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In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer portrays multiple unique personalities including a conniving, rebellious Monk who selfishly dismisses the church’s rule and lives greedily in his own world. Throughout the Monk’s tale, proof of his irreverence for the church is documented in both obvious and discrete ways; he is disgraceful, sacrilegious, and deceitful, and hides his lack of faith behind the persona of being a ‘modern monk.’ Thus, Chaucer engages in a mode of especially pointed satire, in which the expected code of conduct is completely reversed and subverted.
The Monk’s way of life completely defies each of the main duties he has as a member of the monastery. The Rule of St. Benet clearly states the guidelines, regulations and duties of Monks and Abbotts who live in a community environment and they were created to establish order, preach the minimal needs of Monks, and form an understanding of their religious responsibilities in society. Chaucer’s Monk consciously refuses to abide by the conditions of his stature, saying honestly that he saw the rules of St. Benet as “old and strict” (10). In the Middle Ages religion and faith were the most critical elements in the daily life of all people; weather they were a noble or a peasant the population commonly sought to live their lives in service to God. Prayers were habitual at multiple points during the day and spiritual belief held great influence over the majority of individuals. Those who refused to abide by the rules of St. Benet were subject to punishment. A Monk’s desires were to simply study and read about the way of God and to serve Him to their greatest ability; they obtain this calling because of their true love and dedication to God.
Proving that Chaucer’s Monk is sacrilegious isn’t a difficult feat; his actions and beliefs should have given him the misfortune of excommunication. Instead of completing his monastic tasks, the Monk chooses to “[ride] the country” (2), spend his money on unnecessary belongings such as “fine grey fur, the finest in the land’’ (30), indulge in high-class food, and live as though he paid no regards to religion whatsoever. In Chapter 23 of St. Benet’s rule it states that “If [the Monk] does not amend [to correction], let him be rebuked in public before all. But if even then he does not correct himself, let him be subjected to excommunication… Should he, however, not be amenable to such corrections, let him be subjected to corporal punishment.” During the Middle Ages religion was the defining structure in lawmaking, education and the people’s everyday life; to disregard religion was to neglect the most paramount substance of society.
According to St. Benet’s diction of Monks and Abbotts, and this Monk’s inability to cooperate with these conditions, the Monk should be rejected by disciples and dismissed from the church altogether. The commandments that Monks follow define them as people who live to serve others and to, most importantly, serve God. Upon arrival at the monastery all entrants vowed to obedience, chastity and poverty, and agreed to a life of benevolence. The Monk’s addiction to hunting is one of his most punishable features; for Monks and Abbotts, according to St. Benedict’s followers, hunting was considered immoral and unnecessary. Along with his very prominent desire to hunt, he also claims to own “Many a dainty horse” (4) that were decorated with jewels that would “[Jingle] in a whistling wind” (6), extra tangible items, such as Greyhounds (26) were foreign to a true Monk and utterly irrelevant to their needs and desires. St. Benedict’s rule states in chapter 33 that a Monk has no right “to keep anything as his own, absolutely anything at all: either a book or a writing tablet or a pen or anything whatsoever; since they are to have not even their bodies or their wills in their own keeping.” The utterly minimalistic monastic lifestyle is the proper and respectable way that Monk’s live; Chaucer’s Monk follows none of the criteria to be held at such a reputable level.
The Monk in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prologue to the Canterbury Tales is a falsified dignitary who is unworthy of the position he holds in the monastery. His obsession with the flesh, his materialistic lifestyle and the lack of passion he has for the Church are the most serious problems that short him from the criteria of being a Monk. The importance of religion in the middle ages was so extreme that no person, especially a person of religious stature, would discount religious duties with such confidence. Yet the Monk uses the excuse that he lives in the “modern world’s more spacious way” (12) so that he can adequately pursue his preferred activities while dismissing his feeling of guilt. The Monk in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem is, in these ways, a dishonest and fraudulent disciple who, if convicted, should be punished severely and rejected by the Church permanently.
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