Changes of the Catholic Church as Portrayed in the Literature during the
Late Fourteenth

Changes of the Catholic Church as Portrayed in the Literature during the Late
Fourteenth-Century

In reading the poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Geoffrey Chaucer’s
The Canterbury Tales, it is evident that the church played a major role in the
lives of the English people during the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church was
going through many changes during the late middle ages. After the people of
England were able to read the Bible many of them started to stray from the
church. During this time period many great works of literature were written that
expressed these ideas. Sir Gawain is an Arthurian romance written by an unknown
author in the late fourteenth-century. It is the story of Sir Gawain and his
adventure to find the Green Knight. Religious faith and the Christian idea of
chivalry play a large role in Sir Gawain’s adventure. The Canterbury Tales is
a collection of poems written by Geoffrey Chaucer. Many of the tales and
characters in the story have to do with the church and its corruption during
medieval times.

The poem ,Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, was written during the late 1300’s.
It is a story that was already hundreds of years old. In the poem, Sir Gawain is
being measured against a moral and Christian ideal of chivalry. Chivalry is the
moral code that

knights lived by during the Middle Ages. Chivalrous knights fought for glory
and the Christian purpose and not for profit or gain. In the poem, Gawain’s
chivalry, along with his faith, are tested to prove his worth as a knight. This
poem shows the importance of faith and the church, yet it also shows that
although knights are held to a code of chivalry and strict Christianity, they
are still human and make mistakes. The mistake, or sin that Gawain committed in
the poem showed the more human side of the knight. This was a change from the
more normal approach of a strict, almost unbelievably good character that a
knight usually portrayed in the Middle Ages.

Around the same time that the story of Sir Gawain was written Geoffrey
Chaucer wrote the poem The Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales is the story
of a group of people who decide to make a pilgrimage to the Canterbury
Cathedral. During their journey each person tells a story to the group. What
makes the tales interesting is Chaucer’s ability to know how different types
of people act. One of the interesting aspects of the story is the way the people
related to the church are portrayed by Chaucer. Chaucer portrays his clergy
member characters as ironic figures. He portrays some of them as greedy and
dishonest, despite their social status. The Nun, the Monk, and the Pardoner are
the religious characters in Chaucer’s work. By creating ironies between their
characterizations and their duties, Chaucer expresses the corruption of the
church during the late fourteenth-century. Chaucer also shows the human side of
the clergy. Even though the clergy were held to a higher standard, they still
made mistakes and had vices.



Chaucer’s character, the Prioress, is an interesting portrayal of a nun in
the late middle ages. She is described as a gentle woman, simple and coy. She
does not behave as you would think a nun should. She speaks an odd dialect of
French, but not to communicate or help others. She speaks this language for her
own vain reasons. She tries to act like she is in a more refined social class.
It is ironic that she is even on this pilgrimage. Normally a nun would stay
inside of the convent walls. One of the most ironic characteristics of the nun
is that she wears a large gold brooch around her neck, which reads, “Love
conquers all”. This is wrong because nuns were not supposed to wear jewelry.

The Monk is another one of Chaucer’s characters that didn’t fit into
social norms. The Monk is described as noticeably sarcastic, piggish, and
selfish. Like the nun, he seems to be a vain servant of God. He wears expensive
clothing and is not separated from the world as a Monk is supposed to be. The
tale that he tells about hunting is looked at as a sexual connotation, the
hunting meaning hunting women. This would be improper for a Monk to think, let
alone talk about to a group of people. He seems to be a misguided servant of God
who does not fit the stereotypical description of a monk. The way Chaucer
describes him, as not caring