Life In the Medieval Period
Ever since ancient times the Jewish religion has existed. By 1000 B.C.E. the Jews founded a national state, Israel. Because of the religious differences of the Roman Empire and the Jews, Israel was conquered and eventually absorbed by the empire. Christianity and Judaism began as sects but their beliefs caused their paths to diverge very quickly. Jews rejected the fundamental basis of beliefs in Christianity.
Because the Jews differed from the Christian “norms”, Christians isolated and viewed the Jews with much disgrace and hatred. Citizens practicing the Jewish religion were organized in social “ghettos” and that is where they would live. Jews were also told wear specific clothing such as hats.
Although Jews had limited freedom, they did however thrive in the trading industry and often became very wealthy. Some businesses founded by the Jews are still running today. People who practiced Judaism were good with money and managing their profits and spending. Because of this, the towns believed that the Jews were a valuable asset to the towns and villages. In fear of these businesses being closed down, Jews were never prosecuted.
Chaucer uses the Prioress’s Tale to reflect what life was like during that time period. However, there are some differences that could tie to her views on Judaism during this period in time. The Prioress's tale talks much about religion, especially Judaism. The tale is about a boy who gets murdered by Jews in a ghetto. In Medieval society, the Jews lived in social "ghettos", as did the Jews in the Prioress's tale. Even though Jews were isolated into these ghettos, they still thrived in business, as the tale reflects. ”Where there were Jews, supported by the crown, for their foul lucre of their usury,” (Chaucer 170). The story also talks about how the serpent Satan manipulates them into feeling this way about the boy. “First of our foes, the Serpent Satan shook, those Jewish hearts that are his waspish nest. Swelled up and said ‘O Hebrew people look! Is this not something that should be redressed? Is such a boy to roam as he thinks best singing to spite you,” (Chaucer 173). Chaucer could possibly be using satirical humor by taking the subject of Christian views on Judaism, and mocking the weaknesses of society. He mocks them by showing how wrong it was for Christians to judge Judaism and makes it comical.
One thing that one would find about the tale is that they tried the Jews by jury and hung them. “On all those guilty Jews; he did not swerve. ‘Evils shall meet the evils they deserve.’ And he condemned them to be drawn apart by horses. Then he hanged them from a cart,” (Chaucer 175). In medieval culture, Jews were not prosecuted because people found them to be a valuable asset to society for their knowledge of finance and industry. This could also be a form of satirical humor. He is proving that it is fallacious for us to treat the Jews any differently than the citizens of said village or town.
Beneath the subliminal propaganda Chaucer addresses, the story of this young boy is a lesson that proved that medieval society was not the best way of life for humans of any religion, social class, or anything else for that matter. The middle ages are the true form of judging a book by its cover. One should be glad to live in a time like today, where it is free to practice any sort of religion without ridicule. The prioress’s tale shows what a difference today is from the Middle Ages. How lucky one is to live in this day and age, and all people should cherish the life we have now, for the human race could be much worse off.
Mary Kate Miller