The Canterbury Tales were Chaucer’s way of showing what he saw during his lifetime. The middle ages were a terrifying time in history and the tales show a bit of an understanding of the times. Hypocrisy is a common theme in the Canterbury tales and more specifically in the religious figures of the Canterbury tales like the Prioress, the Monk, and the Pardoner. Chaucer exposed the hypocrisy of these people through the tales to show the corruption in church that was happening during that time.
A prioress is the head of a group of nuns. She is the perfect example of a devoted Christian who is a role model to all her other nuns. The biggest problem with the prioress was the way she acted and how her actions weren’t becoming of that of a nun. Her hypocrisy showed with her actions since she acted in a way that opposed what her title was. The prioress acted exactly the opposite of how a nun should act during her tale. Instead of being modest and living for god without caring about the materialistic aspects of the world, she lives a very worldly life. One of the biggest things that she does that a nun usually wouldn’t is indulging in fine food and wine. She “Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce. but ate With so much care the food upon her plate. That never driblet fell upon her breast” . She enjoyed her food and even fed the finest of food to her dogs where “She had some little dogs, too, that she fed. On roasted flesh, or milk and fine white bread.” . This goes against a nun’s beliefs because a nun should be looking to feed the poor not her dogs especially using the finest food. The issue with the prioress’ beliefs was her view of her position. Instead of worshipping God and devoting herself, she acted like a high-class individual. She learned French which was what high-class women spoke at the time, and she also called herself Madame Eglantine. She also showed off her jewellery and wore it openly. All these certain characteristics is why she is such a hypocritical character. She is meant to be humble and modest, but she tries to act like she is of the upper-class women. She goes against all the beliefs that make her a prioress and sets a bad example for the other nuns. She is never punished for her actions and continued to see that there is nothing wrong with what she is doing.
The Monk is another example of a hypocritical character whose actions were not the same as his beliefs. Monks live a very religious life and are devoted to god. They are modest in everything since they don’t need materialistic things and they swore to be modest by the church. The Monk in the tale is the complete opposite of how a monk should act. The Monk acted in ways that monks should not have been acting like at the time. The Monk participated in hunting and had greyhounds where “Since riding and the hunting of the hare. Were all his love, for no cost would he spare” . A Monk should not be hunting for fun but praying and devoting himself to god. A bigger problem with the monk was his attitude towards materialistic things. The Monk wore the finest clothes “With fur of grey, the finest in the land” . He “had of good wrought gold a curious pin. A love-knot in the larger end there was.” . The monk owned and cared too much about materialistic aspects of his appearance and life. This attitude is the very same attitude that he swore to not follow when he became a monk which is what makes him so hypocritical. This shows how corrupt religious institutes were since he did so openly and wasn’t punished or talk to about it. Chaucer makes it seem like that was a theme occurring with monks.
The Pardoner’s tale is most hypocritical out of all the characters. Compared to the monk and prioress whose character is hypocritical because they are meant to be a certain way, but they aren’t, the pardoner preached against what he practised. The pardoner was the worst of the three and the way he is depicted could be Chaucer’s way of exposing these pardoners at that time period. While the Monk and the Prioress did no harm from their hypocrisy, the Pardoner did cause harm and stole from people. The pardoner went around stealing amounts of money of the poor and common people of Rome which is evident in the tale when it says “His wallet lay before him in his lap, Stuffed full of pardons brought from Rome all hot.” . The Pardoner stole money that the poor and simple people worked so hard to attain by his pardons. This is seen when Chaucer says “Some simple parson, then this paragon, In that one day more money stood to gain. Than the poor dupe in two months could attain.” . The pardoner knew what he was doing was wrong but he didn’t care cause all he needed to do is make a pardon to gain money. He knew that “might he preach, and all with polished tongue. To win some silver, as he right well could; Therefore he sang so merrily and so loud.” . What makes the pardoner so hypocritical is not his greed for money but his preaching. He preaches against all sorts of greed and selfishness but goes against all that to seek money and steal from the poor. The Pardoner goes around with his relics, telling people that they have sinned and that he can make prayers for them so God can forgive them. The pardoner is the biggest example of the corruption and hypocrisy of these religious characters of the church. His tale shows how he preached against what he was doing and stole from people for his own greediness.
The three characters all have a common theme. They are all members of the church who are corrupt and hypocrites. They go against the vows of the church and are not punished in any way during the tales. Chaucer lived in a period of a lot of corruption and he wrote what he saw and experienced in a way that exposed the church. While Chaucer was known to be a Christian, he didn’t shy away from exposing the church. His attitudes towards the church showed that he didn’t like the church or what they practised and the tales he wrote was the best way to show that. Chaucer also wanted to show something about medieval society at the time. He wanted to