, such as the knight, who is described as brave and heroic. However, the religious people among the pilgrims are mostly all portrayed in a negative light. During Chaucer’s life, the Catholic Church had lost some of its power and credibility. The rampant spread of the plague had caused people to question the importance of God and prayer, since it did not seem to help stop the disease. Also, the Papal Schism in 1378, in which two different cardinals both claimed to be the next ordained Pope, caused further discord within the Church. By portraying the religious characters in the way he did, Chaucer could have been trying to point out the “ungodly” ways of the Church during that time.
The first religious character in the General Prologue is the prioress, or nun. While she is not directly described as a bad person, she is somewhat made fun of. The story describes how she imitates the behavior of royals in how she acts. She eats very daintily and speaks French, although the book says that she learned the language in a school that was not very good.
The story next describes the monk. Although monks were supposed to spend their time studying or doing manual labor, this one prefers to go hunting. The narrator says that he doesn’t consider the duties of a monk to be worth his time.
The next religious character is the friar, who is among the worst of the characters described. The narrator says that the friar is happy to hear confessions from wealthy people who give him money, and he will travel a long way to see them. However, he refuses to go to the homes of the poor or very sick, since they usually cannot pay him.
Later on in the prologue, the narrator describes the pardoner. He is a corrupt church official who sells fake pardons for people’s sins and then keeps the money for himself. The narrator says he is a good storyteller and singer because that is how he convinces people to give him money.
Nearly all of the religious characters in The Canterbury Tales are corrupt in some way. By doing this, the author could have been making a point about how he felt about the Church and the officials affiliated with it. The fact that the Church had lost some of its power during Chaucer’s life probably contributed to why he seemed to dislike it in this story.