The stories on The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer often undermine societal hierarchies at the time. The tales Chaucer tells highlight aspects of authority that would otherwise never be questioned. In “The Miller’s Tale”, the notion of a clear useful economic hierarchy is challenged. Chaucer critiques chivalry in “The Knight’s Tale,” testing the value of the authority it provides. In “The Friar’s Tale”, Chaucer questions the benevolence of the church and its position hierarchy. By giving archetypal characters the freedom to act in opposition to their hierarchical roles, Chaucer calls the nature of authority into question.
“The Miller’s Tale” opens with a blunt challenge to authority. When the Miller breaks with the hierarchy and demands to tell his story before the Monk, Chaucer makes the authoritative structure abundantly clear. Though the order of story-telling among acquaintances is a seemingly insignificant, far removed from the rigid hierarchy of medieval England, Chaucer is sure to fundamentally connect the two. Chaucer refrains from naming his narrators, this is done specifically to highlight their broader role in society. The Miller challenges the role of the Monk, not any individual. This lack of individuality plays into the stereotypical vision of the Miller. He is a loud, obnoxious drunkard who at first only upsets the hierarchy for his own gain. This plays into the complication of authority Chaucer creates. Even the Miller’s story itself further complicates authority. It is entertaining, even beautiful, but brutal and gritty, telling the story of love in a lower class setting. “The Miller’s Tale” questions the nature of authoritative hierarchy in medieval England itself.
Like the other tales, “The Knight’s Ta...
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...300s, Chaucer writes during the beginnings massive social upheaval and the beginning of a new age in European history. An age where authority and hierarchy is turned on its head, though, of course, not abandoned. The notions of the underpinnings of hierarchy, like the power of the church or the unmovable station of citizens, are beginning to change. Chaucer fuels this change through The Canterbury Tales by writing broad characters of the old hierarchy, and questioning the authority they find themselves in. The Miller directly questions his station, the Friar exposes the corruption in the church, and the Knight brings the underpinnings of Chivalry into question. Chaucer’s characters exist in a state of constant upheaval. Though he does not radically advocate for a new system, Chaucer implores his medieval readers to think about the basis of authority in their world.
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