The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

Corruption

1

Ther as this lord was kepere of the celle, The reule of seint Maure or of seint Beneit, By cause that it was old and somdel streit This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace, And heeld after the newe world the space. Heyaf nat of that text a pulled hen, That seith that hunters ben nat hooly men[.]

In the Prologue, the Narrator tells of a corrupt Monk who, despite playing the role of loyal keeper of the cell, willingly lets the rules of his order slip. Readers then learn that this monk, instead of reading holy texts in his cell all day as he should, sneaks out and hunts for pleasure—an act most disobedient for a man of his position. Such a tale presents but one example of the corruption of the Church and its supposedly devout members. The Narrator presents such information without revealing too much opinion, as he assumes readers will note the hypocrisy and corruption on their own.

2

He wolde suffer for a quart of wyn A good felawe to have his concubyn A twelf month, and excuse hym ate fulle; Ful prively a fyncheek koude he pulle.

Many of the text’s major themes are introduced in the Prologue. In these lines, the Narrator reveals yet another detail highlighting the theme of corruption: The Summoner would loan his girlfriend for a year to any “good felawe” in exchange for a quart of wine. In addition, readers learn that the Summoner feels such an exchange wouldn’t cause him any real loss for he can easily find another woman to take her place. This detail also highlights how women were generally viewed at the time.

3

And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes, He made the person and the peple his apes. But trewely to tellen ate laste, He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste. Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie, But alderbest he song an offertorie; For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe, He moste preche and wel affile his tonge To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude; Therefore he song the murierly and loude.

Details highlighting the theme of corruption abound in the Prologue. Here, the Narrator reveals telling details about the Pardoner, perhaps the most corrupt character in the group. Here, readers learn that the Pardoner uses false flattery to manipulate and make a fool of the local priest and congregation. In addition, the Pardoner uses his pleasing voice for profit. He tells stories and sings songs in church not to celebrate and rejoice in the glory of god, but for silver. The Pardoner deceives, manipulates, and lies in exchange for power and profit every chance he can.

4

Now, goodemen, God foryeve yow youre trespass, And ware yow fro the synne of avarice! Myn hooly pardoun may yow alle warice, So that ye offer nobles or sterlynges, Or ells silver broches, spoones, rynges. Boweth youre heed under this hooly bulle!

The Pardoner in the Pardoner’s Tale has just finished decrying the sins of gluttony, drinking, gambling, and lechery and then claims that all these sins can be forgiven, by him, for a price. He is also known to take advantage of believers by selling them fake relics. On the surface, the Pardoner’s Tale teaches that sin has no reward, but his true purpose appears to be only to instill fear in his followers in order to extract money from them. In his prologue, the Pardoner freely admits to using that money to indulge in every sin he condemned in his tale.