Food and its consumption plays a role in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that extends far beyond the concepts of sustenance and survival. Given the significant valuing of food because of the increasing scarcity that resulted from recurring famine in the l ...
Food and its consumption plays a role in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales that extends far beyond the concepts of sustenance and survival. Given the significant valuing of food because of the increasing scarcity that resulted from recurring famine in the late fourteenth century, Bailly's suggestion of providing 'a soper at oure aller cost' for the best storyteller is quite realistic. Moreover, it has been noted that Chaucer's food references are relevant to an individual character. Food and its consumption are used as a interpretive guideline for an individual's health, personality or morality. Considering Chaucer's cast of the characters is making a religious pilgrimage, the concept of food and consumption readily lends itself to that of spiritual nourishment.
If the food consumption that occurs in Chaucer's work is examined as a whole, the contrasting pattern emerges; a pattern of pure, balanced or even vegetarian ingestion surrounding the spiritually good individuals such as Griselda and the good widow of the Nun's Priest's Tale and the other pattern made by the heavy meat-eaters such as the Summoner's friar and Monk. In particular, the Monk is regarded as a typical "monster of the church" whom John Gower harshly criticized in his works. Monk's specific preference for swan and his appetite in his portrait reveals the physicality of gluttony which is a familiar object of anticlerical ridicule. In his tale, food and drink are continuously mentioned. The stories presented by the Monk are directly or indirectly related to the disastrous sequences of unlawful eating and drinking as revealed in the tales of Count Ugolino and of the Babylonian powerful figures. Without grasping the significatio of his tales, the Monk ultimately tells his own story of fall which may result from the sin of gluttony. Furthermore, while briefly dealing with the Fall of Adam and Eve as a part of his tale, the Monk does not mention their sin at all. As the medieval theologians including St. Gregory had argued, the Monk's intention lies in pointing out that their Fall does not result from pride, but from gluttony.
The Pardoner's Tale involves 'eating images' on multiple levels. It presents imagery of food, drink, and feasting in a carefully structured format. In particular, the connection of unlawful eating and drinking with spiritual death is more visually revealed in his tale. The Pardoner's preaching focuses more closely on the vice of gluttony. Gluttony is the initial sin named, described, and proscribed in his tale, which the rioters in a tavern "eten and drynken over hir myght." His prologue and tale tell gluttony as a 'sin of mouth' results from the immoderate intake of food and drink and it results in the 'sins of mouth," such as licentiousness, swearing, and blaspheming. In spite that the Pardoner tells that his sermon aims at teaching the root of sin is cupiditas, the focus of his tale is consistently put on gluttony and its results. In addition to the sins that result from gluttony, the Pardoner does not miss mentioning the sins of mouth in his tale and prologue. Furthermore, the Pardoner fails to understand that his own sin is not the avarice against which he specifically preaches. Though certainly avarice motives him, more fundamentally he commits sins of the mouth.