Sunday, January 24, 2010


Photo by Bryan McNally of Ireland in June of 2008.


Unpublished essay by Lurene Helzer on The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, January 30, 1984, Interdisciplinary Studies in Letters and Science (ISLS) program, Chabot College, Hayward, CA. I added on March 4, 1985 a second paper, which was a slightly revised version of this first paper.

The Canterbury Tales were written between 1380 and 1400 in England. I honestly do not think this was a very good paper while reviewing it again in October of 2009. I was just not interested, and it shows clearly today. Why?

I could not in January of 1984 appreciate Chaucer’s meaning to the England of 1400. Also, Chaucer’s writing, back in 1984, seemed to me hard to follow, unexciting. Nor could I appreciate the Middle English style of writing.

Lurene's email in 2014:
Today, I think Chaucer’s work gives one hundreds of insights into England as it existed for people centuries ago, so is worth the reading effort. You laugh because it keeps occurring to you that people are the same in multiple ways, century after century:

Lurene Helzer
The Canterbury Tales
By Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales center around a group of medieval pilgrims’ journey to Canterbury and the tales they tell about each other in order to repent their sins, the sins that are known as The Seven Deadly Sins.

The Oxford Cleric plays an important role in the tales with his message to the reader about patience. [Prof comment: Thesis?]

The character Griseld, who portrays a wife who marries above her social status only to be subject to a series of harsh tests by her husband, shows her consistency and patience. She is obedient to her husband through such tests as polygamy and the killing of her children.

In his closing words to the reader, the Oxford Cleric warns readers that such consistency is not easy to find.

“Husbands, be not so hardy as to assail the patience of your wives in hope to find Griseld’s, for you certainly will fail”
(page 372)

It is important to remember that the Cleric was not advocating that spouses (women in particular) subject themselves to abusive tests in order to be virtuous.

“This story does not mean it would be good/ for wives to ape Griseld’s humility/ it would be unendurable they should/But everybody in his own degree/Should be as perfect in his constancy/as was Griselda.”

As the Oxford Cleric is described in the prologue, he is an intellectual that would rather consume books than food.

“Whatever money from hi s friends he took/he spent on learning or another book/And his horse is a symbol of his frailty from malnourishment…his horse was thinner than a rake…”
(page 27)

Not a sentence came out of his mouth that was simple or shallow.

“Short, to the point, and lofty in his theme/a tone of moral virtue filled his speech.”

He was not a religious person.

“He had found no preferment in the church”
(Page 27)

The descriptive paragraphs in the prologue give clues as to his presence in tales told by the other pilgrims. The other pilgrims, of course, point out in their stories that the Cleric is not sin-free.

In the Miller’s tale, the Cleric is portrayed as a man who uses his intelligence and youth to further his habits of adultery and trickery.

The cleric takes advantage of a carpenter’s dim wits in order to sleep with his youthful wife, creating a horrific tale of a flood that is about to strike the town.

In the end, the cleric gets his just reward, as the carpenter is made the laughing stock of the community.

“But his hot iron was ready with a thump/He smote him in the middle of the rump”
(Page 121)

This passage describes the wrath of another town citizen when he finds out that he has been tricked and his hostility is directed toward the cleric. An important [point] about Chastity can be learned from this tale, I would imagine.

The cleric pops up again in a tale about marriage (several of them actually) in The Wife of Bath’s tale. The cleric plays the part of the fifth husband of the wife of bath. As he is described in the prologue, he is a regular bookworm in this tale. It is the cause of friction between the couple. (Professor Pope’s comment in margin: -- and how does this tale’s point of view compare to the wife’s…?)

All of the tales that the Cleric appears in seem to have a theme of marriage. Perhaps this is Symbolic of the deadly sin of envy and it’s a solution of love.

The Canterbury Tales
Translated by Nevill Coghill
[Prof: Incomplete bibliography. please complete it.]


This is a good topic and you have some good ideas and evidences. I want to see you about some ideas of organization. Especially you need a thesis statement. Keep writing about Chaucer – how he’s using the tale. With a clear thesis, this is easier to do. See me right away about revision


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