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|← Meursault||Corruption of the Church →|
Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales focuses on three main social classes, such as aristocracy, plutocracy, or the middle class, and theocracy. The classes were distinct, as they played different roles in the social structure. In addition, the three classes had distinct boundaries. Notably, these social structures were composed of peasants, tradesmen, knights and clergymen who engaged in different activities within the social structure.
Firstly, theocrats had high authority in the catholic church of the time. This resulted in a deep-rooted problem, as clerics engaged in indulgences that were meant to trick uneducated members of the society. Members of the society were forced to donate what they could not afford (Kolve, 27). Chaucer uses an example of Lady Eglantyne and Prioress to show the evils committed by the theocracy class. Prioress is assigned the role of a head of a nuns’ conclave. The nun represents the elevated role that certain individuals of the theocracy class played. Prioress appears to be weeping at the sight of mice traps. She feeds her dogs better than the ordinary members of the society (Cooper, 89). This is simple irony because she had vowed to fight poverty. She also bares her forehead, and according to Chaucer, baring forehead was a sign of sexual immorality during the Medieval Age.
Chaucer also uses the Monk who disregards the rules of church and wishes to go hunting whenever he gets a chance to. He is very rich as he owns land, several horses, jewelry, and greyhounds. He represents the functionalities of the church and how some members of the aristocracy accumulated a lot of wealth at the expense of the public. The Monk states that, “as far the old, traditional teachings of the Church, he 'didn't give a plucked hen” (Kolve, 57). In this case, the Monk shows how some church rules were bypassed in order to suit the needs of the clerics. On the contrary, Chaucer uses gentle Parson who at a time refused to be directed by what the church required. He failed to excommunicate members of the community who did not tithe. He even refused to travel to London where he was expected to enhance his position in the church leadership (Pearsall, 289). This clearly shows that there were theocratic members who were considerate to the plight of their members, while others used their position to oppress others.
Secondly, plutocracy, also known as the middle class, were considered to be the emerging bourgeoisie, as they were steadily acquiring power and influence in the society. The individuals in this class had contrasting ideas with the aristocracy. They criticized everything that was done within the social setting. Moreover, the middle class seemed to play majority of roles in the society by heavily influencing decisions made by rulers. Chaucer gives a description of a plowman by stating, “This fellow loves God with 'al his herte' He works hard all day, carrying dung, and digging ditches, and wouldn't do a dishonest deed if his life depended on it” (Bisson, 89). Indeed, Chaucer classifies himself as a member of the middle class. His ability to access the noble class made it possible for him to use vivid descriptions and figurative language in describing the activities taken in the three social classes. The upper class, or the landowners, was the most influential group in the society. They were also responsible for maintaining the law. This implies that they were the richest with all manners of ventures that they handled singlehandedly. Chaucer states that the sergeants at the law whom majority was from the aristocratic class were “'busier than they seemed to be” (Cooper, 120). This shows that people from the aristocratic class used crooked ways to earn their fortunes at the expense of other members from lower classes in the society.