Free Study Guide for The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer|
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ONLINE STUDY GUIDE FOR THE CANTERBURY TALES
The Parsonís Tale starts by defining (as the Parson had promised in the Prologue
to his tale) "the right way to Jerusalem the Celestial". The
Parson states that God is loving and merciful and does not wish the damnation
of any man. The proper way to gain admittance into the celestial city
is by contrition or repentance for oneís sins and a determination to lead
a good life. The first cause of contrition is the sorrowful remembrance
of oneís sins. The Parson adds later in the tale that another cause of
contrition is the sorrowful remembrance of the good that one has left
undone on earth. The Pardoner then launches into a long sermon about the
Seven Deadly Sins of Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and
Lechery. The Parson says that repentance for oneís sins may be made through
voluntary confessions and also by giving charity and fasting. The Parson
ends his tale with a reminder that no matter how long a person has lived
his life in sin the mercy of God is always ready to receive him. Thus
a sinner can attain salvation and divine bliss through the love and grace
The Parsonís Tale is the longest one in the poem. It is written in prose.
In fact it isnít a tale but a sermon on penance and a long treatise on
the seven deadly sins. It is far from a pleasing thing that the Parson
promised in his Prologue. The repentance theme is taken up again by Chaucerís
ĎRetracciounsí. The source for the Parsonís tale is attributed to two
thirteenth century religious tracts namely:
1) De Poenitentia by Raymond de Pennaforte, and 2) Summa de Vitiis by Guilielmus Peraldus.
The Parsonís Tale is in contrast with all the tales. It is a treatise on sin and repentance and shows the pilgrims the right way or the true pilgrimage. It is thus a suitable ending for the book. It provides the reader with a vision of the celestial city of Jerusalem and examines human experience in its entirety. The underlying moral of the tale is that self-awareness is a pre-requisite for the way to salvation.
Critics have argued that Chaucer designed the entire structure of The Canterbury
Tales in order to illustrate the Parsonís theme of the Seven
Deadly Sins. Hence The Parsonís Tale can be seen as providing a serious
comment on what has gone before.
Chaucer addresses the readers and tells them to thank Christ if they find anything pleasurable in the book since He is the source of all wisdom and goodness. However if the readers find something that they do not like in the book, he begs them to ascribe the fault to his incompetence and not to his will. He proclaims that he has written with the intention of teaching.
He entreats the reader to pray for Godís mercy on him and asks forgiveness
for the trespasses he has made especially his translations and writing
of works dealing with worldly vanity. In this retraction he denounces
Troilus and Cressida, The House of
Fame, The Nineteen Ladies, The Book
of the Duchess, The Parliament of
Fowls, and also The Canterbury Tales which
he believes are sinful. He also refers to The Book of
the Lion and many other books which he now cannot remember.
But he asks for Divine Grace for his translations of Boethius and other
books of legends of the saints and prays for his soulís salvation.
In ĎRetracciounsí Chaucer renounces all his previous works apart from the
Christian pieces. Scholars have been locked in a stormy debate over the
significance of this final part of the text. Although it is a part of
The Canterbury Tales it begs forgiveness for "the
tales of Canterbury" --- those that deal with immorality. It is indeed
puzzling why Chaucer wrote this retraction. Possibly the retraction could
be merely conventional, or sincere, or ironic. It is also possible that
it was not written by Chaucer and only added to the text at a later date.
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. 11 May 2008