In Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, satire is prevalent in the text. Chaucer uses the satire to criticize members of the clergy. His levels of criticism range from Horatian to Juvenalian, but his opinions on each character are evident and obvious. The satire creates a contrast between the desired image of the church and the corruption and hypocrisy that actually exists within.
The Parson and the Nun are the most Horatian characters. Of all the members of the clergy, the Parson is the only character that Chaucer admires and respects. He truly knows “God’s gospel, and would preach it/Devoutly to parishioners” (491). The Parson is “benign and wonderfully diligent” (493). He gives to charity, takes care of his flock, and does not live for money. In the Parson’s section of the introduction, there is virtually no satire, because he is “holy and virtuous” (525) and because “there never was a better priest” (534). The satire used to describe ...view middle of the document...
The Monk behaves in a manner inconsistent with that of a stereotypical monk. Chaucer points this out by stating that the Monk takes “the modern world in a more spacious way” and does not strictly interpret the stringent rules all monks must follow (180). He is fat and tan, and he wears “fine grey fur” and a wrought gold pin. His failure to comply with the rules makes him slightly more Juvenalian than the Nun. The Friar is yet another level more Juvenalian. He is corrupt because he accepts gifts and money in return for forgiveness. He “was an easy man in penance giving when he could hope to make a decent living,” meaning that he sold God’s absolution (227). The Friar also sleeps with young girls and marries them off when they’re pregnant. The satire used to described the Friar is almost completely Juvenalian, and it attempts to correct his behavior.
The Summoner and Pardoner are the worst characters in The Canterbury Tales, and Chaucer’s satirical descriptions of them are very Juvenalian. The Summoner is an alcoholic and a drunk who drinks “strong red wine till all is hazy” (653). He is criticized for allowing “any good lad to keep a concubine” and allowing immoral conduct in return for alcohol. His appearance of carbuncles and black scabby brows lead to the overall satirical view that the Summoner is very corrupt. The Pardoner is by far the most Juvenalian character. His criticisms from Chaucer are the harshest and the most malicious declarations. For example, the Pardoner sells the idea that his possessions are holy and religiously valuable so that people will pay to see them, even if they are poor. His primary goal is exploitation for money by telling stories to “win silver from the crowd” (733).
Satire used from the Parson, to the Nun, to the Monk, to the Friar, to the Summoner, to the Pardoner is a vital part of The Canterbury Tales. Without satire, the appropriate and circumventing method of criticism could not be achieved. By making the characters increasingly Juvenalian, Chaucer highlighted the different levels of corruption prevalent in the church. His insight pointed out to readers that members of the clergy were not as pure as they claimed to be, and were to blame for many social problems.