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THE TALES: SUMMARIES/CHARACTERS AND NOTES
The General Prologue (continued)
Companions of the Prioress
Another nun who functioned as her chaplain and 3 priests accompanied the Prioress.
The nun and one of the priests will relate tales. They are fleetingly mentioned in the ‘General Prologue’ and their character only develops through their respective tales.
The Monk was in charge of the monastery’s estates and loved hunting. He was an able man who was fit to be an abbot. His stable had many fine horses. The Monk was the keeper of the lower houses. He found the rule of St. Maurus and of St. Benedict old and constrictive. He lived entirely according to the new manners of the world and allowed himself greater liberties. He didn’t care a straw about the text, which said that hunters are not holy men and that a Monk who neglects his duty and discipline is like a fish out of water. He didn’t believe in making himself mad by studying books or toiling with his hands as commanded by St. Augustine. The Monk was a keen rider and had swift greyhounds. He loved to track and hunt the hare. The sleeves of his coat were trimmed with the finest gray fur in the land. His hood was fastened under his chin with an intricate gold pin. His bald head shone as glass and his face shone as if anointed with oil. He was very fat and his eyes gleamed like a furnace under a cauldron. Chaucer says that he was a good prelat (church official) and loved to eat a fat roasted swan.
The Monk, Daun Piers, is an outrider; i.e. he looks after his monastery’s estates. He is a perfect candidate for the post of an abbot. This post was generally reserved for those of noble birth instead of for the truly devout and pious. This reflects that the Monk, like the Prioress, is born in a good family. He loves the good life and takes delight in hunting. He possesses thoroughbred hounds and wears the finest clothes that money can buy. Moreover he does not care about the details of St. Benedict’s rule. He finds more pleasure hunting outside rather than devoting himself to study within his cloister. Chaucer is the master of irony and ostensibly agrees with the Monk’s point of view. The result is that the reader comes to an entirely different conclusion about the Monk. It is evident that the Monk’s way of life is a gross violation of his monastic vows. The Monk would have made a better administrator of the monastery instead of being entrusted with the task of ensuring the spiritual welfare of the people.
The Friar was a jovial and merry man. He was a limiter i.e. a Friar licensed to beg within certain limits. He had mastered the art of small talk. He had arranged the marriage of many young women after seducing them himself. He was a pillar of the church and familiar with the frankeleyns and worthy women of the town. He was licensed to hear confessions and granted absolutions easily. He believed that gifting silver instead of prayers and remorseful tears is the best way to show repentance. His hood was overstuffed with knives and other trinkets to give the good women. He had a merry voice and could sing and play very well on the harp. He was well acquainted with the taverns in town and knew every innkeeper and barmaid better than anyone, since it wasn’t profitable to deal with poor people. The Friar was the best beggar in his order and was always able to extract money from people. The proceeds of his begging were far greater than the rent he paid to the church. He wore a double-breasted cloak and lisped in affectation to make English soft on his tongue. His eyes twinkled brightly in his head as the stars in a frosty night. The Friar was called Hubert.
The Friar numbers among Chaucer’s portraits of the corrupt clergy. There were four orders of Friars in the medieval age: the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Augustinians. Friars were mendicants and wandered from place to place and had the authority to hear confessions. Chaucer’s Friar is a hedonist and well acquainted with the wealthy and the powerful. Moreover he is lascivious and has seduced many young women with his sweet talk and the trinkets that he always carries in his hood. He is obviously an important member of his order. However he is more worldly than spiritual. Chaucer ironically says that he is the best Friar while meaning the exact opposite.