/ OCT / NOV
/ DEC / JAN
/ FEB / MARCH
by Nicole Girardin
How do you end the Canterbury Tales? How can you bring
this pilgrimage to a close?
The Manciple’s and Parson’s Tales close
the Canterbury Tales.
The Manciple is a caterer (buys and supplies food) for
the lawyers. He is very good at doing this. In fact, the Manciple
is so good at what he does that he is placed in better standing
that other learned men. This is because he has dealt with high standard
(or high class) men (i.e. rich of the rich lawyers), and can afford
to live well because of their support. The Manciple in spite of
the intelligence and wealth of the lawyers pulls the wool over their
eyes. The Manciple is thus set up as a high class, deceptive thief.
Manciple’s Tale: events leading
up to the tale
We’re in a town 5km away from Canterbury. Suddenly, it appears
as if we’re back in the first fragment of the Canterbury Tales
as the cook (who hadn’t finished his tale) is drunk and back
on the scene. He (the Cook) is called on to tell a tale, so people
try to wake him out of his drunken stupor. The Cook is so drunk
that he’d rather sleep than drink some more. So instead, we
hear from the Manciple (who is presumably well off) who speaks to
the cook. The Manciple starts off formally. He addresses and asks
permission to tell his tale first from the cook, then the host.
However, we soon see that he is getting personal with the cook (i.e.
by the Manciple telling the Cook that he looks pale and that he
has foul breath). These comments show bad taste from the Manciple.
At hearing the Manciple’s words, the Cook grows angry. The
Cook is now angry and drunk. The Cook wants to speak in his own
defence, but falls to the ground, swine drunk, and in an unmovable
heap. The pilgrims, however, are so close to Canterbury that they
collectively work at getting the Cook off of the ground. Meanwhile,
the Host is mad at the Manciple for humiliating the Cook the way
he did. The Host calls for the Manciple to tell his tale, but that
the Manciple has gone too far to do this (Note: remember the competition
that’s been going on from the beginning_ whoever tells the
best tale would be rewarded financially in the end). The Host notes
that since the Manciple has demeaned the Cook, the Cook will get
revenge on the Manciple (and we all know, from the prologue, that
there’s things the Manciple is definitely guilty of_ i.e.
being a thief). The Host thus identifies an endless cycle of competition.
The pairings could turn to repairing and the insults could go on.
The Host wants the competition and the insults to end. But how can
The Manciple claims that he’s not that easy
to go down. The Manciple claims that he was joking. So not only
will the Manciple say that he was kidding when he was insulting
the Cook (which is a round-about way of retracting or apologizing
for his comments), but he then offers the Cook more to drink. The
Cook accepts, and all is forgiven and forgotten. Then the Manciple
gives an apostle to Bacchus (God of Wine). But we don’t want
the Canterbury Tales to end irrationally. Drunkenness + unconsciousness
= not a good way to end the Canterbury Tales. So the Manciple speaks.
Note: language and marriage are to be talked about in the Manciple’s
The tale starts off with a tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Phoebus (associated with the sun and arts_ a high character in the
classical tradition), along with being a high character is good
looking, and possesses a lot of musical instruments that he can
Anaphora (a form of repetition that’s
very notable because it’s a whole clause/phrase that is being
repeated_ i.e. "Now had Phoebus in his house…")
leads the audience to draw a parallel between his wife and the crow.
They have a cage in common (this is a reminder of Boethius: bird
in a cage is a reminder of how nature responds to its natural order
and returns to its normal state). Phoebus takes care of the crow,
and Phoebus teaches the crow how to speak (to tell tales and sing
as well as a nightingale). The wife, however, should not be caged
(its like the Miller’s tale--older husband with young wife.
Also similar to January and May’s tale--he wouldn’t
let her go). You cannot cage a wife because if she is a shrew, she’ll
have her way, and if she’s a good wife, then caging her is
The parallel between the crow and the wife focuses on a sense of
containment that goes against nature.
Theory of language: it’s just
a convention to attach a word to a thing. It doesn’t actually
have any significance.
However, it turns out the Wife is a shrew after all, and she does
have a lover outside of her marriage. The crow sees all, and never
says a word. The crow bides his time and waits for Phoebus to come
back. When Phoebus comes back, the crow sings a song about his wife’s
infidelity. Phoebus questions the song, so the crow bluntly elaborates.
Then suddenly (like the Summoner’s Tale_ sermon on anger),
Phoebus jumps up and shoots his wife, then he breaks his musical
instruments. All he had been famous for is now gone. So Phoebus
speaks to the crow and calls the crow a traitor because Phoebus
never intended on teaching the crow to speak like that. Phoebus
speaks of his wife now as if he believes that she was innocent of
adultery. Phoebus then says that he’s going to kill himself.
He doesn’t do this. Instead, Phoebus curses the crow. The
crow will now be black, will only be able to make a terrible cawing
noise, and all men will curse the crow and he’s sent to the
It’s an encompassing curse of the truth speaker.
Bizarre ending: Perhaps one of the
funniest moments in Chaucer. Cynical story told by a man who’s
cheating rich folks while living off of them. It’s a story
of love, language, marriage and truth_ while my mother told me (you
know its true because your mother told you), not Solomon, because
he is not well learned. The mother, however, is preaching a very
repetitive sermon. She’s hypocritical_ she wants her son to
hold his tongue, but she babbles on (the Manciple may not have read
Soloman, but his mother has).
Don’t be a part of gossip. Blend into the crowd. If you tell
someone a tale, you become their slave. Don’t be the author
of new tidings (similar to the House of Fame).
This is a strange moral/fable to have nearly at the end of the pilgrimage.
Problems/ conclusions to be drawn about the
truth language and the poet:
1) Would the crow want to live in a cage singing well for the prince?
Or cursed black? Eating worms?
2) Could be a comment on the role of lawyers_ truth speaking, manipulating
the truth. Lawyers working on technical formulations of things,
but not necessarily for the sake of the truth.
3) It could be an analogy between tale telling in the story and
tale telling between the pilgrims.
4) Problem of telling people not to tell tales or new tales when
this is all the pilgrims have been doing on the pilgrimage. Its
an underlying irony of the tales_ it undermines the tales.
5) Mother figure telling her son not to talk_ associating her, possibly,
with the Wife of Bath (free spoken, telling people how to function,
overbearing, mouthy woman). You can see this as a division between
the public and the private. Power of woman at home versus the powerlessness
of women in society. The man, by speaking too freely, could damage
his place in society.
6) The mother and son relationship could be considered parallel
to the relationship between the Manciple and Cook _ warning against
free speech retaliation.
It’s one of the longest. He taught the gospel and he consumed
the gospel. This is a very good man who gives a good example through
work. He talks to and respects everyone regardless of their class.
He follows the teachings of Christ and the apostles.
Prologue to Parson’s Tale:
Its late in the afternoon and the Host asks the Parson for a fable
to tie together the tales. However, the Parson won’t tell
a fable_ divine training is faith and not myth. In scripture, fables
are a turn away from divine training. The Parson calls his tale
a little treatise, a little meditation. The host calls for it to
be short, but its not. It’s written in prose.
You could read the Parson’s Tale as an alternative to the
other tales, complete, in and of itself. The Parson picks up themes
from other tales and provides a new perspective. This tale is also
a testament to Chaucer’s old age. Chaucer wrote this close
to when he died. Its truly conclusive.
We’re focusing on marriage, a theme that appears
throughout the tales.
We start with a specific statement (like the Yeoman’s tale)
speaking of the pilgrimage as a road_ not just indicating the presence
of a road, but the direction to the right path. Where the alchemist
didn’t succeed in turning the road to gold, the Parson makes
the road symbolic of the heavenly city of Jerusalem.
The Parson’s Tale is a penitential manual for
ordinary people. The way to the heavenly city is penitence. This
concept is in agreement with the cultural importance of attending
sermons and confessing.
Four theories about how the Parson’s
1) Moral absolutism: absolute moral position that is there in every
tale_ all about caritas refuting cupiditas.
2) Retrospective commentary for a revised reading: so you can go
back and see things differently after gaining the Parson’s
3) The last contribution_ just another tale.
4) It’s a pious and conventional gesture to an ending, not
sincere in any way. Chaucer is just doing the correct thing (since
the voice is so different from all the other tales).
Professor Sutherland supports the concept that the
Parson’s Tale does act as retrospective commentary. Yet, the
tales are entertainment. The tales are profound and work on us because
the voices are valid and different, yet the tales work together
to form a larger effect.
The three-part structure matches the three-part structure
In this tale, the metaphysics of sin (sin = absence of good) act
as a derangement of divine order. The structure, order, and coherence
in the tale appear to invoke the order and appearance of divine
reality. If everything is working well, its natural law and things
should and will continue as such. Sin disrupts this natural law.
This tale is not dramatic (we see this in the depiction
of the 7 deadly sins). This is a very conservative work. The story
of Adam and Eve is retold. Adam’s sin is considered worse
than Eve’s sin because it was reason that led to the sin of
the flesh. For Eve, her sin was only of the flesh. Man is the head
(rationale/sense) of a woman, and the woman must submit to him.
If a woman were to marry more than once, a woman would have more
than one head (think of the Wife of Bath in relation to this).
We end with the last lines of pilgrimage_ through
penitence will result the endless bliss of heaven. The body that
was frail is now healthy and strong (opposite to Phoebus in Manciple’s
tale who started strong and then ended weak after the murder).
The way there is hard and the result is heaven.
We almost end here. There’s an opposition between
the host (literalist who likes fables) and the Parson (symbolist
who uses words and structure to provide divine cosmic order, and
who likes doctrine). The Host begins the tale and Parson ends the
tale. Chaucer ends the Canterbury Tales.
It’s seen, sometimes, as a retraction: All that is written
is for our doctrine. That is my intent and my intent is good. His
conclusion is like penitential writing. Chaucer asks for grace to
relieve guilt. It’s last words and he is on the verge of death,
yet a lot of medieval writers make these kinds of retractions.