The Canterbury Tales

Christian Duty and Religious Doubt in The Song of Roland and The Canterbury Tales

The Middle Ages were marked by religious upheaval in Europe. Two new major world religions were coming to power: Islam and Christianity. The rapid success of Christianity led the Roman Catholic Church to become the dominant religious force in most of the western world, and as with any powerful institution, it became increasingly corrupt (Swanson 409). As Lillian Bisson writes in Chaucer and the Late Medieval World, "[the] Medieval church . . . was a collection of competing factions with often contradictory agendas" (49). The church's internal conflict led to public mistrust in religious authority (51-53). Expanding on Bisson's observations, this paper will describe the development of religious doubt in Medieval Europe and note how it characterizes the literature of the period. Comparing two of the foremost texts of the Middle Ages - the anonymous epic The Song of Roland and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales - I argue that the latter work registers a profound mistrust of religious authority that is not present in the former. The different images the two texts present of the church, I suggest, distinguishes The Song of Roland and the Canterbury tales as, respectively, early-Medieval and late-Medieval...

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