Using Literature to Safely Express Your Views.
Although the ability to speak freely against the government or the social hierarchy is something that we take for granted today, many people throughout history have lost their freedom or even their heads for speaking out against the "powers that be." This restrictive environment was successful in keeping many people silent but history is full of creative minds. Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and Sir Thomas More's Utopia provide two very interesting examples of how literature was used as a relatively safe way to criticize the church, the government and society.
In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer attacks certain aspects of the church that he believed had become corrupt. He did not however, attack the church directly. Instead, hypocrisy was to be Chaucer's tool. He created what Wagenknecht refers to as "unworthy ecclesiastics" to represent the abuses he saw in the church (121). Chaucer then painted a word picture of manipulation, vanity, and greed. .
Our first indication of Chaucer's intent comes in the stereotypical features that he attributes to the Pardoner. The description includes "hair as yellow as wax" and "newest fashion" and "a voice as small as a goat" (Chaucer 23). We begin to see someone who is not very manly but is concerned with looks and fine material possessions. Chaucer also describes a pillowcase and pigs bones that the Pardoner passes off as holy relics (Chaucer 24). The practice of selling fake holy relics was very controversial in Chaucer's day. Finally, in his prologue, which Speirs calls "a confession" (108), the Pardoner states:.
I will imitate none of the apostles;.
I will have money, wool, cheese, and wheat,.
Although it were given by the poorest servant boy,.
Or by the poorest widow in a village,.
Even though her children should die of hunger.
Nay, I will drink liquor of the vine.
And have a pretty wench in every town.