The Role of Religion and Priests in The Canterbury Tales Essay Example

The significance of a priest or a religious person in our world today or even during the mid ages cannot be underestimated. In terms of hierarchy, the priest was equivalent to Kings, appointed to make laws and having direct communication with God. The deviation of a priest’s immaculate way of life to that hypocritical to the priesthood and devotion to chaos is explained by the Carnivalesque theory. The Pardoner, a religious figure not specially tagged with a particular title, is a man who most exemplifies the Carnivalesque as seen through his act of teaching against chaos (sin) while still being chaotic (sinful) himself and his act of selling fake Holy relics. 

The human nature is prone to a state of homeostasis with both order and disorder being at equal heights. The Carnivalesque theory describes this balance as creating all men equal (since every man must go through homeostasis for human sustainability): “ On the contrary, all were considered equal during the carnival.” (Bakhtin 686)  The application of this theory of homeostasis for sustainability is seen in the prologue of the Pardoner and the Pardoner's tale. The Pardoner, a man with a holy repute, shows carnivalesque characteristics as a means of sustaining himself economically which is the balance a carnival provides between doing what is expected and what is desired. The Pardoner still obeys the customs and rules of his job by preaching repentance of sins  but shows the carnival characteristics that contradicts his purpose as a priest for his self-enjoyment by receiving money for the indulgences he gives to his subjects: 

“One thing I should have mentioned in my tale, Dear people. 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. If there be one among you that is willing To have my absolution for a shilling Devoutly given, come! and do not harden Your hearts but kneel in humbleness for pardon; Or else, receive my pardon as we go. You can renew it every town or so Always provided that you still renew Each time, and in good money, what is due.” (lines 314-325). 

The Pardoner is seen to break out of his duties as a Priest and show several instances of greed and deceit as related to his desire to satisfy his desires. 

Similarly, the Pardoner knew the way to the hearts of the people and their desire to receive Holiness which is commonly seen in our society today but also majorly during the mid ages, precisely the 1300s when the book Canterbury Tales was written. The Pardoner uses his duty of providing the people with spiritual help which was one of the functions of a Priests to make a monetary profit:

 “Come forward, Host, you shall be the first to pay, And kiss my holy relics right away. Only a groat. Come on, unbuckle your purse!” (lines 338-340)...“What! Do you think, as long as I can preach And get their silver for the things I teach, That I will live in poverty, from choice? That’s not the counsel of my inner voice!” (lines 35-28)

This act of the Pardoner carrying such acts and thus committing sin himself shows his oneness with his Subjects which is the result of Carnivalesque, to remove all forms of titles/hierarchy and create a form of disorder which makes all men equal: “ Though divided in form they belong to the same body, or to the two bodies in one, while abuses while praising and praises while abusing.” (Bakhtin 690) The existence of this equality has created a form of bond that enables this disorder to occur as a form of festivity. 

Chaucer’s use of characters in Canterbury Tales, describes the human nature during periods of disorder which is seen in the story of the Pardoner. The Pardoner is seen to be a perfect example of a character that portrays Carnivalesque as a result of his duty in society and level of preaching against disorder but yet being disordered himself. Several other charters lived to this theory but the act of doing and preaching an act makes him a person of great disorder.



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