Historical Background

The Canterbury Tales were written in 1386 by Geoffrey Chaucer.  In "The General Prologue," Chaucer introduces the Monk as a rebellious person who does what he wants and does not follow the rules of the monastery. However, in the Middle Ages, monks could not behave this way. They had to follow the rules of the monastery which were written by St. Benedict. They took vows as proof that they would follow these rules. In the Middle Ages, monks had to follow rules and be divided.

The rules for the monasteries were written in 520 by St. Benedict.  He was the leader of a monastery and wanted to write a set of rules "that were not so strict that monks would abandon their vocations"(Americana, p. 542). They were simple and allowed monks to exercise their minds and live stress-free lives. The rules said that monks had to pray, perform manual labor, and study. The studying was beneficial to the monks since they were able to become well educated.  The knowledge gained from studying led many monks to write books. As part of their manual labor, they hand copied books because xerox machines were not invented yet.

According to the Encyclopedia Americana, in the Middle Ages, monks in monasteries were divided into choir monks and lay brothers. This was a way of dividing the work because choir monks had to recite the prayer, the Divine Office, which was a requirement in the rules. The lay brothers did the manual labor. Hand copying books probably took a long time and they had a lot of other work to do, like studying and praying.

Monks in the Middle Ages had to follow the rules and be divided. It was advantageous to be a monk because all they did was devote their lives to studying and praying. Since they led stress free lives, they were able to concentrate on their studies. The division of monks into lay brothers and choir monks seemed like an adjustment to the rule because the work was divided whereas before, all the monks had to recite prayers and do manual labor. Although these activities are different from the Monk's activities, everyone did what they loved. The monks followed the rules of the monastery while the Monk rode horses and hunted hares.