Greed and Corruption in The Canterbury Tales


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Greed and Corruption in The Canterbury Tales

Many of the religious characters in The Canterbury Tales represent character traits that are different from what is traditionally expected of them. This is because the Catholic Church, which ruled all of England, Ireland and most of Europe in the Fourteenth Century, was extremely wealthy. Extravagant cathedrals were built in every big city while the people suffered from poverty, disease and famine. The contrast between the wealth of the church and misery of the people was overwhelming. As a result, the characters in Chaucer's tales were portrayed as deceitful and greedy. Two examples of this are the Summoner from the "The Friar's Tale" and Death from the "The Pardoner's Tale."
The Summoner is a church official who brings people accused of violating church law to special courts set up by the church. This particular Summoner from "The Friar's Tale" is a deceitful, greedy person who uses his position as a church official to pressure innocent people into giving him "bribes" or money. He actually has a network of secret spies who report to him so that he can issue false summons and extort money from people. Instead of representing justice, he represents the exact opposite, injustice. Chaucer wrote this tale to show how greedy and corrupt church officials were during the Middle Ages.
In "The Pardoners Tale," all the characters seek out Death, and the Pardoner describes Death like a person, an evil person. During the fourteenth century death was commonplace. The plague was the biggest killer of all and nobody knew what caused it therefore it was considered a mysterious and evil occurrence. In this particular tale death is personified, and all the characters in the tale who seek him out either die or kill each other when they get close to him. The point Chaucer makes through the words of the Pardoner is that the evil traits like greed, avarice and corruption lead to death. Of course the Pardoner himself is a hypocrite and embodies all of these traits. In the end of the tale he tries to sell his relics to the people to make money which shows that he, as an official of the church, is just as evil and corrupt as the Summoner in "The Friar's Tale."

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Both The Summoner, and Death as he is personified by the Pardoner, are examples of religious officials who are the opposite of what they are supposed to be. Instead of being upright, honest church leaders, they are hypocritical liars driven by the same vices that they preach against. In other words, they use their positions to deceive and make money. Chaucer's point in both tales is to show how greedy and corrupt the Catholic has become. The circumstances in each tale are different, but the main point is that "greed is the root of all evil."


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