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Portrayal of Medieval Society in The Canterbury Tales: Analytical Essay

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In the western medieval space, peoples and texts are transmitted, crossing the borders of kingdoms and language barriers. The contributions gathered here are concerned with the perception of the boundaries between territories, languages, or cultures and with the awareness of their lack in the texts of the Middle Ages.

In 1386, when he began to write his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer was about forty-six years old. Looking back, the son of the London wine merchant could see an already long and singularly varied life.

Chaucer’s writing in Canterbury’s Tales of Medieval Society portrays figures that still strike the imagination today.

The aim or finality here is to try to recreate the image of medieval English society, especially that of the 14th century, as it is perceived and reflected in the literature of the period in question, especially by the texts of the writer Geoffrey Chaucer. English medieval literature is understood as a historical source, testimony, and mirror of the society it reflects, bringing together and complementing, through nuances, historical knowledge, and diversifying the traditional image of the Middle Ages.

The description which leads to the stories is the only part of the construction that would have been finished. Chaucer’s traveling companions are represented by lines that, it seems, are only growing. In a success that is unparalleled today, Chaucer could somehow, while appearing to enumerate, characters assembled by chance, represent a large picture of contemporary society. In addition to royalty and high nobility, another rascal, the two extremes that probably depart from the pilgrimage, represents almost the entire British nation of his time.

England in the Middle Ages is built at the intersection of three dimensions: the political landscape of England during the reign of Edward I, urbanization and specific political changes in the fourteenth century, and the structure of social relations of this country. The three Edward reigns in the context of external wars, as well as the strained relations between the three kings and the barons. The structure of social relations questions the descriptive schemata of medieval society, as they appear in medieval historical documents, in the form of different models, all the same, common concepts of hierarchy and subordination peculiar to the feudal world. we also see the emergence of new models to relate to medieval society, by the inclusion of a new social class, the average, bourgeois, merchants, and craftsmen. The modification of these social models reflects the desacralization of vassal relationships and their replacement by contractual relations, based on profit and gain.

Chaucer’s texts seek to reflect emblematic figures and concepts of medieval society. The text dedicated to the King, a central figure of medieval society, respected as well as controversial, follows at the same time the troubled reign of King Richard, the problem of the lack of heirs, the frequent confrontations between the king and the magnates, his two marriages and the way in which these problems and situations are reflected in the adaptation of the tale of Grizilde, one of the characters of the Canterbury Tales, tells. The most original work of Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, represents, by the diversity of its characters and its tales, an arena for the debate of some concepts, mentalities, theories or medieval models of organization and taking possession of reality.

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The most controversial figures of the Middle Ages are of the Merchant, a representative figure for the new economic and social order. In this segment discusses and analyzes the mercantile mentality emerging in at the same time as the development of cities, the development of trade( commerce), and the improvement of a financial system. The contradictory positions that marked the path of this new mentality are analyzed in Mercantilism and anti mercantilism in the Middle Ages, where we mark the positions of the Church and theologians in this debate, as well as the ancient debates on the concepts of profit, exchange, trade or money. A more particular representation can be seen in Great Britain in the Middle Ages, the example of economic and social transformations, an urban space that combines aristocratic elements with those of mercantile nature, the interests of the great

lords and an elite of merchants, royal and bourgeois policies. The mental mechanisms associated with commercialism, the rationalizing attitudes of space, time, and labor, the preoccupation with profit maximization, the familiarization with financial transactions did not represent the exclusive prerogative of the class of merchants. aristocracy and the Church are also involved in commercial activities. Medieval Great Britain is a swarm of late feudal and medieval values intersections, a symbol of cultural diversity and a new mentality, a forerunner of the big industrial cities. The mercantile ideology in the Canterbury Tales Prologue projects elements studied before, in the literary frame. In this case, the Canterbury Tale Prologue, where the microcosm (a reduced reproduction of society) of medieval English society is emphasized, with evidence on the representation of the middle class, is analyzed. Chaucer’s characters reflect by their features and concerns this profit mentality, money, exchange, and commerce. Many characters represent the interests of a middle class while being connected at the same time to a new public that had access to literary texts. Our analysis also points to the wave of anticlericalism or heterophobia present in the medieval society, because of the perversion of sacred values and accusations of corruption and luxury of ecclesiastical organizations The Merchant follows the modality where this interpenetration of aristocratic and mercantile values is reflected in the context of social relations. The story fits into the context of the transgressing loyalty oaths between the man and the woman, respectively two comrades under the mirage of profit and easy gain. We follow the deterioration of human relations in this space of transactions and commerce centered on other values than those sacred and hierarchical. Canterbury storytellers and medieval forms of association approach the medieval association frameworks, respectively guilds, of the literary association of Chaucer’s characters. The similarity of the two instances is argued through several aspects or eventuality, among which the sharing of concepts such as that of coherence, strategies of extirpation of rebellion movements, free elections, festivities, rules of procedure or concern for the preservation of an established order.

The first part after the general prologue of the book is dedicated to the figure of the Knight, a figure trapped in a noble ideal, but confronted with many social antagonisms. There are some evidence supporting this part, respectively, the Ideal and the decline. The Chaucer Knight and his suite, which follows a story of the modern concept of knightly attitude interpenetrated by the analysis of three characters Chaucer, The Knight, The Squire, and The Archer. The portraits of the three characters surprise the tensions within the framework of this noble class, which is subject to the political and economic transformations of the fourteenth century, trapped in imposed behavior and some oppressive historical realities. The Knight’s Tale seeks to reflect concepts of medieval political theories, such as the principles of good governance, oaths of fidelity, and judgment through the struggle in the text of Chaucer’s The Tale of the Knight. Elements of the tale are related to instances of historical events, such as the trial of noble family judgments, disputes between knights or contractual agreements between brothers of the cross. Historical events interpenetrate with the literary text, which is supposed to deepen its meanings and to transcribe it in a more complete and more complex way for the reader of today.

The last part is dedicated to The Medieval Woman, a figure as controversial as the preceding ones. This part contains Wife of Bath’s Prologue and The Tale of the Wife of Bath, the first one, is a more general study of the position of the woman in medieval society, followed by a study of the feminine by Chaucer and then an analysis of the character the wife of the Bath, as a representative of the average female class, a symbol of social dislocations of the fourteenth century. These segments discuss issues such as marriage, the status of women,

writings on the position of women in medieval society, the noble women, and the misogynistic manifestos of male literature. The dual feminine identity is also analyzed in the context of literary texts, which nuance or militate against the official ideology. The Tale of the Wife of Bath also discusses the concept of sovereignty in the context of marriage, a concept debated by the best-drawn female character of Chaucer. The Prologue of the Woman / Bourgeoise is a manifesto against the patriarchal authority and the misogynist literature disseminated by some experts of theologian sciences and representatives of the church who argued the position of the inferiority of the woman in relation to the man.

The present reflection tries to discover, analyze and restore an image of certain elements of medieval English society, such as interpreted in literary texts, such as The Canterbury Tales of Geoffroy Chaucer. The instruments of the two disciplines, history and literature, have interpenetrated to make today’s reader closer to a world that is, from a temporal point of view, far from his time, but very close to him, from the point of view of the subjects of meditation and controversy

The finesse and art of Chaucer could hardly be seen under this triviality and these improprieties. The Canterbury Tales have thus remained for Western civilization one of those masterpieces that are saluted from far away and unknown. Thus the disinterested reader lacks one of the books of the past which can best for his derision, to the historian a unique exposition of the popular life of the fourteenth century, and with it a work which, founded on the past, do better than predict the progress of Western civilization.

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Portrayal of Medieval Society in The Canterbury Tales: Analytical Essay. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
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