Literature in all across the globe holds a very special place in people’s hearts as it explains many things with a combination of beautiful words bent in a melody of the beautiful theme. These themes in literature make the story soothing of our ears and minds. And today, literature holds special value in different cultures in the world that describes their stories, customs, values, traditions, thoughts, and many things. The Canterbury tales are one of the beautiful examples, in which different themes are used to portray the art of literature.
The Canterbury Tales are written by Chaucer, an English writer who is also known as the first English writer. The beautiful melody of art is consists of 24 stories with different character and themes. The theme is considered to be Chaucer’s master instrument for writing literature. In his work, the Canterbury Tales, he has delivered the stories with a unique theme. One of the many themes Chaucer has used in his literature to portray his work of art is the theme of social satire. This theme by Chaucer consists of nobility, peasantry, and the church. Chaucer has targeted all the social issues, the immortality of human and broken heart.
‘And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace, thy body for to yelden in this place’ (Chaucer, Wright, and Cannon, 917 – 918) In this line, power, authority is been given to the wife of the king to choose between the death of the knight or his life. In the tales of The Nun’s Priests and The wife of Bath, he has illustrated the theme beautifully in explaining this entire element with the touch of power, poverty, appearance, and rules. The Nun Priest’s tale portrays the story of love and dignity while The Wife of Bath’s tale reflects a sense of arguments (Chen 3).
Another famous theme the famous writer used in his literature is sexual desire and country love. In his tale of The Knights, he has established country love as a noble and spiritual connection which cannot be gained physically. For example, in his knight’s tale where two knights having a fight for the hand a lady which makes them neglects and forgets everything towards their state. In addition to this, the appearance as described by the author about the lady is fascinating, and the insightful of a young knight who has all the ornaments towards country love. This young knight writes, sings and maintains his appearance and possesses a passion which makes awake all night (Chaucer, Wright, and Cannon, 25)
Despite having country love and sexual desire that human possess, lust holds a significant value in The Canterbury Tales the tale of the wife of bath illustrates the desire of lust of the lady. Therefore, medieval society explained by Chaucer has this common feature like sexual desire, country love, and lust.
In this, the wife of the king is giving an argument that having intimacy without the willingness of the other in order to have sexual desire and the pleasure of it is nothing less than committing a sin. The argument holds a strong narrative that love is not just limited to one but it is indeed two side contributions and willingness to share their moments and desires.
Sexual desire makes a man go blind and forces him to commit things that are not considered as love. Here the author has narrated through his art of literature that women do not object to having pleasure, sex, and toy who are only there to please their companions by having intimacy. But described love as the divine force that can overcome these sexual desires, and the thirst of lust men have for women to please them and fulfill their need of lust.
The ways of portraying literature for Chaucer is not limited; the theme of “status or class” is among those famous themes the writer used for his stories. This theme can be observed easily in The Canterbury Tales, in whom the comparison of people be done by the writer who belongs to the upper class and those people who do not appear good are reflected as lower class people. In his story, the writer has illustrated two characters; the parson and the prioress in his prologue. Through these two characters, he has foreshadows the significance of class in society. As per the literature portrayed in “The Nun’s Priest”, a nun is represented as an up-to-date person, who is highly sophisticated about her appearance and attitude and on the other hand, a person is illustrated as a clergyman, who is not concerned about showing his class or status to the world. The nun, despite knowing her duties and responsibilities tries to show off her class, wealth whereas the parson is completely doing the opposite. This intensity of showing class or status to other people have strengthened its roots today in our society (Chen 3).
These lines show the affection Palamon, a young knight gets attracted towards a beautiful young lady Emily. In the tale of knights, the tale is focused on the theme of competition in which two prisoners get attracted towards the same girl. And both of them get bloodthirsty for each other in the name of love. At the end of the tale, one of them dies and the other takes the lady.
As per this, in the competition of love, the one who is away is not going to win but the one who is near to his loved one has the chances to win. According to the literature, the absence of a companion or loved one makes the heart grow fonder.
As happens in the knight tales, when miller’s steps forward to tell his story without waiting for his turn to comes this also shows the intensity of competition and comparison people do with each other. Everyone is trying hard to tell the best story and coming up with the same stories but a different version. This theme can be seen today as well, where people are trying to pull each other down by highlighting their negatives sides and discouraging them. Comparing their abilities and strengths to other people and judging others on the basis of their weaknesses in one of the negative aspect of today’s society.
The concept of corruption and misconducting the authorities’ holds key importance in the Tales of Canterbury, in the entire tale most of the character are related to church or religion are not religious, dutiful and faithful as they needed to be. Chaucer illustrates this theme by showing the readers the true face of corruptions that religious people do in the name of God. This example of corruption can be seen in the Tale of Pardoner, the pardoner who is a preacher and collects money for the church. But instead of spending the collected money on religious purposes, the preacher spent the money to satisfy his needs and duties. During the narration of the tale, the Pardoner does not seem to feel guilty or regret about his wrongdoing and display of actions.
As per these lines, the preacher manipulates the people by warning them about their sins, he also manipulate people by saying that anyone does not offer anything after the end of his speech then that person has committed a sin in the eyes of God. Therefore everyone should offer money for church purposes. This thought of sin made people to empty their pockets and gave all their money to the pardoner so that they can be forgiven.
At the end of the tales, the author states that everything he has written in the tales is written by the will of God and that God had guided him to write all these tales. According to the author, God has used Chaucer to highlight all these issues, problems, and ideas to the people. After the end of these tales, the author apologizes to the readers if he has offended anyone through these tales. These tales are not limited to have meaningless stories of love, revenge, loyalty, lust, corruption and much more but these tales show every important aspect of human’s life, and the issues humans face in their lives. Geoffrey Chaucer has illustrated every aspect of society’s problem by using a perfect combination of words, melody, and theme to portray his art of literature.
- Chaucer, Geoffrey, David Wright, and Christopher Cannon. The Canterbury Tales (Oxford World’s Classics). Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Chen, Yongping. ‘Analysis on the Image of Bath Woman in Canterbury Tales.’ Atlantis Press (2017). Web. 20 Feb. 2019.