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The Pardoner’s Introduction, Prologue, and Tale:
by Scott Tavener
In the beginning: people handed essays in, and looked tired but
smoking-a-cigarette-satisfied. Here is what followed:
Sources for the Pardoner
The character of the Pardoner comes from two sources:
(1) A character named Faux Samblant in The Romance of the
(2) The Real life Pardoners of the day
In The Romance of the Rose, the character known as Faux Samblant
(or, "false seeming"), says one thing yet means another.
He speaks allegorically.
[A note on allegory: allegory comes from Greek, and literally means
"other speak". During public speeches, quite common in
ancient Greece, politicians would say one thing, yet mean another.
They would speak ALLEGORICALLY].
Faux’s name identifies his character. Basically, he does not
tell the truth. Though the nature of the Pardoner’s character
is not revealed in such an overt and obvious manner he, like Faux
Samblant, often says that which he does not mean.
Also, like the Pardoner, Faux Samblant does not belong specifically
to either sex. He "wear[s] the robes of priest, king, nun,
The pardoners of Chaucer’s time also provided inspiration
for the Pardoner. Pardoners were minor church officials, very often
clerics, who belonged to various orders. They would go through ecclesiastical
training and usually, though not always, take a vow of celibacy.
Religion of the day was a business and therefore, had to do largely
with economic pursuit. Parishioners would pay the church 1/10 of
their income (i.e. tives). Furthermore, friars had what was called
a building fund. Questors and pardoners would pay the church in
order to rent an area of it. To cover this cost, pardoners had to
sell things. In effect, they became salesmen. Their goods came in
the form of indulgences and relics. Pardoners bought indulgences
(official documents that guaranteed absolution) from Rome, and sold
Also, they would sell relics, which were physical remainders from
saints. These came in the form of blessed objects, or they could
actually be pieces of the saint himself (i.e. St. Aquinas carried
with him the thumb of St. Agnes). Relics took on great importance,
because people believed that they could provide protection.
In the centuries prior to Chaucer’s time, objects became increasingly
significant. During his reign, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne (771-814
A.D.) began using objects, rather than legal documentation, to swear
oaths. Also, reliquaries, museums containing numerous holy relics,
began appearing. Relics became great tourist / pilgrimage locations.
So, relics had a direct relationship with money ($$$). The selling
of relics and indulgences, even in Chaucer’s time, was a topic
of much moral scrutiny and debate. Therefore, Chaucer’s readers
would have had apprehensions about the Pardoner immediately.
Chaucer and the Unreliable Teller
Chaucer introduces the Pardoner last in "The General Prologue",
and then proceeds to describe his own method of story-telling. He
claims that he remains absolutely faithful to the words of the pilgrims.
He reports them verbatim, yet this does not mean that the tellers
tell the truth (see lines 724-45 of "The General Prologue").
Since this information directly follows the introduction of the
Pardoner, the reader must use extra caution when listening to his
tale. The honesty, or lack thereof, of all tellers must be considered
when evaluating the tales.
[An interesting fact about truth in literature: In Victorian novels,
language was thought to represent the truth, the way things were.
In the Middle Ages however, they were not so naïve]
The 4th Lateran Council, in 1215, made annual confession mandatory.
This entailed three things:
(2) Confession (to one’s parish priest)
(3) Satisfaction (i.e. pilgrimage, prayer, give money to the church,
The Pardoner had to do with the third condition. Eager for absolution,
people would buy indulgences from the Pardoner. Being as those in
Chaucer’s Tales are PILGRIMS, it stands to reason that they
are largely concerned with absolution. As a savvy, and somewhat
of an opportunist, the Pardoner knows that his traveling companions
make for willing indulgence customers.
The Pardoner’s Androgyny
Like Faux Samblant, the Pardoner’s sex cannot be absolutely
pinpointed. What with his falsetto voice, lack of a beard, and the
implication that he may have been castrated, the Pardoner takes
on an androgynous nature. Furthermore, his relics are fetish relics
and, as such, stand as compensation for his lack of sexuality. This
is further complicated by references to sexual innuendos concerning
"wenches". Thus, the traits of the Pardoner (i.e. avarice,
hypocrisy), can belong to anyone, man or woman.
The Dichotomous Character of the Pardoner
The Pardoner is a fraud. His so-called relics, he readily admits,
are not saint’s bones, but rather pig’s bones. However,
through his admittance of being a liar he, ironically, acts honestly.
Furthermore, in The Pardoner’s Prologue he tells his audience
that he preaches, not to teach, but to acquire wealth. He explains
how he tricks people into buying his wares (telling them that these
objects will do nothing if a sinner tries to use them, so everyone
has to buy them to exonerate themselves). Telling the pilgrims all
this to gain credibility, he later tries to sell his bogus goods
to them. How funny is that? SO funny. Furthermore, like a preacher,
the Pardoner frequently resorts to the use of rhetoric. This should
cause the hearer to beware, for language is always a dangerous and
tricky thing. Especially the use of "high speech", or
Radix malorum est caniditas, should be approached with caution.
This goes for Chaucer as well, do not let him trick you with that
high-style of language!
[A note on rhetoric: Along with grammar and logic, rhetoric (the
art of persuasion) belongs to the trivium of learning. There is
also a quadrivium, which includes astronomy, geometry, arithmetic,
and music (yes, music, because music has to do largely with mathematics.
These classes come from ancient Greece]
Ironically, the Pardoner’s sermons discuss gluttony, drinking,
gambling and swearing, yet he himself hypocritically takes part
in all these vices. He lies, but he admits he is lying. He is honest
about falsehood. Therefore, this calls into question the idea of
truth. With dishonesty a recurring and overt theme, both the pilgrims
and the reader cannot easily accept the words of the story tellers.
Through the Pardoner’s obvious lies, the reader must realize
that, though Chaucer may remain a reliable reporter, the truth value
of the tales varies.
The Tale Itself
The tale takes place in Flanders (France), since it is best to situate
all stories of immorality away from the homeland. Coming from the
Pardoner, the tale takes on a sermon-like style. He prefaces it
with a repeated biblical allusion (i.e. references to Sampson).
Also, he says that he shall castigate vice, in the form of drunkenness,
gambling, and swearing (ironically, the Pardoner is guilty of all
of these). The story also reminds one of the biblical story of Lot
(drunkenness = bad). The tale draws on, among others, a Buddhist
story from the 3rd century B.C. in which there are three dead and
three living. The latter are the witnesses (in this story, the boy,
the Taverner, and the old man). The contrast between the living
and the dead is a momento mori or reminder of death. This serves
the Pardoner in that it keeps the audience cognizant of the fact
that they will die and, in turn, need absolution (they should buy
Motherhood is a common theme of the story. All three witnesses discuss
mothers (whether it be a literal, earthly, or religious maternal
entity), thus strengthening the emphasis put on a birth-death relationship.
In turn, the pilgrim hearing the story must remember his or her
need for absolution. Even the Pardoner’s tale is a sales pitch.
Toward the end of his tale, the Pardoner goes off on a rant, sermon
like, about luxury (i.e. lechery) and gluttony. He then goes from
this vilification of sin to an apostrophe on mankind. Following
this tirade, and with his audience in a state of excitement, he
makes his sales pitch. The entire tale (nee sermon) has culminated
in an attempt to sell his goods. Here, for the first time, the host
steps in and silences the pardoner. The order of the pilgrimage
is falling apart, but the knight brings it back together (he is
a natural choice to do this, for he symbolizes order).
The Pardoner is the first character that exists outside the fellowship
of the pilgrims in that he does not go on the journey to obtain
absolution, but instead for financial gain (although, the Host is
also along for fiscal reward). This calls into question the validity
of the pilgrimage. Also, by creating an argument with Harry Bailey
(the host), he damages the tranquility of the voyage, and nearly
by Liz Balogh
Professor Sutherland began the class by providing an exam outline.
She will email the details to us soon.
From there, we discussed Chaucer’s role within The Canterbury
Tales by looking at instances where attention is drawn to Chaucer’s
presence. His first appearance is in the General Prologue. How is
Chaucer set up as a participant within the pilgrimage group? What
is his function? Students listed various possibilities: he is a
poet (however in the Middle Ages, there were not full-time writers);
he is a civil servant; he is a scribe/editor. Chaucer, however,
does not enter the group with a journalistic intention: "Redy
to wenden on my pilgymage/ To Caunterbury with ful devout corage"(Gen
Prol. 21-2). He is just as much a pilgrim as any of the characters.
He is a participant within the story-telling structure; however,
he also bears the additional role of an observer. Insofar as he
is a witness and transcriber of the events of the journey, he is
aligned with the Host who ultimately structures the nature of the
We next see Chaucer in the Miller’s Prologue (lines 3167-86)
where Chaucer gives a disclaimer regarding the truth value of the
various tales. He distances himself from the genre, idiom, and the
language itself by claiming that these elements are not within his
power "for [he] moot reherce/ Hir tales alle, be they better
or werse"(Miller’s Prol. 3173-4). Our next encounter
with Chaucer is in the Reeve’s Prologue. The Prologues, as
we have seen, have been moments where the characters respond to
the tales – dramatic interludes. Here, Chaucer becomes a dramaturge.
He sets up the characters to provoke them to interact. Thus far,
Chaucer can be viewed as: 1) Participant/Pilgrim 2) Reporter 3)
Dramatist. His fourth main role comes in the Introduction to the
Man of Law’s Tale. This Introduction returns our attention
to the concrete details of the pilgrimage and, in particular, the
sense of urgency of the Host. Here, like the Host, Chaucer’s
role is to keep the narrative on schedule and make it interesting
to the reader.
Two of today’s texts, Sir Thopas and The Tale of Melibee,
are told explicitly by Chaucer. Sir Thopas follows The Prioress’
Tale. As Professor Sutherland previously mentioned, a central theme
in The Prioress’ Tale is inexpressibility: the limits of language
as human language meets the divine. Latin, in the Middle Ages, was
considered a boundary language because of its privileged status
within the Roman Catholic Church. As such, it was seen as closer
to God than the vernacular language. This context is important to
understanding Chaucer’s two tales. Professor Sutherland then
outlined the concept of "univocity" wherein one word denotes
one meaning. She suggested that univocity depends on a community
of people who define and limit their terms very specifically.
In the Prologue to Sir Thopas, we see the Host once again setting
the storytelling back on track. The pilgrims are silenced by the
holiness of the Prioress’ story. In order to break this spell,
the Host draws attention to Chaucer, who of all the pilgrims seems
to be the least sociable. As Chaucer is not given a portrait within
the General Prologue, we looked closely at the details of his appearance
and the nature of his character in this passage. Professor Sutherland
pointed out that none of the other male characters are described
as "a popet", or "elvyssh". In this way, Chaucer
is set apart as one who is not quite human. The class then broke
off into groups to discuss the peculiar elements of this tale, particularly
in terms of the romance genre. Professor Sutherland read examples
of openings from popular romances of this time. These romances generally
implement tail rhyme. Tail rhyme consists of 12 lines where lines
3, 6, 9 and 12 share the same rhyme. Sometimes an extra phrase is
inserted which is referred to as a bob. Chaucer, in contrast, uses
rhyming couplets with a dominant metre of iambic pentameter. Some
of the problems our classmates suggested were as follows: the attention
drawn to the monetary value of the knight’s clothing; the
banality of his Flanders origin; the scene where the horse is tormented
because of Sir Thopas’ frustrated desire; the initial line
of the 3rd Fit, "Now holde youre mouth," and its inappropriateness
as an address to a noble audience; the ending of the 2nd Fit; Chaucer’s
uncommon use of conventional diction; and the tale’s overall
lack of focus. Professor Sutherland suggested that the tale represents
the opposite end of inexpressibility. Here, there is nothing to
express, and yet language continues on.
Before Chaucer can finish his "rym," the Host interrupts
him. Chaucer, then, makes another disclaimer drawing on Biblical
precedent. He states that while there are discrepancies between
the different gospels, "hir sentence is al sooth"(Sir
Thopas 946). In contrast to his earlier position regarding the importance
of using the exact words of the pilgrim narrators, Chaucer here
suggests that univocity in meaning is possible using paraphrase.
Why, then, does he change his stance regarding The Tale of Melibee?
One student suggested that as a tale of virtue it is linked to divine
texts. Chaucer can then be seen as making a claim for vernacular
language and its ability to convey moral and religious truths. The
Tale of Melibee is a Christian allegory. Melibee and his wife, Prudence,
debate over vengeance and what should be done after their daughter
Sophie (Greek for Wisdom) has been wounded. Melibee draws together
a group of counselors who advise that he should go to war. Prudence
counters this position. She discusses the many different causes
behind this act of violence, including God, and how in his response,
Melibee must respond to each cause. In a Boethian shift, Melibee
sees the way that his daughter’s wounds are connected to his
own sins. He realizes that his reputation is at stake with this
decision. He needs to work with the community in order for it to
understand that the action he takes is based on good intent. Together
with his counselors, the three enemies, Melibee and Prudence meet
at Court. When the parties are brought together, Prudence and Melibee
recognize that the enemies are contrite. The tale ends with an acknowledgment
of God’s power. A classmate suggested that this tale acts
as a parallel to Boethius’ Consolation. In both tales, the
central characters are called on to transcend the realm of the flesh
and earthly fortune and turn their minds and souls towards higher
After the break, Marianne did a seminar on Friars in the Middle
Ages (see below). We then looked at The Friar’s Tale. The
Prologue begins with an exchange between the Friar and the Summoner
who are in conflict with one another in their goal of monetary gain.
The Friar’s story paints a black picture of this Summoner.
In the tale, the Summoner meets a man who reveals that he is the
devil after they have sworn brotherhood. The devil, like the Summoner,
collects goods from people, but only what he is allowed to collect.
At line 1535, they encounter a man with a horse and cart who in
anger calls on the devil to take his horse. While the Summoner interprets
the man’s words literally, the devil states that there is
a disjuncture between the words and the man’s intention. Attention
is again draw to the way language works in the final scene. When
the Summoner arrives at his destination, the house of an old widow,
he attempts to swindle her out of money. She, in turn, calls on
the devil to fetch the Summoner. When the devil asks if this is
her true intent, she agrees and the devil collects what is his due,
the Summoner’s body. The Pilgrimage Summoner is infuriated
by this tale and offers a prequel to his own tale outlining the
lowly position of friars in hell.
The Summoner counters this tale with a depiction of a corrupt friar
who predominantly preaches about trentals, expensive services offered
as penance for souls in Purgatory. This Friar arrives at the house
of a sick man named Thomas. Here, the Friar reveals his hypocrisy
to the reader. He moralizes regarding the evils of gluttony after
putting in a dinner order to Thomas’ wife. When Thomas’s
wife complains to the Friar about her husband’s anger, the
Friar preaches that "Ire is a synne, oon of the grete of sevene,/
Abhomynable unto the God of hevene"(Sum. Tale 2004-5). (This
is ironic given that the Summoner and the Friar in the Prologue
have just made open displays of anger.) The Friar, as always seeking
a donation, offers to serve as confessor to Thomas. Thomas suggests
a compromise. He has an offering, but will only give it if it is
divided between the "covent"(a group of 12 friars and
one leader). The Friar agrees. Upon Thomas’ request, he reaches
down beneath Thomas’ buttocks and Thomas farts. The Friar
departs in anger and goes to a local worthy man’s house. This
man is intrigued by the problem of how to break a fart into equal
parts smell and sound. Professor Sutherland reminded us of the scholastics’
love of splitting hairs, i.e. making distinctions. The man’s
squire suggests a resolution to this question: when the air is still,
they should place a 12-spoked cartwheel behind Thomas’ rear
end. Each of the 12 friars will be placed at the end of a spoke
with the Friar taking a special position directly in front of the
cartwheel in order to receive "the firste fruyt" (Sum
Tale 2277). The squire’s suggested setup is a parody of an
illustration often found in manuscripts representing the disciples
at Pentecost, when God sent the Holy Spirit to comfort the apostles.
Class Minutes for The Monk’s Tale and the Nun’s Priest
We first began class with the Monk’s tale (one of Professor
Sutherland’s favorite tales) and then we proceeded with the
quiz. After the quiz Professor Sutherland began to lecture about
the Nun’s Priest tale.
Professor Sutherland begins to read the opening lines of the Prologue
of the Monk’s tale. Already what do we know about this monk?
He likes to hunt. The Monk’s horse is one of the best horses
described in the Canterbury Tales. The Monk is from the rule of
St.Benedict. Professor Sutherland continues to read on. The Monk
did things in the modern way not in the customary fashion. The Monk
states, "when you are a monk you only pray". The higher
authorities were very strict with their rules however the Monk thought
all of this was nonsense. Chaucer begins to talk in his voice and
he is describing the Monk’s clothing. Professor Sutherland
continues to read on. The Monk is a man who loves to live well in
Fragment VII is one the longest fragments in the Canterbury Tales
and one of the most important. This fragment is sometimes called
the literature group, or the surprise group. Looking at page 240
the host wishes that his wife had heard this tale, since whenever
he is in a fight with someone, his wife urges him to continue the
violence. Even though the Host is a hearty man, he cannot stand
up to his wife’s shrewishness. Professor Sutherland continues
to read on at line 1895. After a few lines, Professor Sutherland
states, "Wow, that’s called hitting below the belt!!!"
She continues to read on. The host then turns to the Monk and tells
him there is a town coming by and that it is his turn to tell a
good tale. The host goes on to talk about the Monk’s physical
appearance. Lines 1930 and so fourth. He states that he looks like
he has been fed very well. Professor Sutherland continues to read.
Professor Sutherland addresses the class and asks, "What now
is he talking about?" He is talking about chastity. The Monk’s
character however does not seem to fit his tale so why is he going
into this classical tale? Much of this material comes from Boccaccio
and from Aristotle. Professor Sutherland asked the class if they
knew Aristotle’s definition of tragedy? Janice stated that
the hero should have a tragic fall that evokes both pity and fear.
Professor Sutherland added that there should be a reversal, some
form of recognition, but not just self-recognition. He uses Oedipus
as an example. Professor Sutherland gave the example of Custance
and her father being two people who would be considered recognition
of a great moment. Professor Sutherland then reads a detailed definition
of Aristotle’s tragedy. Moving onto the Monk’s tale
we start off with the reversal of fortune. The Monk begins to talk
about Lucifer. Professor Sutherland asked the class if this was
a real example of a tragic fall? She stated that it was not really
considered a tragic fall because he fell through sin himself. He
brought everything upon himself. He stepped out of line by disobeying
and being to prideful. Then we see Adam who was made by God’s
own fingers. Adam had a beautiful existence until one action caused
him to lose everything. Then there was Sampson who was a great ruler
of Israel, and he had been given tremendous strength. This story
is not a good one to tell the little young ones. Professor Sutherland’s
son enjoyed this tale very much. For example, tying together foxes
tales and lighting them on fire is a very vivid picture for a child’s
mind. Sampson’s treacherous wife convinced him to tell her
the secret of his strength and then betrayed him by relating it
to his enemies and taking another husband for herself. His enemies
learned that his hair was the source of his power, and they blinded
him, cut his hair and threw him in a cave. Professor Sutherland
reads on from page 243. The disaster came because he told his wife
his secret. The monk says that the moral of the story is that men
should not reveal secrets to their wives. Hercules was another famous
man of great strength and courage who traveled throughout the world
killing ferocious animals. He fell in love with a beautiful woman,
Deianira, and she made him a beautiful shirt. But poison was woven
into the shirt, and when he put it on, he began to die. Hercules
did not want to die from poison, so he threw himself on a fire.
Fortune and Deianira combine and become one evil. Beware the subtle
tricks of fortune is the moral of this tale. Or what Professor Sutherland
said "Send your own shirts to the laundry" HAHAHA!!! Professor
Sutherland stated that a number of famous men had been the victims
of treachery and betrayal. Such other examples include King Peter
of Spain, who was killed by his own brother, and King Peter of Cyprus
who was killed by his companions. Then we come to Count Hugelino
of Pisa who was imprisoned in a tower with his three children, the
oldest of whom was only five years old. Dante writes about him and
tells his own story about him. Dante uses this example as a political
rant. The story begins off with his young children who are starving
to death. The children declare to their father to eat them. Hugelino
never speaks or cries out. The children protest saying they are
hungry, focusing on the terror and hunger of the children. What
is drawn out here is the pathos. Looking at lines 2405 and so fourth.
Page 247. Day by day the children are crying and finally days later
where the father is gnawing on his own arm, he finally eats his
own children. Chaucer takes out the politics and displays the children
suffering. Then there was Nero who was also another powerful man
who ruled over many lands. He enjoyed his wealth and was inclined
toward excess in everything. However he was a big creep because
he ripped open his mother to see where he was born. Boethius uses
him as an example as a tyrant in the book, Consolation of Philosophy.
Chaucer goes on to display more examples from the Old Testament.
For example there was Alexander the Great, Caesar and Chinobia.
No one could match Alexander for power and fame. He was so victorious
in battle that he conquered the entire world. However in the end
his own people betrayed him. Julius Caesar then became the greatest
conqueror in the world. However like Alexander his envious and jealous
friends conspired against him and killed him. Fortune may seem to
be man’s friend; she is not to be trusted because she often
turns against man. Chinobia was not an amazon but she resembled
one. She was a huntress. Then there was also Croesus, last king
of Lydia, who was condemned to die by fire, but a sudden rain saved
his life. Page 251. Croesus was not nice at all. Croesus burned
men. Croesus had a dream, page 251, and he dreams a dream where
he was on a tree being washed by Jupiter and dried out by Phoebus.
His dream foretold his death but he ignored the warning. Professor
Sutherland reads on saying that the Monk’s moral to all these
stories is that "those who are proud, fortune will knock down."
The host asks the Monk to tell another type of story but he refuses
and that is when we begin with the Nun’s Priest’s Prologue
and Tale. But before Professor Sutherland began to lecture on the
next prologue and tale we stopped to have the make-up quiz. After
the quiz we took 15-20 minutes to evaluate Professor Sutherland.
Now we begin the tale!!!
The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue and Tale:
The Nun’s Priest is a well-rounded character. He agrees and
says he will try to tell them an amusing story. Professor Sutherland
asked the class what made this tale rich? She told us that the tale
had sheer quantity of different genres that were all stuffed together.
This tale is like a mock epic. Mock epics all bounce off of each
other. The way it echoes the other tales in the collection makes
it such a wonderful tale. Professor Sutherland begins to read the
opening lines of the Nun’s Priest Tale. Page 253. The widow
and her two daughters lived in a small cottage near a meadow. They
led a very pleasant, happy and simple life. She had a well-tended
place and had a rooster named Chauntecleer. Right away we have this
rooster described in epic and in biblical terms. This rooster was
a wonderful crower and he sounded better than any other rooster,
and he knew the time by intuition. He was a beautiful bird, brightly
coloured and well kept. Page 254 has a major explosion of the description
of Chauntecleer. His "ram" part is completely epic. Professor
Sutherland continues to read on page 254. In this particular time
animals sung, danced and talked. Here we are being displayed with
an animal fable, a moral tale. Unlike a fable, this tale had an
epic element to it. Epics tend to be "a moral", for example
Pope’s Rape of the Lock. Human language, ambivalence, and
inability to use words in a mathematical way are major themes. In
lines 2805-2806 here we see Chauntecleer upset. Professor Sutherland
continues to read on from these lines. Chauntecleer tells Pertelote
that he had a bad dream of an animal that tried to kill him. Pertelote
was ashamed of him for being afraid of a mere dream. How could she
love someone who displayed such cowardice? She was sure the dream
was caused by an excess of "red choler" in his blood and
reminded him that Cato had said that dreams meant nothing. She suggested
that he take a laxative to purge himself so that the dream would
not recur. She even offered to help him select the herbs for this
preparation. Professor Sutherland continues to read on from page
Chauntecleer tells Pertelote that he has read many old books where
authorities on the subject claim that just the opposite is true.
As an example, he relates the story of two friends who, while on
a pilgrimage, reached a busy town where they could find nowhere
to stay together. So these two friends separate to go and find individual
accommodations. The first one was able to stay in a stall with some
oxen and the second one found a place to stay elsewhere. Later that
night, the second friend had a dream in which his comrade told him
that he would be murdered in an oxen stall. The young man ignored
the dream, even though he dreamt it twice. His friend appeared to
him in a dream a third time and told him that he had been killed
and robbed. He also told him that the next day his body would be
hidden in a cart full of dung. The second friend went to find his
comrade the next day and, as his dream indicated, he found his friend’s
body. The murder was revealed and the murderers were executed. Chauntecleer
then told of another example of a dream. But this one was had a
miracular dream voice. There was no body just a voice. Chaucer’s
voice somehow works that way and we can never seem to pin him down.
Professor Sutherland continues to read on page 256, line 3065. Two
men, waiting for good weather before beginning a boat trip, spent
a few days in a seaside town. The winds finally changed and after
deciding to leave the next day, they went to bed early. One of them
dreamed of a man who warned him that if they sailed tomorrow, they
would be drowned. He tried to talk to his friend out of going, but
the friend decided that dreams were nonsense, went by himself and
was drowned soon after. Moving on, Professor Sutherland tells the
class that there is something in this tale that we cannot see clearly.
This tale is slightly disembodied from Chaucer’s other tales.
We have another dream come up. When Saint Kenelm was only seven
years old, he foresaw his own murder in a dream. He goes on to add
that Daniel and Joseph of the Old Testament are just a few examples
whose dreams foretold important events. Chaucer tries to make his
point. Line 3106 to 3150, page 257.
In line 3165, Chauntecleer gives a paraphrase of this Latin saying.
"In the beginning, woman is the confusion of man". On
page 258, Professor Sutherland reads out "that the way to a
man is through his stomach". Later on we find Chauntecleer
in his court the next day with his seven wives. He goes on to comment
about the sun and talks about spring. During this time the birds
are singing, a very funny moment. Suddenly we have the lurky murderer
come in to the farmyard. This is a bit extreme but we have the fox
that is hiding in the cabbage-bed. Once again we get a bit of Boethius.
Line 3240, providence becomes a necessity. Necessity has two links,
direct and conditional necessity. Here we get this strange bit of
antifeminism. Really it does not turn out to be his wife’s
fault. Professor Sutherland continues to read on. Professor Sutherland
adds that the word "divine" can either be used as a noun,
an adjective or a verb. Professor Sutherland adds that saying "I
know nothing of divine woman" is kind of a joke. This garden
is the Garden of Eden, but reversed, it’s an appraisal to
Eden not to Eve. There is more music and more feeling. Professor
Sutherland continues to read. The fox praises Chauntecleer’s
father. The fox then asks Chauntecleer if he would sing so that
the fox could tell if he really was better than his father. Chauntecleer
closes his eyes and begins to sing and that is when the fox immediately
leaps upon him, grabs him by the neck and carries him off into the
woods. Professor Sutherland adds that Pertelote is not being compared
to Eve, she is like the women in "The Legends of Good Women."
Then we have the widow in line 3376. There is a lot of noise from
Professor Sutherlands asks the class is this what stops the fox?
No, but it sort of helps out the situation. In line 3406 Chauntecleer
suggests to the fox that he should yell back at his pursuers. Professor
Sutherland continues to read from line 3406. Professor Sutherland
described in her own words what Chauntecleer was really saying.
"In other words, if I was an aristocrat like you I would tell
them to go to hell!!!" Without thinking, the fox decided to
do just that and opened his mouth to shout some insults. Chauntecleer
immediately escaped and flew up into a tree. Line 3426. Chauntecleer
states that they were both idiots. And no matter how much the fox
could talk about his royal blood and all, he was still an idiot
and would not close his eyes on him again. This is the moment where
Chauntecleer stands up and puts two and two together. The rooster
learned his lesson and would not allow his vanity to get him into
such trouble again! Professor Sutherland asked the class where authority
comes from? Authority comes from the sense of our own identity and
some sort of reflexivity. We had the rooster flapping all around
like fortune but this mode has been pushed and bad things have happened
but Chauntecleer can turn this around. Professor Sutherland continues
to read. The rooster draws out his own moral, "Don’t
talk too much!!!" Then we have the narrator who tells us what
he thinks the moral of this tale is about. "Just don’t
dismiss things!!!" Now were getting scripture, everything that
is written is from our teaching. Take the grain of this and do not
worry about the feathers. Professor Sutherland asks the class another
question. Is this a tale simply about flattery? Boethius said you
have to take both fruit and chaff. She then asked us what were the
non-moral parts of this tale? Answer: the wives and the feathering.
Within the tale it is hard to pin point the chaff. Chaucer is establishing
himself as the authority figure and telling the story in his own
way. The class had no comments about the fruit and the chaff. The
moral itself is a meta moral; how the telling of the tales is inextricable.
Professor added that you should let flattery get to you. Inspite
of the fact that he has fallen, he gets a bit wiser. Professor Sutherland
then began to discuss the epilogue of the Nun’s Priest Tale.
This story is about eloquence from start to finish.
2. Science- astronomy
3. Courtly Love
7. Patient humility- the old woman
The host congratulates the Nun’s Priest on his merry tale
of Chauntecleer. Once again, he makes joking comments about women
and he suggests that if the Nun’s Priest had not entered the
church, he would have been a very popular man among women.
Professor Sutherland ended her lecture and Graham began his presentation
about the Peasants revolt of 1831.
Tonight’s lecture focused on Fragment VIII of
The Canterbury Tales, including The Second Nun’s
Prologue and Tale and The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue
and Tale. Professor Sutherland pointed out that the major theme
running through this fragment is the theme of alchemy. She also
reminded us that Fragments VIII, IX and X come as a group in most
manuscripts and are meant to lead us to the end of the Pilgrimage,
so we will arrive in Canterbury next week!
After an informative presentation by Andrew on alchemy
and one equally informative on Saints by Albert, we plunged into
The Second Nun’s Tale, like the Nun’s Priest’s
tale that preceded it, deals with the ideas of identity and authority,
but in a very different way. The Prologue of this tale begins with
a condemnation of idleness. It echoes the "Romance of the Rose",
wherein a woman named ‘idleness’ has sole access to
the Garden of Love. Therefore, we know that this tale is a story
of love: but is it about divine or earthly love? Unlike the "Romance
of the Rose", however, this prologue condemns idleness, for
‘the devil makes work for idle hands’.
The Invocacio ad Mariam is also redolent
with references to Dante’s Paradiso, wherein he devotes a
hymn to Mary. On line 43, Mary is aptly described as a ‘cloister’,
for she is the walled body that contains the ‘Son’.
This Invocacio also reveals a problem in this Prologue; the nun,
on line 62, calls herself a "sone of Eve". As it says
in the index on page 946, a nun would probably have referred to
herself as a ‘daughter’ of Eve, therefore, Chaucer may
have meant for this tale to have been told by another pilgrim.
The third part of the Prologue is an "Etymology"
of Saint Cecilia’s name. This is an attempt to pin the name
of a Saint to a specific kind of essence. Here, Cecilia’s
name is likened to a "hevenes lilie" (87), representing
her chastity, then taken to mean "the wey to blynde" (92),
meaning that she is a leader of the blind, and finally, the last
part of her name, "Lia" (96), is the Greek word for people.
In Saint’s lives, an etymology attempts to determine how their
names say something about their character.
The Second Nun’s Tale is a tale about Saint
Cecilia; a hagiography of her passion at the hands of her persecutors.
The tale takes place before Constantine’s reign, when Christianity
was condemned and Christians themselves were martyred if they did
not renounce their faith. In this tale, the ruthless leader and
persecutor, Almachius, tortures and kills Christians as a sacrifice
to his own pagan god, Jupiter.
Like the Merchant’s Tale, the theme of sight
and vision runs through this tale as well. In the Merchant’s
tale, Januarie reads the Bible too literally with regards to married
life. In reality, there are four ways of reading something: literally,
allegorically, morally and anagogically. In the late Middle Ages,
however, only the first two were still recognized. To read the Bible
literally is to look for the meaning of the stories, whereas to
read it allegorically is to determine the symbolism behind the words
and what they represent. In this light, we are to see Cecilia’s
marriage not as a literal marriage to a man, but as a marriage to
God. Therefore, her duty on her wedding night is not to procreate
with her new husband to produce children, but to spread her faith
to her husband and to others around her, thus producing new children
of God. Thus is the alchemical aspect of the tale; Cecilia, like
the Elixir, used to transform base metals into gold, transforms
those around her. She embodies a contagious religion, purity and
fragrance and inspires those around her to be baptized. The first
to be transformed is her husband, Valerian, who is sent to Pope
Urban (who is hiding in the catacombs of Rome, a safe-haven for
Christians who are being sought to be sacrificed) and returns a
new Christian. Later, his brother Tiberius undergoes the same transmutation.
When these two new Christians are condemned by Almachius to be the
newest sacrifices, even Maximus and the tormentors sent to retrieve
them catch this contagious "saintliness" and are beheaded
alongside Valerian and Tiberius. This snowballing began in the "lit
des noces" of Cecilia and Valerian and through them, transformed
all those with whom they came in contact. What will happen when
she is faced with the ruler of the pagans, Almachius?
Here enters the theme of authority. Throughout Cecilia’s
confrontation with Almachius, the leader asserts his authority over
the people and his resulting ability to kill whomever he pleases,
while Cecilia’s authority comes from her religious belief
and her power to preach. Here, we see a shift from the idea of authority
in the dream poems, which stems from the ability to produce art,
to the delegation of authority from the very author of these tales
to the storytellers themselves. Chaucer steps down from his seat
of authority as author to take his place among the pilgrims, giving
authority more of a communal aspect.
While Cecilia and Almachius battle for authority, we see the importance
of personality. Throughout the Canterbury Tales, one’s ‘person’
is defined as something external; a public bearing, or a façade
donned by each individual when in a public place. Here, Cecilia’s
public appearance is unfaltering, for she must defend herself and
her religion, in the tradition of the true martyr. Like Boethius,
Cecilia believes that authority and power are useless over her,
since the less powerful one always has his free will. Cecilia goes
so far on line 462 to laugh in his face; a blatant insult that says
‘you have no power over me’. When she is given her choice
on line 458, she chooses, of her own will, to defend her religion
to the death; and Almachius sentences her to a most gruesome death.
Although she is to be boiled in a cauldron and beaten by the tormentors,
she does not feel pain, since she is a true martyr. Like the little
boy in the Prioress’s tale, Cecilia still has a voice when
most regular humans would not be able to speak. For, while barely
alive, Cecilia is still able to preach and to assert her wish to
have her home converted into a church. Like the same little boy,
whose gravesite becomes a shrine for pilgrimage, so her home becomes
a place of worship for those who believe as strongly as she did.
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue, although
very different in nature, also deals with the theme of alchemy and
transformation. In the prologue, we meet the Canon, all decked out
in black in white, who has struggled to overtake and join the pilgrims.
His yeoman, who seems to be a sort of servant to him, seizes the
opportunity to join the storytelling, but wishes to tell a tale
about the Canon himself, who then sneaks away in shame. On lines
620-6, the Yeoman begins by stating that the Canon could change
the earthy, pious road to Canterbury into gold; a fact which forces
the host to ask why he wouldn’t take such pains to improve
his own appearance (again, the importance of one’s outer ‘person’
as a sign of one’s inner personality). To the host, the Yeoman
himself seems to have a distinguishing alteration in his person.
His face is discoloured, and on line 664, he explains that his hue
has been changed by his close contact with an alchemist’s
fire and begins to reveal the Canon’s secrets.
The Yeoman’s tale takes on the form of a confessional
tale, wherein the teller gives away the secrets of his trade (much
like the Pardoner). This tale about alchemy has no source, which
leads to suspicions about Chaucer, who can easily make poetry out
of something that is very technical. Was Chaucer an alchemist himself?
(Funny, Andrew and Professor Sutherland seemed to know a little
about alchemy too….)
The Prima Pars of this tale explains how
the metals are prepared, while the Canon’s men go through
the six stages of alchemy (breaking down the material; mixing the
material; producing a white elixir for silver; producing the red
elixir for gold; augmenting the potency of the red elixir; and finally,
transmutation – the elixir is applied to immature metals such
as lead or copper). This is done in search of the Philosopher’s
Stone, or, the elixir that can actually produce gold. The sweaty
workshop in which this process is executed is described as a devil’s
workshop, where the men work like slaves and, when things go wrong
as they sometimes do, the men turn on each-other to determine where
to place blame. This process is also associated with Christ; it
represents his passion or his ‘breaking down’ before
his ‘transformation’ and resurrection.
The pars secunda is a tale of a religious
canon who uses his knowledge of alchemy for trickery. After reassuring
the pilgrims on line 1002 that this tale is not intended to condemn
all canons, but merely to suggest that there are bad apples in every
bunch, the Yeoman recounts the tale of a canon and a priest and
suggests that, although the Canon is at fault for his trickery,
the priest is equally as bad for his naiveté. The Canon uses
three tricks to fool the priest: on 1160, he pulls out a coal containing
silver filings that will be released once immersed in the fire;
on 1265, he reveals a hollow stick with silver inside; and on 1320,
he releases a silver ingot from up his sleeve. Each of these serve
to trick the priest into thinking that his alchemy actually produced
fine silver from base metals, when in reality, he had the elixir
made already and used his props to feign the creation of silver.
Later, the Canon sells this ‘sely’ priest his recipe
for 40 pounds (quite a hefty sum) and leaves before the priest can
try the recipe on his own and discover that it will never produce
On line 1394, the Yeoman tells the pilgrims about
the obscurity of the language used by alchemists, making it impossible
for the layman to get the desired effects of their recipes. The
moral of the story, therefore, is: if you are caught in such an
obsession as alchemy (or trickery?), give it up now, before you
become like the Canon. Also, do not attempt this craft until you
understand the philosopher’s language, which can be obscure
and can not be read literally. This likens the alchemists’
lore to the Bible, which also has dual meanings when read literally
and allegorically. It is incomprehensible and can only be used by
Christ, for only he understands the process of transformation.
Both the Second Nun’s tale and the Canon’s
Yeoman’s Tale deal with this idea of transformation. In the
former, Cecilia deals with the transformation of pagans to converts,
thus taking the ‘lost’ and making believers out of them.
In the latter, however, the Yeoman cautions people about this kind
of transformation, which ruined his life and made him a skeptic.