The Monk in The Canterbury Tales: Description & Social Class

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  • 0:03 Who Is the Monk?
  • 0:26 Physical Appearance
  • 1:04 Role as a Church Figure
  • 1:48 Social Class
  • 2:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

The Monk in 'The Canterbury Tales' rejects the idea that a monk should be a man of God and withdraw from the world. In fact, this monk could be the worldliest man the Host has ever come across.

Who Is the Monk?

Have you ever known someone who has a lust for life, someone who loves to be outside and in nature, and does not conform to normal roles? Well, the Monk in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is such a person. He rejects (and in fact, ridicules) the traditional role a monk plays in society and instead lives life as he pleases.

Physical Appearance

Even in looks, the Monk is very unlike what is expected. The Monk is a fat man, which tells us that he is very well fed at a time when many were starving. He enjoys eating rich food and drinking good wine. He's bald and dresses in fur and gold, which tells us that he cares more about what he looks like on the outside than what he should be on the inside.

His face is smooth and shiny, and his eyes roll in his head, and Chaucer describes them as hot and fiery. This could indicate lust, though Chaucer claims it as a lust for life.

Role as a Church Figure

Members of the Church, in Chaucer's time, were supposed to take a vow of poverty and live to serve their people. The Monk completely goes against this and lives in luxury. Though good monks never leave their cloisters and spend their time in study, our Monk rejects that. He would much rather spend his time hunting and riding horses. Chaucer tells us he has 'very many excellent horses' and 'he was a rider, day and night'.

The Monk spends his time hunting and taking care of his horses and dogs. His animals are sleek and well fed, most likely at the expense of the people the Monk should be caring for. His clothing is not the traditional robes but lined with animal fur and features a gold pin instead of a rosary.

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