Shame and guilt in Chaucer


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Click the button above to view the complete essay, speech, term paper, or research paper. Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly. She has married five men already, and ignores the idea that this is a reproach to Christian principles. She is merely adhering to the Christian principle of "be fruitful and multiply. Powerful Essays words 5. This puts him right at the beginning of the decline of the Middle Ages.


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Historically, we know that a middle class was just starting to take shape at this time, due to the emerging commerce industry. Chaucer was able to see the importance and future success of the middle class, and wrote his work with them in mind Free Essays words 5. Whether applied to the corrupt clergy of Geoffrey Chaucer's time, selling indulgences, or the corrupt televangelists of today, auctioning off salvation to those who can afford it, this truth never seems to lose its validity.

In Chaucer's famous work The Canterbury Tales, he points out many inherent flaws of human nature, all of which still apply today. Many things have changed since the fourteenth century, but humanity's ability to act foolish is not Powerful Essays words 3. To counter the sadness of the tale, the Host suggests that the Pardoner tell a lighter tale.

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The Pardoner delays, for he wants to finish his meal, but says that he shall tell a moral tale. He says that he will tell a tale with this moral: the love of money is the root of all evil. He claims that during his sermons he shows useless trifles that he passes off as saints' relics Free Essays words 1. They are referred to as deadly because each sin is closely linked to another, leading to other greater sins.

The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, anger, sloth, gluttony, avarice, and lechery. Geoffrey Chaucer's masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, provided an excellent story about the deadly sins. This leads a modern reader to think about the purpose of reading in the Middle Ages. Chaucer categorizes some of his works as sinful because of their subject matter.

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A medieval education would have used classical models, but instructors would have asked students to consider the context as irrelevant and the structure of the work as everything. Jean de Meun indicates various purposes to his writing: while his previous literature caused delight in his audience, he now must turn to writing something to make up for the salacious content of his previous work.

These literary sins reflect the tension about the use of pagan literature in Christian society. The line of thinking in the retraction genre goes something like this: the creation of these kinds of works warrants an act of confession since the author is not using his God-given gifts in the correct, spiritual, or Christian way.

One might imagine Chaucer thinking, in the vein of St. Another reason this line is important is that it reflects medieval penitential practice: the aforementioned contrition, confession, and satisfaction. Medieval penance was a process in which the penitent sought forgiveness for their sin. After the Fourth Lateran Council of , yearly penance to a priest became mandatory.

The penitent sought out a priest and through a process of question and answer, the penitent disclosed their sins. Priests, or confessors, heard confession and acted as mediators between the sinner and God. As the Middle Ages developed, texts called penitentials were used to guide confessors in prescribing appropriate penance for the sinner. The issue surrounding this form of penance has to do with a private, subjective self and a public declaration shaped by the penitential act.


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Penitential practice reveals a sinner that is shaped by the penitential itself—what if the priest, going through the list of questions, does not ask you the right question? The only sins revealed are the sins the Church think are sins.

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Sin, Guilt and Shame in The Pardoner's Tale Essay

There is a tension between the identity of the Christian sinner and what the Church thought that sinner should look like. Are these even separate identities at all? As the previous paragraph indicates, there was controversy over penitential practice, and Chaucer is not immune to its representation in his work. Penitence had a public and private characteristic.

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This emphasized an inner transformation within the sinner. However, penitential practice formalized this process. As the sinner endured penance, their sin was forgiven and they were renewed. Yet, the role of the priest in this act and their wielding of power to forgive were rife with controversy. Lollardy, with its roots in the work of the medieval theologian, John Wyclif, challenged the authority of the medieval Church in matters such as papal authority, translation of the Bible into the vernacular, transubstantiation, and the use of priests to hear confession.

There is much debate around whether Chaucer was sympathetic to Lollard causes or not—as in much of the Chaucerian canon, Chaucer is able to make in-jokes and play both sides. However, Lollards believed that confession was an act performed between the sinner and God and, thus, the priest-as-mediator was superfluous. Rather than the Retraction acting as his own final word on the works, the historical and analogical evidence suggests, much like the rest of The Canterbury Tales , that there is a high-level of indeterminate meaning contained within it. We can use the Retraction as a piece that disturbs easy chronological ordering of the Tales.

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We can even use the Retraction to think about how an artist sees their work proceeding through time. As much as Chaucer may have wanted to categorize his works into sinful and beneficial—providing sentence —the Retraction ends up raising far more questions than it answers. It is hardly an ending at all. Hallissy, Margaret. McCormack, Frances. Cambridge: D. Brewer, Le Testament. Excerpted in Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales.


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