The Knight, the Wife of Bath, and the Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales show the satirical side of respecting authority during the Middle Ages by telling tales that both follow and defy the stereotypical example of how their characters should act. In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer parodied the modern day upper and middle classes by showing the sides of Nobility and the Clergy that was usually kept from the public eye during the Middle Ages. Chaucer would take a character that was normally respected amongst the public and assign an outrageous tale to it that does not match up with someone of that social class.
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However, certain characters tell stories that do go with their class.
The Knight, for example, tells a story that would be expected of him. The Knight’s Tale contains chivalry, fighting, towers, and purity, all very defining characteristics of what a knight is expected to be. To a knight, the only authority other than God would be a king. However, the Knight’s tale is about breaking out of a prison then going for the King’s daughter, which is the complete opposite of respect for the King. The King releases Arcite, but it was due to some sweet talking to a friend of the King. The Knight gets more credit than he deserves though. For somebody who is supposed to be all about protecting his King or ruler, the Knight’s story defies the king and the king’s daughter, as it is just about lust and death.
The Pardoner’s character and the tale that he tells really defies who he is and what he is expected to stand for. As a member of the Clergy, the Pardoner should live to serve God and God only. On the contrary, the Pardoner deceives poorer people by claiming that his relics are blessed by God when they are actually random things he found on the ground. He constantly sullies the name of religion by lying and deceiving the less fortunate. The Pardoner does not even give the money back to the church, he actually just keeps it. He does not respect any type of authority like he should.
For example, respecting your elders is a common practice in any culture, including the Middle Ages. In the Pardoner’s tale, however, the three men disrespect and elderly man they see by saying things like, What, old fool? Give place! Why are you all wrapped up except your face? Why live so long? Isn’t it time to die? (The Pardoner’s Tale, lines 137-139). For a respected member of society, even saying this about an elderly person as a joke is not okay. In this case, the elderly man would be considered the authority but the Pardoner humiliates him in his tale like it is nothing. In history, a pardoner would sell pardons (hence the name pardoner). Nonetheless, they are considered Clergy, a higher class. The Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales does not live up to the name. He constantly defiles the name of God and religion by lying and telling inappropriate stories that make people think twice about their faith, something he is supposed to prevent. If God is his authority, he does not respect God in the slightest and needs to reassess his faith.
One story that stands out from the rest is the Wife of Bath’s tale. The Wife of Bath constantly powers through gender roles and what is expected of women. As a Christian, one would think that she was very firm in her beliefs about God but she actually questions Christianity. As a woman who has had more than five husbands, she calls herself an expert as a wife (The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, line 12). This fact alone proves that she cares little for the customs of a typical Christian woman in that time. Assuming that God is her authority, the Wife of Bath does little to respect him.
Although she is in the Peasantry class, she really is almost nobility yet still continues to speak out on behalf of women and feminine rights. She elaborates on her opinion of authority throughout her entire prologue. In regard to the bible, she claims that history would be very different if a woman wrote it by stating, Who wrote the histories, tell me who? By God, if women had written the stories as Clerics have written their oratories, they’d have written of men more wickedness than all of the sons Adam could redress (The Wife of Bath’s prologue, lines 698-702).
The Wife of Bath also refers to religion and marriage when she mentions. Lo, here, the wise King, old Solomon, I think he had more wives than one! (The Wife of Bath’s prologue, lines 35-36). By stating this fact about Solomon, she is arguing that is okay to have more than one husband in a lifetime and if a man can do it, she can do it too. She respects God, or course, she just questions everything she has ever been taught about religion and femininity. In her defense, men were predominant in her society and she was respected to follow whatever they said, even if it was not correct. The Wife of Bath constantly refers to the Bible and how it is basically just a piece of paper that one should not follow because it is written authority, not practical authority.
In conclusion, respecting authority was not the first thing on many people’s minds in this time, no matter how holy they seemed.
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