The Canterbury Tales was written in 1387 until 1400, following the death of the author- Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales was written in Middle English, being one of the first few works to be written in English, and is considered to be a framed story and narrative poem. The story takes place during the Medieval time period, so the society consisted of: the peasants, the nobility, and the church officials and members. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales as a means for targeting social issues and immoral behavior. The Tales describes the journey of a group of pilgrims seeking blessings at the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. The group gathers at an inn in Southwark, and due to a suggestion made by the innkeeper, the group starts a story-telling competition. Chaucer’s characters- the Oxford Cleric and the doctor- hold a stark contrast between the two of them. The cleric and the doctor hold the differentiation of wealth, motivation for learning, and occupation, making them seem like complete opposites of each other.
The Oxford Cleric is poor, has no way of income, and he values knowledge over worldly things. “But had a hollow look, a sober stare;/The thread upon his overcoat was bare” (299-300). The cleric had an unkempt appearance and seemed to not care for his clothing. The cleric does not care for his appearance, and therefore does not use his money for things such as clothing. “He preferred having twenty books in red/And black, of Aristotle’s philosophy,/Than costly clothes, fiddle or psaltery” (304-306). The cleric wants his books and a form of knowledge over materialistic things, such as fancy clothing. He prefers his knowledge and philosophy over physical objects, such as money or instruments.The Oxford Cleric is one who prefers learning and education over fancy things or money, unlike the physician who is the opposite.
The Physician is a skillful and wealthy physician, and is seen as the best of the best with no one being able to compare to him. “In blood-red garments, slashed with bluish grey/And lined with taffeta, he rode his way;” (449-450). The doctor is able to show off his wealth with his fancy clothing. He is able to afford clothes with silks due to the wealth he gained through his job. “Yet he was rather close as to expenses/And kept the gold he won in pestilences./Gold stimulates the heart, or so we’re told./He therefore had a special love of gold” (451-454). The doctor values the gold and wealth that he earns and keeps it to himself. He has an overwhelming love for a materialistic item- money. The Physician, unlike the Oxford Cleric, values his wealth over anything else.
The Cleric studies and reads continuously because of his pure love for knowledge and learning. “Whatever money from his friends he took/He spent on learning or another book” (309-310). The Cleric spends not only his money, but the amount his friends also gives him for more books. He prefers to use this money as a way to persevere through his journey of knowledge and education. “His only care was study, and indeed/… And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach” (313 and 318). His only care in the world is studying, showing his desire for wanting to know more. He loves to learn and would be glad to teach others about the knowledge he’s gained. The cleric has a pure love and desire for wanting to learn, unlike his opposite- the doctor.
The doctor has a desire to learn, but only for his own personal and financial gain. “Were ready with the drugs he would prescribe/And each made money from the other’s guile;” (436-437). The doctor gained his knowledge to diagnose patients with whatever they were suffering from, and then send the patients to the apothecaries. Both parties received payment from their agreement with each other. “No one alive could talk as well as he did/On points of medicine and of surgery,” (422-423). He studied for his medical proceedings, gaining recognition from people. The recognition he gained from people possibly created a sense of trustworthiness, seeing as he seemed to know what he was doing, and people went to him for their illnesses and medical issues. The doctor learned and uses his knowledge to benefit him and his love for money, while the cleric had a pure interest and desire for knowledge.
The cleric’s job revolves around him being a student, preparing for his priesthood and studying philosophy. “He had found no preferment in the church/And he was too unworldly to make search/For his secular employment” (301-303). The cleric receives no promotion, and is stuck with his “job” as a student. He was too preoccupied with his studies to go out looking for a non-religious job for himself. “Though a philosopher, as I have told/He had not found the stone for making gold” (307-308). During this time period, there was a stone known as the “Philosopher’s Stone” that was said to be able to turn metals into gold. The narrator is saying that even though the cleric is a philosopher himself, he did not obtain or have this stone, therefore he had no money or riches. The cleric is a student who has no source of income, besides borrowing money from his friends, in which we can say that he is not employed.
The doctor is a very skillful and successful physician, in which he is paid very well due to his knowledgeable skills and recognition he receives. ”He knew their seat, their humor and condition./He was a perfect practicing physician” (431-432). The doctor’s occupation is clearly stated as a physician, and he is described as intelligent for knowing the things he does. He is very skillful with his studies and diagnoses, and he shows that through his practices. “Yet he was rather close as to expenses/And kept the gold he won in pestilences” (451-452). He received payment from the pestilences, or the plagues. He used his occupation as a physician to the best of his advantage, and gathered his money to feed his love for money. Unlike the cleric, who had a job as a student, learning, the doctor had a well-paying job as a physician.