The Canterbury Tales

Sinful Citizens: Protestant Imagery in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

In 1381, John Wycliffe led a group of people disenchanted with the Catholic Church called the Lollards in an early Protestant movement. In this movement, he attacked the sale of indulgences, pilgrimages, the excessive class hierarchy in the Church, and the low moral and intellectual standards of ordained priests. Although his movement in essence failed, it gave way to future movements by figures such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and even Henry VIII. It also influenced literature such as Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales themselves are an account of pilgrimage filled with the profane corruption that Wycliffe and others opposed. Through The Canterbury Tales, and in particular the General Prologue, Chaucer uses both the physical and personal traits of the characters, and especially their deficiencies, to support Wycliffe's ideas regarding the corruption of the Catholic Church and to encourage future Protestant efforts.

One of Chaucer's and the Protestants' biggest contentions with the Catholic Church was the sale of pardons and indulgences. The pardons excused people from sins on earth and the indulgences paid off some of the time they would have been required to spend post-mortem in...

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