Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - The Parson

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The Parson: What He Said and Why


The Canterbury Tales offer many characters whose vocation does not match his or her tale. This often provides humor and provokes much thought. Yet Chaucer makes the parson match his tale. This provokes a more serious train of thought. Thus Chaucer shows forth his brilliance in his versatility of subject matter.

The first thing one should notice in the Parson's tale is that the Parson refuses to tell a fable. In lines 30-36, the Parson gives his reasoning for a straightforward prose. He will not tell a story mixed with chaff and wheat. Rather, he chooses to tell a tale in nonfiction prose so all can understand with clarity. His object is not so much to tell an impressive story but to show forth what he deems important.

Second, he speaks in a respectable medieval manner by calling upon authorities. Whereas the wife of Bath says she will not reference authorities, he does so unashamedly. He references the Biblical figures Matthew, Jeremiah, Solomon, David, Jesus, Job, Hezekiah, Ezekiel, Peter, Jeremiah, Moses, Isaiah, Micah, John, Joseph, Paul, Zechariah, and Luke. In addition he refers to scholars and saints such as Ambrose, Isidore, Gregory, Augustine, Chrysostom, Bernard, Seneca, Basil, Damasus, and Galen. As Augustine has been the most influential person in Church history, Augustine is the most quoted authority he uses.

Moreover, he includes a lengthy discussion on mortal and venial sins. He exemplifies many ways one may fall into one of the seven deadly sins. Such offenses include birth control as murder and nocturnal emission as adultery. He also gives guidelines how to prevent those sins. He offers hope to the penitent by setting forth the prescribed method of reconciliation ordained by Holy Church.

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He takes his duty as a Christian seriously. He wishes none to suffer or perish but to serve God and Holy Church.

Thus, the Chaucer creates a character altogether appealing to the medieval mind. He exemplifies the medieval ideals better than the other characters in The Canterbury Tales. By making the "perfect" character, Chuacer amplifies the humor of the other characters' shortcomings. This shows forth Chaucer's versatility in writing.


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