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Chaucer: Then And Now. Essay, Research Paper

People: Medieval Times vs. Contempory Times

The years between 1066 and 1485 are known as the Middles Ages. People in this time period faced many hardships, such as disease, oppression, and corruption. The people also experienced many joys, such as success, wealth, and new found prosperity. The people in present day society, too, undergo the same experiences and share the same feelings of the people of over 500 years ago. This parallel can easily be seen in reading Geoffrey Chaucer?s The Canterbury Tales and comparing his pilgrims to contemporary peoples. The English poet divides his pilgrims, his characters, into five classes, the nobility, the clergy, the professional class, the business class, and the lower class, and not only describes them, but also “reiterates” their tales concerning the pilgrimage. Connections between the people of today and of the Medieval Period can easily be made between these two seemingly different peoples using Chaucer?s tale. Chaucer?s work illustrates to the modern-day reader that people are virtually the same regardless of the time in which they live.

The wealthy of today have much in common with the nobility of Chaucer?s era. The pilgrims of the nobility described in The Canterbury Tales include the knight, the squire, and the Franklin. The Franklin is not really of nobility per se, but he is rather one rank below the gentry, being a wealthy landowner, and thus recognized by the elite due to his affluence. The Franklin, moreover, is further accepted by the nobility because he is a brilliant entertainer and throws lavish receptions for all the nobility to attend. He is in essence a socialite. Chaucer tells us that “He [the Franklin] lived for pleasure and had always done/For he was Epicurus? very son,/In whose opinion sensual delight/Was the one true felicity in sight./As noted as St. Julian was for bounty/He made his household free to all the County. ” (Chaucer 127 ll. 345-50). In today?s world socialites are also present. An example of a modern-day socialite would be the former US ambassador to France, Pamela Harriman. Ms. Harriman, a wealthy heiress as well, was the “hostess of the most lavish parties the embassy has seen” (CNN). “Almost anyone who was asked was going to come to one of the gatherings at her spectacular house,” (CNN) once commented political analyst Norman Ornstein on the popularity of Ms. Harriman?s receptions. Furthermore, the former ambassador has also been called “the greatest courtesan of the 20th century” (CNN) a title earned through her dealings with men and her desire to “please” them. Ms. Harriman, like Chaucer?s Franklin, knew how to entertain excessively and extravagantly and how to please her guests. These two people, both of great wealth and prestige, are remarkably similar, despite being separated by centuries in time.

In The Canterbury Tales, two sides of the clergy are shown, one good and one bad, both aspects can be found in the contemporary era as well, which again shows an analogy between these two periods in time. The good, or positive aspects of the clergy in Chaucer?s time can be seen and understood by simply reading the Parson?s prologue. The Parson is the only member of Chaucer?s clergy not satirized for straying from the basic teachings of the Church. The Parson is a model Christian, giving all his time and devotion to serving God and the Church. This faithful clergyman was introduced by Chaucer as “A holy minded man of good renown/There was, and poor, the Parson to a town,/Yet he was rich in holy thought and work.” (Chaucer 130 ll. 487-89). A present day example of such a devout and revered member of the clergy is the former Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of the Chicago archdiocese. “?Cardinal Bernardin was a loving, gentle man led by moral persuasion and personal example, never by force or fear,? said Cardinal John J. O?Conner of New York” (AP). Bernardin was a fully devoted member of the Church whose strong religious convictions and goodness touched even those outside of the faith. Rabbi A. James Rudin is quoted as saying that, “The world has lost a prince. Throughout his remarkable career, Cardinal Bernardin taught us how to live our lives in faith and integrity” (AP). Both the Parson and Cardinal Bernardin are prime examples of moral and virtuous religious leaders, exhibiting similar ways of faith and devotion. In contrast to these exemplary church leaders, are the immorally tainted and corrupt clergymen. Chaucer gives examples of several of these members, including the Summoner, the Friar, the Prioress, the Monk, and the Pardoner. A description of any of the aforesaid members of the clergy would serve in presenting the defilement of the Church, therefore a description of the Friar will suffice. The Friar is described by Chaucer as being “a wanton one and merry” (Chaucer 122 l. 212). This description hardly coincides with the life of a friar during the Middle Ages, who was suppose to be an ascetic and a practitioner of self-denial. The Friar is also characterized as a womanizer and a swindler and generally as a corrupt Church official; this Friar is hardly a man of God, and neither is Reverend Gary Timmons. Reverend Timmons is a modern example of the “bad” existing in the Church today. Reverend Timmons was arraigned on the charges of molesting several boys. Timmons in fact, “is the third Santa Rosa priest charged recently with molesting the children of local parishioners” (Local). One of Timmons alleged victims states that “?There are all these corrupt, sanctimonious priests, and the church officials have allowed this to continue without doing a damn thing. They?ve turned a blind eye and have shown absolutely no compassion or concern for the children or parishioners?” (Local). He further goes on saying, “You know, they teach the moralities that Jesus taught, but they do a lousy job of living up to them” (Local). This abuse of invested power and trust by clergy members does not belong to an age, it is timeless. Regardless of the era, the clergy has had its share of the moral, such as the Parson and Cardinal Bernardin, and the immoral, the Friar and Reverend Timmons.

The professional class of circa 1997 and of circa 1400 have much in common as well. The professional class as described by Chaucer, includes the Doctor, the Sergeant at the Law, and the Cleric. Chaucer?s Doctor relies on the stars and planets to give an accurate diagnosis and misdiagnoses ailments for the sake of making money. This doctor, is said to have a “special love of gold” (Chaucer 130 l. 454) and thus hardly lives up to the Hippocratic Oath in that he does not serve the patient?s best interest, but his own. Today, such psychiatrists like Jerry Wiener MD, defend the use of Ritalin for treating the attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD). However, doctors like Wiener are over prescribing the drug, ignoring “clearly suggested guidelines for its [Ritalin] prescription which are entirely at odds with good medicine and common sense” (Bromfield). These doctors, representative of the professional class from different ages, are both irresponsible and practice medicine in a severely distorted sense.

The business class include the Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Carpenter, the Weaver, and the Carpet-maker all of whom are members of various guilds, and resemble modern-day labor union members. Chaucer writes, “Among our ranks, all in the livery/Of one impressive guild-fraternity./?..Each seemed a worthy burgess, fit to grace/A guild-hall with a seat upon the dais./Their wisdom would have justified a plan/To make each one of them an alderman;” (Chaucer 128 ll. 374-83). The members of the guilds, thus were influential in their towns as well as in their town?s governments. The Teamsters of today are very much like the members of the guilds of the past. The union?s leader is James P. Hoffa, and like the members of Chaucer?s business class, he exercises tremendous political influence and is well respected in the community for his work helping laborers. Hoffa?s goals are similar to the goals of the guild members in that the aims are meant to increase the “voice” of all laborers. They include “Rebuilding the Teamsters Union to its former position of greatness within the American Labor Movement. Restore power to and acknowledge the pride of, each Teamster member. Organizing the unorganized. Negotiating trend-setting historic contracts?.”(Hoffa). The positions that both the members of the guilds occupy and that Hoffa occupies are comparable to one another. The business class of Chaucer?s time and the business class of today are thus very similar.

The last class of pilgrims is the lower class, which is a class that is very difficult to compare today because of the drastic improvements in the status of the social classes, however, there do exist similarities. The lower class of pilgrims included the Yeoman, the Chef, the Miller, the Reeve, the Manciple, the Skipper, and the Wife of Bath. The Wife of Bath, who is poor without saying, is also considered an expert on love. Chaucer writes, “She?d had five husbands, all at the church door,/Apart from other company in youth;” (Chaucer 130 ll.470-71). The Lady of Bath has thus had her share of experiences in the love department and goes on to tell about her love life in her tale. A modern Lady of Bath could be the adored film star Debbie Reynolds. Although Ms. Reynolds is not in poverty, she has filed for bankruptcy. According to her company?s 1996 report “The Reynolds corporation has been plagued by negative cash flow, mounting debt, lawsuits filed by past business associates and limited capital to pay for needed renovations” (Berns). In addition to being “poor,” Ms. Reynolds also has not been quite so successful in her relationships, having been married three times with two of those marriages ending in divorce. Debbie was married to Eddie Fisher in 1955, but he left her in 1959 for another “love expert,” Elizabeth Taylor. This betrayal “elicited a wave of fan sympathy for the ?wronged woman.??Miss Reynolds then endured a troubling period when her husband?s [#2] business failed and she became responsible for $2 million of his debts. They divorced in 1975″ (Debbie). These two “lower-class” women, the Wife of Bath and Debbie Reynolds, share in being poor and being unlucky in love matters.

People from Chaucer?s time and from this present era are remarkably similar. They are in essence, the same, regardless of what age it is. Whether they are rich, or poor, corrupt, or good, the people representative of their class tend to remain identical over time. Although the date may change, although the world around them may change, people are inherently unchanging themselves. Even though, this may be true, it should be said that not all people live up to a certain image, there are exceptions to every rule. A person behaves according to their own self, not according to their class or occupation.


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