Tag Archives: Chaucer

Chaucer, CT, Tales of the Nun’s Priest and the Nun

Index to this series

Here is a table of contents for this final reading of our group:

THE PROLOGUE OF THE NONNE PRESTES TALE.

THE NONNE PREESTES TALE.

EPILOGUE TO THE NONNE PREESTES TALE.

THE SECONDE NONNES TALE.

The angel seyde, ‘god lyketh thy requeste,
And bothe, with the palm of martirdom,
Ye shullen come unto his blisful feste.’

The palm of martirdom for to receyve,
Seinte Cecile, fulfild of goddes yifte,
The world and eek hir chambre gan she weyve.

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Chaucer, CT, Tales of the Prioress and the Monk

Index to this series

In the selection from the Canterbury Tales taken up here,

  • the Prioress tells an unchristian tale of piety;
  • the Host wishes Rome would not put monks under a vow of celibacy;
  • the Monk tells a miniature Canterbury Tales; all of his tales are tragedies, but with various sources, Hebraic, classical, and contemporary.

Andrea Mantegna, Judith with the Head of Holofernes
Andrea Mantegna or Follower (Possibly Giulio Campagnola)
Judith with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1495/1500
Widener Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington

In some nominal sense at least, the tales of the Prioress and the Monk have a common theme, Judaism; they also have a common character, Satan.

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Chaucer, CT, Franklin’s Tale

Index to this series

Remarkable teachings from the Franklin, who says he never learned rhetoric, nor read Cicero:

Pacience is an heigh vertu certeyn;
For it venquisseth, as thise clerkes seyn,
Thinges that rigour sholde never atteyne.

Patience is a high virtue certain;
For it vanquisheth, as these clerks say,
Things that rigor should never attain.

There are things that you cannot win by force. Love is one, and that is the Franklin’s theme.

You can’t hurry love
No you just have to wait

Respect is another thing that you cannot win by force. I took up that theme in considering Collingwood on “Civilization as Education” (September, 2018). Confusion here may explain the problem of bad leadership that Socrates takes up in the Republic – which I have now taken up in a new series.


Rembrandt van Rijn
Lucretia, 1664
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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Chaucer, CT, Tales of the Friar and the Clerk

Index to this series

In this reading:

  • The Friar tells a tale about a summoner, who becomes sworn brother to another man. The man turns out to be a devil, but it hardly matters to the summoner, he being more lawless than the devil, who himself takes only what is rightfully his, including the summoner.

  • We are skipping the Summoner’s own tale.

  • The Clerk tells a tale of a common woman with a preternatural patience for the abuse of her noble husband, who (she thinks) has her children put to death and will take another wife. Chaucer makes disclaimers, both as the Clerk and as himself. The Clerk refers explicitly to the Epistle of James, who writes in Chapter 1,

    2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
    3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
    4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

    Griselda follows, as it were, the teachings of Epictetus, here in Chapter XI of the Encheiridion (translation of George Long):

    Never say about any thing, I have lost it, but say I have restored it. Is your child dead ? It has been restored. Is your wife dead ? She has been restored. Has your estate been taken from you ? Has not then this also been restored? But he who has taken it from me is a bad man. But what is it to you, by whose hands the giver demanded it back ? So long as he may allow you, take care of it as a thing which belongs to another, as travellers do with their inn.

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Chaucer, CT, Wife of Bath’s Tale

Index to this series

The Wife of Bath: the type of the difficult woman? She is the opposite or complement of Constance in the Man of Law’s Tale. About to be sent to a barbarous country to wed a man she has never met, Constance laments,

Women are born to thraldom and penance,
And to be under man’s governance.

In her Prologue (which is longer than her Tale), the Wife says of her first three husbands, who were “gode, and riche, and olde” (line 197),

I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,
That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
To bringe me gaye thinges fro the fayre. (lines 219–21)

After the fight with her fifth husband in which he deafened her ear,

He yaf me al the brydel in myn hond
To han the governance of hous and lond,
And of his tonge and of his hond also,
And made him brenne his book anon right tho. (line 813–6)

The book was all about “wikked wyves.”

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Chaucer, CT, Man of Law’s Tale

Index to this series

The tale of Chaucer’s Man of Law is a strange fantasy, taking place in the Mediterranean and England, at a time when there are

  • a Muslim sultan in Syria,
  • pagan rulers in England,
  • both an emperor and a pope in Rome.

There does not seem to have been such a time historically. The pope crowned emperors such as Charlemagne, but they didn’t sit in Rome.

The Man of Law names only one male historical figure, who is King Ælla of Northumbria, who died in 867. Several women are named, particularly Constance, who is apparently to be taken as the type of a virtuous Christian woman.

While telling his tale, the Serjeant asserts that our fates are written in the stars, if only we could read them. He also says he learned his tale from a merchant, years ago, and Chaucer will have to versify it. But then Chaucer the poet is having his character called the Serjeant or Man of Law say this in the first place.

The reading has three parts.

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Chaucer, CT, Miller’s and Reeve’s Tales

Index to this series

When I read the Miller’s Tale for high school, I thought it was supposed to show how titillation was possible through learning (in this case, learning Middle English). We didn’t read the Reeve’s ensuing tale (it was not in the selection that we had).

The two tales are comedies. Chaucer bases them on existing plots, as far as I know, but tries to make them fit his pilgrims. Though the Reeve may derive the lesson, “A gylour shal him-self bigyled be” (line 4321), I see no reason to think Chaucer is trying to teach this or any other lesson. He portrays corruption in the Church, but does not seem to be a Luther in the making.

There are many more tales to come. Meanwhile, I wonder how Chaucer came to describe the mote and beam of Matthew 7:3 as a stalk and a balk; see lines 3919–20.

Before passing to the text itself, I try to summarize, highlighting the comedy.

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Chaucer, CT, Knight’s Tale

Index to this series

I had read the Knight’s Tale in college and written an essay about it, but I could remember little of the Tale itself or the essay.

After obtaining and annotating the text of the Tale as below, I went back to reread my old essay after thirty-six years. It’s better than I feared, and it drew my attention to points that I had missed in the latest reading of the Knight’s Tale itself. But my concerns are somehow different now.

This is what I say now about the Knight’s Tale. It is about the resolution of a love triangle. Palamon and Arcite both love Emily. Arcite wins her, but Palamon ends up with her.

By the anachronistic conceit of the teller of the tale (be he Chaucer or Chaucer’s Knight), Palamon and Arcite are knights in ancient Greece. Theseus arranges for them to fight one another for the hand of Emily. Palamon prays Venus to win Emily or die. Arcite prays Mars to give him victory. Emily prays Diana to leave her single, if possible.

Maidenhead is not allowed. However, Arcite will go to the man who loves her most. Victory is Arcite’s, but then accident takes his life, and Theseus gives Emily to Palamon.

I could keep adding details until I had repeated the whole story told in Chaucer’s verses; but I am not going to do that.

A question raised in our seminar is, What does it mean that Chaucer has a Christian knight tell a story about knights who worship pagan gods?

Palamon and Arcite get what they say they want, literally. Oracles work that way:

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Chaucer, CT, Prologue

Below is a text (in black) of the Prologue of the Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, with

  • my comments in blue (as now),
  • my highlighting in yellow.

The Prologue tells the frame story of a pilgrimage from London to the shrine of the “holy blissful martyr” at Canterbury; along the way, the pilgrims will tell the tales that make up the rest of the collection.

Chaucer was born around 1340; the dramatic date of his Prologue may be 1387. The martyr in Canterbury is Thomas Becket, assassinated in the cathedral there in 1170 by agents of King Henry II of England.

The Black Death was 1346–53.

Reasons to read Chaucer include testing Collingwood’s assertion in the Prologue of Speculum Mentis (1924),

Chaucer and Dante are no shallow optimists, but their tragedies are discords perpetually resolved in the harmony of a celestial music. The fundamental thing in Chaucer is the ‘mery tale’ of human life as a heartening and lovely pageant … The medieval mind feels itself surrounded, beyond the sphere of trial and danger, by a great peace, an infinite happiness.

Those clauses are from this paragraph, elaborating on medieval happiness:

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Mood

Executive summary. The English grammatical moods—indicative, imperative, subjunctive—were not understood till the nineteenth century, according to an 1882 doctoral dissertation, On the Use of the Subjunctive Mood in Anglo-Saxon. Considering illustrative passages that happen to be from Plato, Alfred Douglas, Evelyn Waugh, and especially John Donne; looking ultimately at John McWhorter’s 2015 essay, “English is not normal”; I review the subjunctive mood, grammar in general, and my own lack of understanding till I was in college.

Copyright page and table of contents, side by side, of Concise Oxford Dictionary Continue reading