Canterbury Tales ( Analysis of the monk)
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One might define a monk as a member of a religious community of men who typically live under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. However, Geoffrey Chaucer, author of the unfinished masterpiece named Canterbury Tales, portrays a monk whose attitude, appearance and lifestyle contrasts greatly with the characteristics of a typical monk. Chaucer accomplishes this portrayal of a bizarre monk by incorporating the use of satire and irony in various ways throughout his narration. But first, in order to completely understand the irony in this story, one has to understand all the peculiar characteristics of this particular monk. To begin with, this monk is very materialistic, and he treasures personal enjoyment over following “the Rule of good St. Benet or St. Maur” (177). For example, this monk’s attire is very modern and consists of an elaborate robe with “sleeves that were garnished at the hand / With fine gray fur, the finest in the land, / And on his hood, to fasten it at his chin / . . . A wrought-gold cunningly fashioned / pin; / Into a lover’s knot it seemed to pass. / . . . Supple his boots (197-209). This is an example of irony because one would assume that a monk’s attire would consist of a simple robe but this monk treasures elaborate clothing over simplicity unlike most monks.
In addition to that, the monk engages in activities that typical monks would not have engaged in during those times. For instance, the monk has an unusual interest in hunting wild rabbits even though it is typically an upper class activity (monks are viewed as being lower class). “It was all his fun, he spared for no expense” (196). He has horses, greyhounds and everything else needed for hunting even though he knows that hunting is considered a sin for monks. All these examples tells us that monk is very materialistic and that “He let go by the things of yesterday / And took the modern world’s more spacious / way” (179-181). When it comes his facial and physical features, we learn that he is a “fat and personable priest” (204) who has a bald head that “shines like looking glass” (201) and he also has “prominent eyeballs that never seemed to settle” (205). The monk’s physical appearance is very unusual because one would expect a monk to be thin due to all his hard work and simple meals. In the medieval times, many drew conclusions about someone’s character from their physical appearance. For instance, prominent eyes like those of this monk and obesity might signify a lust for food and women. Another example of irony occurs when the monk says that he does not care about the rules laid down by St. Benedict and “that a monk uncloistered is a mere / Fish out of the water, flapping on the pier” (183-184).
Surprisingly, the narrator agrees with the monk by saying that the monk need not pore over books and engage in manual labor like St. Augustine advised. This is ironic because monks are expected to study, work hard and live life simply. Moreover, irony is shown when Chaucer describes the monk as being a “manly man, to be an Abbot able”(171) hinting that the monk took his hunting and other “manly” activities very seriously making a good candidate as the director of a monastery. The overall satire of the monk is the growing lack of treasured conventional values in people that were known to represent those values in a certain society. The Monk’s selfishness and desire for recreation gives him the realistic feature of the changing society during those times.