Something for the weekend. The Canterbury Tales by the ever talented folks at History for Music Lovers to the tune of California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas.
Few secular works are more Catholic than Geoffrey Chaucer’s magnum opus. He gives us the medieval world of faith in microcosm.
The Knight represents the honorable men who took up arms in defense of the cross and earned their privileges by their blood and sweat.
The Wife of Bath-Bawdy, earthy and not devoid of common sense.
The Pardoner-a representative of the corruption within the Church that was an insult to Christ.
The Miller-a male Wife of Bath who loves a drink and an off color tale.
The Prioress-a model nun and an example of the compassion and goodness that comes from living a Christian life.
The Monk-a friar tuck who cares little for the rule of his order and lives for hunting.
The Friar-another symbol of corruption in the Church who takes bribes.
The Host-large, loud and merry, perhaps a self-portrait of Chaucer.
The Parson-A fine exemplar of what a priest should be: a man who not only preachers the Gospel but lives it.
The Squire-The Knight’s son. Like most teenagers then and now he loves music, the opposite sex and a good time.
The Man of Law-He knows the statutes of England by heart and upholds justice. (No doubt he would be blogging if he lived today!)
The Manciple-He is in charge of getting provisions for a college than a court. It is implied that he is smarter than any lawyers he serves despite his lack of education. (This would not surprise me at all.)
The Shipman-He has sailed throughout Europe and is considered something of a rogue by Chaucer, a common prejudice of landlubbers against sailors.
The Physician-A man of science, such little as their was in medicine in Chaucer’s day, he has scant love of religion but much love of gold.
The Franklin-A representative of the “middling” class of England, he loves good rich food.
The Reeve-A steward of a manor, he is very efficient and shrewd, but also a thief who steals from his master.
The Plowman-A representative of the yeoman stock of England, ever romanticized by almost all English writers. He is the brother of the Parson, and also a good and honest man who pays his tithes faithfully.
The Guildsmen-The guilds of England dominated the economic life of the towns and cities of medieval England, so it is just that Chaucer presents his five guildsmen as a collective.
The Cook-The Cook works for the guildsmen and like most cooks prior to the twentieth century he is an anonymous figure in the tale, with Chaucer saying little about him.
The Second Nun-Chaucer says almost nothing about her except relating her tale of a saint.
The Nun’s Priest-The teller of the brilliant tale of Chanticleer is obviously a quick witted and eloquent priest.
Chaucer shows us humanity in all its frequently tumultuous diversity, but all unified by a common faith as shown by their pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Thomas a Becket.
What we have lost that the Middle Ages had is a society dominated by a unifying faith that gave almost all the members within the society a common goal. With all our freedoms, technological marvels and greater knowledge of science, that is a loss that what used to be called Christendom has never been able to fill. We have tried to fill it with multitudes of new faiths, science, politics, hedonism, etc, all to no avail. There is a God-sized hole in our culture that would have dismayed Chaucer and his contemporaries and have caused them, in spite of our infinitely better material lives, to pity us.
“I shall lament, and in the Tragic Mode,
The sufferings of those who once stood high,
Who fell from eminence, so that none could
Deliver them out of adversity.”