The Monk Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

This lesson describes the Monk as a happy man that would rather have good food than prayer. He enjoys the ability to live a life of no want and cares little for the cold and stark world of the monastery.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is the story of 29 companions that travel to Canterbury to see the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas Becket. They originally meet at the Tabard Inn when they happen upon each other and realize they were all going to the same destination. They decide then to travel together, and in traveling will tell tales to entertain each other during the arduous days. They also make a small wager that whoever tells the best four tales each, two on the way, and two on the way back, they will have their meal paid for by the others.

Although Chaucer meant to write many more tales for this novel, it appears that he never finished The Canterbury Tales as there were many revisions of the story, but never seemingly one that was whole. Instead there are 22 full tales, and two partial ones. The book was actually not published until 1478, after Chaucer had been dead for 78 years.

Life of Plenty

Chaucer chooses not to let the Monk speak much, other than in his short tales of woe to entertain the group. Instead, he has the host talk to and about the Monk, using third person to really describe larger than life man that shunned the Spartan life of a monk for a life of plenty. The host tells immediately of the dichotomy of who the monk was versus his title. He says:

'' MONK there was, one of the finest sort,

An outrider; hunting was his sport;

A manly man, to be an abbot able.

Very many excellent horses had he in stable''

The Monk enjoyed hunting, which was not a pastime for those of the cloth, however, as per the Host, the Monk seemed to care very little about the rules put forth for his life. He says:

''This same monk let such old things slowly pace

And followed new-world manners in their place.

He gave for that text not a plucked hen

Which holds that hunters are not holy men;''

His hunting became his true passion, and he put aside all work and study in the monastery to pursue fast horses, making sure to spend as much as was necessary to get what he needed. He was hedonistic in this fashion and did not feel badly for his choices. The host states of the Monk's hunting prowess:

''Therefore he was a rider day and night;

Greyhounds he had, as fast as a bird in flight.

Since riding and the hunting of the hare

Were all his love, for no cost would he spare.''

His money may have gone to his love of horses and hunting, but he also spared no expense on himself in any other fashion.

The Monk's Visage

The Monk wore rich clothes like many within the group. As a large man though, he was draped in fur clothing and also wore gold. These luxuries were abnormal for the religious piety, yet many of the religious oriented companions did not appear to be long suffering for their faith. The host says of the man:

''I saw his sleeves were made with fur at the hand

With fine grey fur, the finest in the land;

Also, to fasten his hood under his chin,

He had made of wrought-gold a curious pin:''

The Monk's job is meant to take care of the monastery, however, he did not work or tend to the religious house. Although Chaucer describes him happy and almost merry, his description of his body and image seems to insinuate a darker meaning to his message on the character. He states:

''Fat was this lord, he stood in goodly case.

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