Throughout The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer portrays religious characters overall in a very negative light. Two such characters are the Friar and the Monk who both use their positions in the church for their own personal gain, neglecting their orders and taking advantage of the laity. Chaucer clearly realises the corruption of the church at this time and his portrayals of the Monk and the Friar demonstrate this. I see the Monk as a hearty man who, though he goes against his religious order, does not commit great sins beyond seeking pleasure and wishing to explore the world outside the monastery.
The Friar on the other hand neglects his parishioners, even conning the poor and he is a wholly dishonest man. By the end of the fourteenth century, monks had become worldly wise and, having lost interest in their order, many wished to take part in the ‘New World’; “This ilke Monk leet olde things pace,/ And heeld after the newe world the space. ” Many, like Chaucer’s Monk were contemptuous of their order, and like the Prioress, the Monk has a concern for material goods that was unacceptable in his profession. As a member of a religious community, he would have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, all of which he appears to break.
He “lovede venerie,” which Chaucer uses to highlight that he did not follow his religious order diligently and there is a possible suggestion of sexual pleasure (venery), which goes against his vow of chastity. He had “of gold ywroght a ful curious pin;/ A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was” which again shows his materialism but also suggests he is not chaste, as a “love-knotte” was a token of love. Also, “many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable”, reiterating the fact that he was not poor; he should not have had a single horse let alone many fine horses.
The Monk’s main divergence from his order is in his love of material possessions, outwardly expressed in his appearance, he is fine and prosperous looking, with “his sleves pufiled at the hond with gris, and that the fineste of the lond” going against the monastic rules of Saint Benedict and with his elaborate pin, a sign of personal adornment. He is “a lord full fat and in good point,” clearly not having sacrificed his life to poverty. Monks were supposed to remain in their monasteries with a daily routine of prayer, meditation, study and labour, all conducted in silence which he clearly did not obey.