The Seven Deadly Sins in The Canterbury Tales

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  • 0:02 The Canterbury Tales
  • 0:26 The Seven Deadly Sins
  • 1:46 The Parson
  • 2:56 The Role of the Parson
  • 3:21 Irony
  • 3:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joe Ricker
The Seven Deadly Sins are the only sins that prevent a soul from receiving immortality from God. In 'The Canterbury Tales,' no one but the Parson seems to be concerned with this.

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is a collection of tales written as a frame narrative by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Seven Deadly Sins, or Seven Mortal Sins, remain an intense theme for literature, even in contemporary writing. Other famous works that thematically explore the Seven Deadly Sins are The Decameron, Paradise Lost, and The Divine Comedy.

The Seven Deadly Sins

The Seven Deadly Sins include:

  • Lust: intense desire for sexual bliss
  • Envy: the desire for what others possess
  • Pride: a belief in one's self that reaches an extreme level
  • Sloth: laziness
  • Wrath: intense anger with the desire to do harm
  • Avarice: greed
  • Gluttony: consuming more than one needs

In The Canterbury Tales, the Seven Deadly Sins are interlaced among the tales the travelers share during their journey to Canterbury to visit the shrine of St. Becket. Each traveler is aware or somewhat aware of their own moral issue or dilemma, including the religious members of the pilgrimage. For example, the Pardoner, a religious man and agent of the Pope, is guilty of avarice, or greed, and his tale exemplifies the danger of that deadly sin. The Pardoner even acknowledges his guilt. Other travelers, including the Miller, who himself is guilty of gluttony because he's a drunk, tells a tale of lust. While the Shipman's tale is sexual in nature, it emphasizes envy. Even the Knight, who is the most moral character in The Canterbury Tales, is guilty of pride.

The Parson

The most significant character in The Canterbury Tales involving the Seven Deadly Sins is the Parson. He is the last to share his thoughts during the journey to Canterbury and the only member of the group who delivers a sermon instead of a tale. The Parson is the only member of the group who is seemingly without excessive sin, notably one of the Seven Deadly Sins. While delivering his sermon, he tries to avoid offering a tale that celebrates sin. This is one of the characteristics of the Parson that elevates his status as a man of the Church above the other clergy members.

The Seven Deadly Sins are those that prevent a soul from receiving immortality. As the Parson describes each of the deadly sins, he makes it clear how each of the other travelers is guilty of at least one of them. The Parson goes on to further explain how those sins can be rectified. To absolve oneself of sin, he or she must embrace one of the seven virtues. The impact that the Parson's sermon has is exemplified by Chaucer's retraction, where he denounces his previous work and labels it as sinful.

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