The Concept of Charity in the General Prologue
In the "General Prologue," Chaucer presents an array of characters from
the 1400's in order to paint portraits of human dishonesty and stupidity as well
as virtue. Out of these twenty-nine character portraits three of them are
especially interesting because they deal with charity. Charity during the
1400's, was a virtue of both religious and human traits. One character, the
Parson, exemplifies Chaucer's idea of charity, and two characters, Prioress, and
Friar, to satirize the idea of charity and show that they are using charity for
either devious reasons or out of convention or habit.
the village, he teaches the poor and those who can't go to church about what G-d
is and how to be a religious person. He gives more than he receives. In fact,
he avoids preaching to the rich and well-to-do because he prefers going to the
humble and poor, who truly need his help and G-d. He doesn't run to London to
earn easy bread
By singing masses for the wealthy dead,
Or find some Brotherhood and get enrolled.
He stayed at home and watched over his fold
So that no wolf should make the sheep miscarry. (p.16)
Parson is seen as an ideal priest, and his actions describe the real meaning of
what charity is. He is "virtuous," "Never contemptuous" toward sinners, "never
disdainful," and "discreet."(p.17) Getting people to Heaven is his main goal,
not their money or his own advancement.
Friar, on the other hand, uses charity for devious purposes. By getting
a license from the Pope, which lets him go around the country and hear
confessions, he uses this license to make money for himself. Also he runs an
agency in which he fixes up young women with men for a fee. Unlike Parson, who
goes out of his way to help the poor, the Friar thinks that
nothing good can come
Of commerce with such slum-and-gutter dwellers,
But only with the rich and victual-sellers. (p.9)
By visiting only rich people, Friar's primary purpose is to make money and not
to give forgiveness for the sins as he is supposed to do. He is using his
position for his own purposes under the disguise of charity, which in his case
is being greedy and being guilty of committing one of the seven sins.
Without knowing it, Prioress uses charity as a convention. Since her
father does not have enough for a dowry, he is forced to send Prioress to a
nunnery. Prioress does not have much of a choice herself, since in the Middle
Ages, women had little choice in their future,...