The Canterbury Tales Project (see also Geoffrey Chaucer)

Back to the Prioress/The Monk/The Friar

165: A monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie,
166: An outridere, that lovede venerie,
167: A manly man, to been an abbot able.
168: Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable,
169: And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere
170: Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere
171: And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle.
172: Ther as this lord was kepere of the celle,
173: The reule of seint maure or of seint beneit,
174: By cause that it was old and somdel streit
175: This ilke monk leet olde thynges pace,
176: And heeld after the newe world the space.
177: He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
178: That seith that hunters ben nat hooly men,
179: Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees,
180: Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees, --
181: This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre.
182: But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre;
183: And I seyde his opinion was good.
184: What sholde he studie and make hymselven wood,
185: Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure,
186: Or swynken with his handes, and laboure,
187: As austyn bit? how shal the world be served?
188: Lat austyn have his swynk to hym reserved!
189: Therfore he was a prikasour aright:
190: Grehoundes he hadde as swift as fowel in flight;
191: Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
192: Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
193: I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond
194: With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
195: And, for to festne his hood under his chyn,
196: He hadde of gold ywroght a ful curious pyn;
197: A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
198: His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
199: And eek his face, as he hadde been enoynt.
200: He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt;
201: His eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,
202: That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
203: His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
204: Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat;
205: He was nat pale as a forpyned goost.
206: A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
207: His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.

The monk, coming as he does after the prioress, is nonetheless at first a rather likeable character. Although he too has lapsed from the true path of the monk to enjoy a life of luxury, hunting and eating well, he is sufficiently affable and charismatic to not be as repulsive as the other churchmen who have fallen into depravity.

In but one detail does he conform to his vows as a monk: he is chaste and has no dealings with women. It is in fact possible that he rashly sought out the cloister to escape from a woman. OTOH, he is lustful, as evinced by the host's words much later "If you had the freedom, as you have the power, to copulate as much as you desire, a fellow like you would have fathered dozens!"

The Monk is not avaricious, but is guilty of many of the other deadly sins: he is lustful, as mentioned previously, moreover he is a glutton, loving above all else roast swan, a dish usually reserved for royalty. Finally, he is guilty of sloth. Chaucer says of him ironically 'what good will it do the world for him to study or work with his hands?'

Yet for all his sin, the monk is rather a likeable character. Although compared to the parson or even the prioress he is a sinner, he is still a sympathetic character due to his enjoyment of all the same luxuries we love. He wears comfortable clothes, enjoys leisure, and loves to eat well. Although this makes him a hypocrite, it does not make him despicable.

English translation from

A monk there was, one made for mastery,
An outrider, who loved his venery;
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a blooded horse had he in stable:
And when he rode men might his bridle hear
A-jingling in the whistling wind as clear,
Aye, and as loud as does the chapel bell
Where this brave monk was of the cell.
The rule of Maurus or Saint Benedict,
By reason it was old and somewhat strict,
This said monk let such old things slowly pace
And followed new-world manners in their place.
He cared not for that text a clean-plucked hen
Which holds that hunters are not holy men;
Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless,
Is like unto a fish that's waterless;
That is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
But this same text he held not worth an oyster;
And I said his opinion was right good.
What? Should he study as a madman would
Upon a book in cloister cell? Or yet
Go labour with his hands and swink and sweat,
As Austin bids? How shall the world be served?
Let Austin have his toil to him reserved.
Therefore he was a rider day and night;
Greyhounds he had, as swift as bird in flight.
Since riding and the hunting of the hare
Were all his love, for no cost would he spare.
I saw his sleeves were purfled at the hand
With fur of grey, the finest in the land;
Also, to fasten hood beneath his chin,
He had of good wrought gold a curious pin:
A love-knot in the larger end there was.
His head was bald and shone like any glass,
And smooth as one anointed was his face.
Fat was this lord, he stood in goodly case.
His bulging eyes he rolled about, and hot
They gleamed and red, like fire beneath a pot;
His boots were soft; his horse of great estate.
Now certainly he was a fine prelate:
He was not pale as some poor wasted ghost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.