When Destiny Has the Last Word: Fortune in the Monk’s Tale by Chaucer Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jul 31st, 2019

People are never prone to fatalism; even those who believe that their fate lies only in their hands, would lay the blame on their poor luck once in a while, just to keep their self-esteem up the notch. Enhanced by religion and numerous prejudice and superstitions, fatalism played an even greater role in the lives of people of the Medieval Age, and Chaucer’s Monk’s tale is a graphic example of that.

Being convinced by a chain of coincidences that Fortune guides people’s lives and predetermines every single event in people’s lives, the Monk sates explicitly that the Fortune is the force that can thrown one off the top of the world into a pit of despair.

Apart from the Monk, who incorporates the features of a typical fatalist, which have been blown to cosmic proportions, the Knight plays the role of a person who uses common sense to analyze the role of fate in his life, instead of following the concept of fatalism blindly.

Although the knight is, in fact, interested in fortune and believes that luck is an attribute of a wanderer and an adventurer, he still does not seem to agree with the Monk’s claim of Fortune being unfair: “For, certain, when that Fortune list to flee, / There may no man the course of her wheel hold” (Chaucer, n. d.).

Unlike the Monk, who sees Fortune as a series of blows, which finally strike one down and lead to one’s misery, the knight represents a more optimistic point of view. Even though the Knight’s viewpoint has not been stated clearly in the poem, it is implied that he seeks fame and hopes that he will succeed at his quest. By interrupting the Monk, the Knight shows that he is going to blaze his own trail.

Another tale by Chaucer, The nun’s priest’s tale introduces the concept of allegory to the reader, with a fox in the tale clearly bearing human qualities and representing a person. The use of beasts as the symbols of particular qualities or the means to portray certain people, which Chaucer resorts to in his poem, is, in fact, not new.

There are a number of other fables, some of them dating back to the ancient times, with beasts, foxes in particular, as lead characters in them. One of the most famous examples of a fox as a focus of the fable, Aesop’s The fox and the grapes might seem far too on the nose to some readers. However, it still teachers a valuable lesson and contains an interesting observation.

Claiming that some people try to underrate the qualities of the unattainable, the tale makes a clever use of stereotypes, portraying a fox as a cunning and arrogant creature: “I am sure that they are sour” (Aesop, n. d.). The fox in the given fable, however, represents different qualities than the one in Chaucer’s tale, in which a fox is a symbol of deceit, as “A brant-fox, full of sly iniquity” (Chaucer, n. d.).

While Chaucer’s fable is actually a cautionary tale of fatalism going too far and exposing a man’s life to a permanent peril due to the man’s faith in Fortune, the Monk represents an almost caricature image of a fatalist, who puts his entire faith in the power of fate. It is remarkable that the tale allows the reader to evaluate the concept of fatalism critically; Chaucer gives the reader a chance to make his or her own decision regarding the role of Fortune in his or her life, therefore, leaving the reader a freedom of choice.

Reference List

Aesop (n. d.) The fox and the grapes. Web.

Chaucer, G. (n. d.). The monk’s tale. Web.

Chaucer, G. (n. d.). The nun’s priest’s tale. Web.

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