The Canterbury Tales: Clerk and Monk
The Contrasting Characters: The Monk and The Clerk of Oxford The Monk and the Clerk are two characters lying in opposite extremities. What one person lacks, the other has gained in abundance. This essay will explore the major differences between the Clerk and Monk in the Canterbury Tales; its focus mainly pointed to physical descriptions, differences in personality and the underlying themes in their tales of sacrifice and betrayal. Chaucer the pilgrim is quite keen on both of these opposite characters in respect to their attitudes.
The Monk is a merry man who has a portly body and not an inch of hair on his head and is explained as attractive. His love for fine jewellery is presented with the gold he wears on his body, including the gold pin with a love-knot in it, which will be examined later. His love for food can be noticed by the weight he carries. His easy-going nature is quite darkened with the tragic tales he tells on his journey to Canterbury. The Monk owns several horses in perfect condition and the finest riding equipment, showing more signs of his wealth apart from his refined clothing.
The Clerk is quite opposite from these physical details; he is quite thin from being underfed and not having enough money to feed himself properly. He is shabbily dressed. His horse is as thin as the Clerk himself. The Clerk is poor, as a student spending more time reading for learning purposes rather than gaining money. The Monk displays some curious habits as a religious figure. His hobby is to hunt, which is against the morals of his profession.
His rich clothing and appetite for good food are contrary to the rule of poverty that monks are known to be in. He has no patience for the rules that confine monks to study or labour, he is therefore rebellious and disobedient. The gold pin that he dons with a love knot implies that he has broken his vow of chastity towards his religion. He shows the qualities of what exactly a monk should not be. He pursues his own desires and is quite content with it yet he flaunts his authority in the presence of other even though he doesn’t work very much.
On the contrary, the Clerk is an ideal form of his profession. He spends the money he earns on books instead of clothes and food. He is quite quiet in the beginning of the pilgrimage until the Host kindly asks him to speak. The clerk who is a student at Oxford and pursuing his Master’s degree in logic has a knowledgeable speech and regarded highly by the Host. The Monk’s tale focuses on the theme of tragedy and revenge and is based on Boccaccio’s de Casibus Virorum et Feminarum Illistrium.
In the Italian Renaissance, it is regarded as one of the greatest works of early humanism and was emphasized in the Greek and Latin classics focusing on the importance of man as his own individual regardless of their fame which can be contrasted with the medieval views. Chaucer has taken the basis of this view and brings it back to the setting of the Middle Ages, writing about the downfalls of famous people. The accounts of the famous people in the Monk’s Tale are examples of strong and powerful men who have been betrayed and destroyed.
As examples, Lucifer was an angel who fell through sin. Adam lived in paradise until one moment caused him to lose everything. The ruler of Israel called Sampson was incredibly strong; his wife convinced her husband to divulge into the source of his strength and betrayed him by telling his enemies and taking another husband for herself. His hair was then cut as it was the source of his power and he was thrown into a cave. Later on, after being teased for his lack of power, Sampson’s strength returned killing an entire temple and even managing to kill himself.
Every man in the Monk’s tale suffered from betrayal. The Monk’s moral tale of not to divulge secrets to your wife was shown in Sampson’s segment. Conversely, the Clerk’s tale had learned his tale from the scholar and poet named Petrarch at Padua. The outlining themes of this tale involve inner purity and it is a story of philosophical morality. Griselda has given her husband total control and Griselda regards them as one person, she acts and thinks as Walter does, giving him complete sovereignty. The themes of revenge and betrayal in the Monk’s Tale contrast with Griselda’s sacrifice nd her purity. The Clerk had mentioned to the other pilgrims that Griselda was not a model for women to imitate but an example to be patient when God tries us. Griselda’s voluntary acceptance to suffer contrasts with the famous people in the Monk’s tale who died out of spite, revenge, hatred or who killed themselves to avoid suffering. In conclusion, The Monk and the Clerk lie on opposite extremes. The Monk physically is a stocky man, showing his wealth through jewellery and the finest horses and equipment. The Clerk is thin and trying to make ends meet.
Personality-wise, he Monk displays curious behaviours that go against a Monk’s usual beliefs. He has broken his vow of chastity, of poverty; he has taken up hunting as a hobby and eats the finest foods. He doesn’t believe in the meaning of work, however, the Monk will gladly gloat over his supremacy. The Clerk however, is a quiet character, who speaks only when spoken to and thinks of books and reading. He spends all his money on books so he could consequently feed his mind with logic and it is proven with his knowledgeable speech. These two characters have also told contrasting tales.
The merry Monk has told successive tales of tragedies and death. The quiet, poverty-stricken Clerk was told by the Host to disclose a happy tale even though the Clerk goes in a slightly off direction and speaks of a religious tale of the acceptance of suffering. Chaucer can successfully portray characters exactly as they should be or how opposite they are. The audience can imagine a Clerk as a studious type, spending time on reading books and telling a philosophical tale. On the contrary, a hunting Monk is quite humorous as this character even seems.