The Canterbury Tales The Monk's Tale Analysis
All of the Monk’s stories have two things in common: they are stories of people of high degree falling into misery or death, and they are all stories with which the Monk’s audience would have been familiar. The Monk is also notable for giving perhaps the first definition of “tragedy” in English literature. However, the Monk’s definition of tragedy is not the classical one, but the Boethian one: tragedy is a reminder that nothing lasts forever and that Fortune is fickle. One day you’re on top; the next, you’re dead (or worse).
It is interesting to compare the jokes the Host makes at the Monk’s behalf in the Prologue with the theme of the Monk’s stories. The jokes are all based on the idea that the Monk, being young and healthy, would be good at “breeding,” or having children (although, being a Monk, he was not supposed to have either a wife or children). Birth is, of course, the opposite of death, which presents an ever-darkening common theme in the Monk’s stories.