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How Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is Still Relevant in Society Today

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The Canterbury Tales in Society Today

Geoffrey Chaucer re-examines the stereotypes and roles in society in the 1300’s in the collection of stories, The Canterbury Tales. To bring issues into light by discussing different stereotypes and separates them from the social norm, Chaucer gives his characters ironic and unusual characteristics. Specifically, in the tales of The Wife of Bath and The Miller, women and men are examined as an effort to see the inequality between the two. The poems may be from the 1300’s, but it does not mean it is not still relevant today. Therefore, The Canterbury Tales should still be read and studied because it relates to problems and issues in today’s society.

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Women are still seen as inferior to men, but have come a long way. There are several women on the pilgrimage to Canterbury, the Wife of Bath, the Prioress, and the nuns, compared to the large number of men. All throughout history, women have been taught to act ladylike and any other way is a disgrace. The Prioress tries to be very gentle and ‘womanly’ because it is expected of her, unlike men who can act however they want because there is no expectation. An example of how she acts is when, “… she would wipe her upper lip so clean That not a trace of grease was to be seen” (Chaucer, 6). A sloppy woman receives a negative look because it is not natural, but a sloppy man is natural. In 2014, an article was published titled, “17 Unladylike Things 20-Something Women Have Got To Stop Doing” (Kovie Biakolo). Almost everything mentioned is what men do as well, such as, cursing, acting dumb, and not showering. Women are humans just like men. Back to the book, the Wife of Bath speaks about having power, but not an education. All throughout history, women have not had as much opportunities as men. Women were not able to access a formal education, leaving them without the ability to read or write. The Wife of Bath had said, “… if women had but written stories… More had been written of man’s wickedness” (Chaucer, 277), to show how men were just as bad as women were said to be and it would be written about. Her fifth husband, Jankyn, had a book called Theophrastus and Valerius, which was a book of deceitful wives, as if the Wife of Bath was one. As time went on, women were able to have access to education, creating jobs for women that men previously held. Now, women get closer and closer to being equal to men, but they may always be one step behind.

In addition to women being seen as inferior, society and its people are still corrupt. Almost every person on the pilgrimage is corrupt, whether he or she is greedy, envious, prideful, lustful, or wrathful. These are five of the seven deadly sins, one not mentioned above is gluttony. Monks are men who have withdrawn from the world for religious reasons and live under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Monk in the story is described by Chaucer as a fat, hunter who does not follow church rules. Chaucer also writes, “… hunting was his sport… He was a fat and… He was not pale…” (Chaucer, 8), to explain how the Monk does not devote his life to work and prayer. Instead, he is devoted to hunting, so he can wear the fur, and eating, so he never starves. Another corrupt person is the Summoner. His job is to bring people accused of violating a church law to court by the church. The problem with him is his greed and ability to bribe, “He knew their secrets, they did what he said” (Chaucer, 21). People do what he tells them to do since he knows “their secrets”. The Summoner takes people’s money, so they will not have to be brought to court, allowing guilty people to roam free while he grows rich. The church must be corrupt if the Monk and the Summoner are corrupt. There are different areas that are corrupt today. For example, the United States government is said to be corrupt because of the way it works and politicians. The Friar has the power to beg, even though he is not supposed to, which is similar to the police in the U.S. Officers are given the authority to arrest, tase, shoot, and kill, if necessary, but have lately abused this power. The police are not greedy with money, but for power because that is what makes them above everyone else. With this going on, the church is now the least of the world’s problems.

Along with corruption, people are still deceitful and always will be. In the 1300’s, there may not have been a lot to deceive for, but the Pardoner still did so. A pardoner is a person who is licensed to sell pardons or indulgences to people to be forgiven for their sins. The Pardoner has brought along his relics with him, which are pieces of clothing, bones, and other objects that once belonged to long-departed saints. He also claims to have Mary’s veil and a piece of Saint Peter’s sail. With these objects, he travels around to help people and gets money for it. During his prologue, he openly tells the others, “I preach, as you have heard me say before, And tell a hundred lying mockeries more” (Chaucer, 242). His relics are fake, so the help he gives people does nothing for them. He is the only one who benefits. The Host begins to suspect that the Pardoner is nothing but a fraud. He only deceives to fulfill his need for money. After he tells his tale, as if everyone had forgotten about what he confessed, he says, “I’ve some relics in my bale And pardons too, as full and fine, I hope, As any in England, given me by the Pope” (Chaucer, 257). The Pardoner is telling everyone his relics and pardons have been given to him by the Pope, so it must be real and to make himself look better than anyone else. He had just told everyone about his sin, but expects them to pay him for his relics. It is as though his tale was supposed to blind everyone from what was said. Many people still lie and deceive to get what they want. Studies have shown that a person lies several times a day. If this is true, then not everything someone says may be true. Celebrities, for instance, can be deceived by contracts, managers, and other celebrities. Media has the ability to deceive people by publishing false stories about celebrities. This is often done to receive money because the bigger the story, the more attention it gets. The Pardoner’s tale had served as a distractor for what he was attempting to do, similar to the media.

On the other hand, some may argue that The Canterbury Tales should not still be read and studied because it is outdated. One of the reasons for this is because courtly love no longer exists. The Wife of Bath is an obvious rulebreaker. She first married at 12 and her fifth marriage was at 40. While she was married to her fourth husband, she had already planned on marrying another man by saying, “And I suggested, were I ever free And made a widow, he should marry me” (Chaucer, 273). Fortunately for her, her then husband passed away and one month later, she was married again. The rule she had broken was when one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor. She married her fifth husband, at least, for love and not money. The requirement of two years of widowhood is no longer obeyed because people do remarry, but are sometimes judged. If a man’s wife had passed away six months ago and he is about to remarry, many may look down upon this. Not only because it may be too soon after the death, but also because people may suspect the spouse had something to do with the death. There are no longer rules on how to live. Although some people believe The Canterbury Tales is outdated, it is still relevant concerning events that occur today, therefore it is not. The Miller is described as an ugly person, which is a reflection on how he is a not a good miller because he steals from his customers and charges more than expected. As he is drunk, he tells a tale about an old carpenter who married a young, beautiful woman named Alisoun. She was 18 years old and had a lot going for her, but her husband, “Jealous he was and kept her in the cage” (Chaucer, 89). This was not enough because a young student who lived in their home fell in love with her. She would cheat on her husband and hide it from him, so she would not get in trouble. Another man had fallen in love with her as well. A lesson that can be taken from this tale is that people do not get what they deserve. The carpenter did not deserve Alisoun because she was much younger than him. Today, every year, thousands of people are murdered. On June 12, 2016, 49 innocent people were shot and killed in a terrorist and hate crime act. No one deserves this, but it has become the norm for people to die this way.

The Canterbury Tales is a reflection of then and now. Women are still seen as inferior, there is still corruption, and people are still deceitful. To make all of this connect to today, The Canterbury Tales should still be read and studied. Students can learn about the past and see how relatable it is to today. The problems and issues in the world now are similar to those in the 1300’s, but of course there are a few people who disagree. Yes, the tales may be outdated, but the themes and lessons can still be learned from.

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