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Of Good Morality And General Pleasure

1585 words - 7 pages

Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales focuses on a group of pilgrims, contesting to tell the best tale on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Stating two requirements for a good tale, the host says that the winner will be “the man whose story is best told, / That is to say who gives the fullest measure / Of good morality and general pleasure” (24). By giving “general pleasure” the storyteller provides an entertainment that holds the audience’s attention. For Chaucer’s pilgrims, who represent the English common folk, general pleasure comes from crudity of humor, sex, and violence; romance in courtly love and gentilesse; and some connection to their own lives. By giving ...view middle of the document...

Because the Miller’s tale offers sex, violence, crude humor, sinful love, it is highly entertaining to the audience and so meets the criterion of giving “good pleasure.” The Miller’s tale also has a moral. Allison is the cause of every bad thing in the Miller’s tale. So, before the tale gets underway, the Miller warns his audience not to repeat John’s mistakes, saying, “He might have known, were Cato on his shelf, / A man should marry someone like himself; / A man should pick an equal for his mate. / Youth and old age are often in debate” (89). Thus, the Miller’s tale teaches the audience a useful lesson, meeting the second criterion of giving “good morality.”Second is the Prioress’s tale, depicting the life of a young Christian boy who is brutally murdered by Jews. Playing off the importance of religion and the prevalence of anti-Semitism in her audience, the Prioress’s tale draws them in by enraging them. However, this is the only criterion of a good tale that the Prioress even partially meets. In fact, enraging the audience can hardly be said to give “general pleasure” nor does the tale provide the entertainment of humor, sex, or courtly love. The tale also fails to meet the criterion of giving “good morality”, as it has no moral at all. Thus, the Prioress’s tale might engage her audience through its connection to their religion, but it doesn’t meet any of the other criteria for a good tale.Third is the Pardoner’s tale. Before the Pardoner even begins to tell his tale, he preaches the evil of gluttony, gambling, and swearing. Similar to the Prioress’s method of angering her audience, the Pardoner attempts to shame them. A tale of betrayal, the Pardoner’s tale outlines three men’s hunt for Death. They go in search of death, yet find only a bag of gold. However, their own greed leads them to kill one another, ultimately leaving all three dead, having found death after all. The way in which the three men think themselves cunning and clever would have surely pleased the group of pilgrims. It is quite comical to see them complimenting themselves for their own slyness one moment, and lying dead on the ground the next. Thus, the Pardoner’s seems to meet the criterion of giving “good pleasure.” It also meets the criterion of giving “good morality”, by teaching the audience the dangers of greed. However, the Pardoner’s main goal is not to tell a good tale. Rather, it is to sell his service. He spends so long preaching because he wants to sell indulgences to the pilgrims. However, his plan does not work, and even backfires. The host catches him red-handed and calls him out, saying,Now by St Helen and the Holy Land I wish I had your ballocks in my hand Instead of relics in a reliquarium;Have them cut off and I will help to carry ‘emWe’ll have them shrined for you in a hog’s turd (257).The...

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