Chaucer FYI - 6 The Man of Law's Tale

The Man of Law's tale is in some ways an example of Chaucer showing off to his audience. After he has the Man of Law to mock Chaucer as an author in the prologue, saying that he (the Man of Law) is out of stories to tell because Chaucer has told them all crudely in 'such English as he can' and begging forgiveness of his audience for his 'plain speech,' the Man of Law (who is, of course, only an extension of Chaucer the author) goes on to tell a tale of high sentence in the most complicated poetic form yet evident in the Canterbury Tales. So Chaucer manages to snark at his critics by drawing a comparison between them and the Man of Law, show off his ability as a poet in the course of the tale, and best of all he gives us our first example of an untrustworthy character - the Man of Law lies to his audience; he's actually one of the few characters who lies provably to his audience in the collection.

What the characters choose lie about matters. The Man of Law lies about his intent to speak plainly - he says that he is going to be a simple tale-teller, then proves that he is not while he's telling the story of Custance, who acts as Lady Poverty - a counter to Lady Fortuna who influenced the Knight's Tale, as well as to all the revelry of the previous three stories. The Man of Law's lie about his language lends a pompous, pretentious air to what is supposed to be a story that extols the virtues of humility and faith. When the Man of Law stops his storytelling, as he occasionally does, to have what sounds like a legal discussion with a presentation of evidence he is detracting from the audience's natural reaction to Custance. He takes the time over and over again to remind his strongly Catholic audience (which includes at least three priests, two friars and a nun, as well as non-clergy members of Vatican-sanctioned professions) of frequently re-told Bible stories in an attempt to prove over and over the virtues of chastity, faith, and humility that Custance has to her name. The problem is that the audience knows all of this - he's preaching to the choir and not only that, he's preaching in such a pompous, self-righteous way that he undermines the values that he's attempting to capitalize on.

Overall what happens here is that the audience reacts well to Custance and the content of the tale, but reacts poorly to the Man of Law who comes off as a sleaze because of his style and the fact that he has proven himself untrustworthy.

So, that's the Man of Law and his tale; what about his epilogue? The Shipman is the main voice of the epilogue and claims that he's about to tell a happy tale that will cheer up the group. He then disappears for a long time; the Wife of Bath's Tale, not the Shipman's tale, follows The Man of Law. There are a couple of possible reasons for this: first, Chaucer may have originally intended to use the Shipman's tale as the Wife of Bath's tale - there are a few pronoun and context errors in the actual Shipman's tale that suggest this, so what might have happened is Chaucer might have gone "hey this is good - but oh crap, it works better if I change the order" then changed the order and forgot to move the pro/epilogue. Chaucer also might have originally written both stories for the Wife of Bath, then decided to change the latter to the Shipman's tale, or vice-versa; but one way or another we end up with a misleading introduction to a tale that doesn't follow for a few dozen pages. I do not think this done purposefully by Chaucer to confuse us, I think it was a mistake made in a manuscript that had several re-writes over several years, but it is an interesting point in the question of how much the audience can trust Chaucer the author when he has gone so far out of his way to prove that his characters aren't always trustworthy.


The Man of Law's Tale

Introduction to the Man of Law's Tale:
The words of the Host to the company.

Our Host saw well that the bright sun
The ark of his artificial day had run
The fourth part, and half an hour and more,
And though he was not deep started in lore,
He knew it was the eighteenth day (5)
Of April, that is messenger of May;
And saw well that the shadow of every tree
Was as in length the same quantity
That was the body erect that caused it.
And therefore by the shadow he took his wit (10)
That Phoebus, which shone so clear and bright,
Degrees was forty five climbed on high,
And for that day, in that latitude,
It was ten of the clock, he did conclude,
And suddenly he pulled his horse around. (15)

"Good folk," quoth he, "I warn you, all this group,
The fourth part of this day is gone.
Now for the love of God and of Saint John,
Lose no time, as far as you may.
Gentle people, time wastes night and day, (20)
And steals from us, what with privately sleeping,
And what through negligence in our waking,
As does the stream that turns never again,
Descending from the mountain into plain.
Well knows Seneca and many a philosopher (25)
to bewail time more than gold in coffer;
For "Loss of chattel may recovered be,
But loss of time ruins us,' quoth he.
It will not come again, without doubt,
No more than will Malkin's maidenhood, (30)
When she had lost it in her wantonness.
Let us not grow mold thus in idleness.

"Sir Man of Law," quoth he, "so have you bliss,
Tell us a tale at once, as the agreement is.
You are submitted, through your free assent, (35)
To stand in this case at my judgment.
Acquit you now of your behest;
Than have you done your duty at least."

"Host," quoth he, "in God's name, I assent;
To break an agreement is not my intent. (40)
Behest is debt, and I will hold gladly
All my behests, I can no better say.
For such a law as a man gives another man,
He should use it himself, by right;
Thus says our text. But nonetheless, certainly, (45)
I can right now no thrifty tale say
That Chaucer, though he knows but lewdly
Of meter and of rhyming craftily,
Has said them in such English as he knows
Long ago, as knows many a man; (50)
And if he has not said them, dear brother,
In one book, he has said them in another.
For he has told of lovers up and down
More than Ovid made mention of
In his Heroides, which are full old. (55)
What should I tell them, since they are all told?

"In youth he wrote of Ceyx and Alcion,
And since has spoken of every one,
These noble wives and these lovers also.
Whoever will his large volume seek, (60)
Called the Legend of Good Women,
There may he see the large wounds wide
Of Lucretia, and Babylon's Thisbe;
The sword of Dido for the false Enee;
The tree of Phyllis for her Demophon; (65)
The complaint of Deinira and of Hermione,
Of Adrianne, and of Isiphile -
The barren isle standing in the sea -
The drowned Leander for his Hero;
The tears of Helen, and also the woe (70)
Of Briseyde, and of you, Laodomia;
The cruelty of you, queen Medea,
your little children hanging by the neck,
For your Jason, that was of love so false!
Of Hepermistra, Penelope, Alceste, (75)
Your wifehood he commends with the best!

"But certainly no word wrote he
Of the same wicked example of Canacee,
Who loved her own brother sinfully -
Of such cursed stories I say fie! - (80)
Or else of Apollonius of Tyre,
How that the cursed king Antioch
Bereft his daughter of her maidenhood,
That is so horrible a tale to read,
When he threw her upon the pavement. (85)
And therefore he, of full advisement,
Would never write in none of his sermons
Of such unkind abominations,
Nor will I any rehearse, it that I may.

"But of my tale how shall I do this day? (90)
I am loathe to be likened, doubtless,
To Muses that men call Pierides -
'Metamorphoses' knows what I mean'
But nonetheless, I reckon not a bean
Though I should come after him with a hawthorn bake. (95)
I speak in prose, and let him the rhymes make."
And with that word he, with a sober face,
Began his tale, as you shall after hear.

The prologue of the Man's Tale of Law.

O hateful harm, condition of poverty!
With thirst, with cold, with hunger so confounded! (100)
To ask help you shame your own heart;
If you do not ask, with need are you so wounded
That truly need unwraps all your wounds hidden!
In spite of your care, you must for indigence
Either steal, or beg, or borrow your expense! (105)

You blame Christ and say full bitterly
He miss-departs riches temporal;
Your neighbor you accuse sinfully,
And say you have too little and he has all.
"For faith," you say, "sometime he reckon shall, (110)
When his tail shall burn in the coals,
For he does not help the needful in their need."

Hearken what is the sentence of the wise:
"Better it is to die than have indigence";
"Your same neighbor will you despise." (115)
If you are poor, farewell your reverence!
Yet of the wise man take this sentence:
"All the days of poor men are miserable."
Beware, therefore, before you come to that place!

If you are poor, your brother hates you, (120)
And all your friends flee from you, alas!
Oh rich merchants, full of wealth are you,
Oh noble, oh prudent folk, as in this case!
Your bags are not filled with a losing throw,
But with the winning hand, that runs in your chance; (125)
At Christmas merry may you dance!

You seek land and sea for your winnings;
As wise folk you know all the estate
Of reigns; you are fathers of tidings
And tales, both of peace and of debate. (130)
I would be right now of tales desolate,
Were not that a merchant, gone many a year,
Taught me a tale, which you shall hear.

Here begins the Man of Law his tale.

In Syria there once dwelt a company
Of rich merchants, who were trustworthy and true, (135)
Who wide and far sent their spicery,
Cloth of gold, and satins rich of hue.
Their business was so thrifty and so new
That every man was eager to exchange
With them, and also to sell them their wares. (140)

Now fell it that the masters of that sort
Had shaped themselves to go to Rome;
Were if for business or sport,
No other message would they thither send,
But went themselves to Rome; this is the end. (145)
And in such place as thought to gain advantage
For their intent, they took their lodging.

These merchants had sojourned in that town
A certain time, as fell to their pleasance.
And so befell that the excellent renown (150)
Of the Emperor's daughter, dame Custance,
Reported was, with every circumstance,
To these Syrian merchants in such ways,
From day to day, as I shall to you devise.

This was the communal voice of every man: (155)
"Our Emperor of Rome - God watch over him! -
A daughter has that, since the world began,
To reckon as well her goodness as beauty,
Was never such another as is she.
I pray to God in honor her sustain, (160)
And would she were of all Europe the queen.

"In her is high beauty, without pride,
Youth, without greenhood or folly;
To all her works virtue is her guide;
Humbleness has slain in her all tyranny. (165)
She is the mirror of all courtesy;
Her heart is truly a chamber of holiness,
Her hand, minister of freedom for alms."

And all this speech was honest, as God is true.
But now to purpose let us turn again. (170)
These merchants had loaded their ships anew,
And when they had this blissful maiden seen,
Home to Syria they went full fain,
And did their needs as they had done before,
And lived in wealth; I can tell you no more. (175)

Now it fell that these merchants stood in grace
Of him that was the Sultan of Syria;
For when they came from any strange place,
He would, of his benign courtesy,
Make them good cheer, and busily espy (180)
Tidings of sundry kingdoms, to learn
The wonders that they might see or hear.

Among other things, specially,
These merchants had told him of dame Custance
So great noble in earnest, in full detail, (185)
That this Sultan had caught so great pleasance
To have her figure in his remembrance,
That all his lust and all his busy concern
Was to love her while his life may endure.

Perhaps in the same large book (190)
Which men call the heaven written
With stars, when he his birth took,
That he for love should have his death, alas!
For in the stars, clearer than is glass,
Is written, God knows, whoever can it read, (195)
The death of every man, without doubt.

In stars, many a winter there before,
Was written the death of Hector, Achilles,
Of Pompey, Julius, before they were born;
The strife of Thebes; and of Hercules, (200)
Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The death; but men's wits are so dull
That no man can well read it at full.

This Sultan for his private counsel sent,
And, shortly of this matter to pass, (205)
He had to them declared his intent,
And said to them, certainly, but he might have grace
To have Custance within a little time,
He would be dead; and charged them in haste
To shape for his life some remedy. (210)

Diverse men diverse things said;
They argued, cast up and down;
Many a subtle reason forth was laid;
They spoke of magic and deception.
But finally, as in conclusion, (215)
They could see in that no advantage,
Nor in any other way, save marriage.

Then saw they therein such difficulty
By way of reason, to speak all plain,
Because there was such diversity (220)
Between both their laws, that they said
They believed that no "Christian prince would fain
Wed his child under our law sweet
That we were taught by Mohammed, our prophet."

And he answered, "Rather than I lose (225)
Custance, I will be christened, doubtless.
I must be hers; I may nothing other choose.
I pray you hold your arguments in peace;
Save my life, and be not reckless
To get her that has my life in cure, (230)
For in this woe I may not long endure."

What needs greater discussion?
I say, by treaties and embassy,
And by the pope's meditation,
And all the church, and all the chivalry, (235)
That in destruction of idolatry,
And the increase of Christ's law dear,
They were accorded, so as you shall hear:

How that the Sultan and his baronage
And all his lieges should christened be, (240)
And he shall have Custance in marriage,
And certain gold, I know not what quantity;
And this all found sufficient confidence.
This same accord was sworn on either side;
Now, fair Custance, almighty God you guide! (245)

Now would some men wait, as I guess,
That I should tell all the purveyance
That the Emperor, of his great nobility,
Had shaped for his daughter, dame Custance.
Well may men know that such great ordinance (250)
May no man tell in a little clause
As was arrayed for so high a cause.

Bishops were shaped with her to wend,
Lords, ladies, knights of renown,
And other folk enough; this is the end; (255)
And notified was throughout the town
That every man, with great devotion,
Should pray to Christ that he this marriage
Receive well and speed this voyage.

The day was come of her departing; (260)
I say, the woeful day fatal was come,
That there could be no longer tarrying,
But forthward they them dressed, all and some.
Custance, that was with sorrow all overcome,
Full pale arose, and dressed her to wend; (265)
For well she was that there was no other end.

Alas, what wonder is it that she wept.
That shall be sent to a strange nation
From friends that so tenderly her kept,
And to be bound under subjection (270)
Of one, she knew not his condition?
Husbands were all good, and had been long since;
That know wives; I dare say to you no more.

"Father," she said, "your wretched child Custance,
Your young daughter fostered up so soft, (275)
And you, my mother, my sovereign pleasance
Over all things, except Christ on loft,
Custance your child recommends herself oft
Unto your grace, for I shall to Syria,
Never shall I see you more with my eyes. (280)

"Alas, unto the heathen nation
I must at once, since it is your will;
But Christ, who died for our redemption
So give me grace to his behests fulfill!
I, wretched woman, no matter though I die! (285)
Women are born to thralldom and penance,
And to be under man's governance."

I believe at Troy, when Pyrrhus broke the wall
Before Ilion burned, at Thebes the city,
Nor at Rome, for the harm done through Hannibal (290)
That Romans had vanquished times three,
Was not heard such tender weeping for pity
As in the chamber was for her departing;
But forth she must, whether she weeps or sings.

Oh first moving! Cruel firmament, (295)
With your daily sway that crowds always
And hurls all from east to Occident
That naturally would hold another way,
Your crowding set the heavens in such array
At the beginning of this fierce voyage, (300)
That cruel Mars has slain this marriage.

Infortunate ascendant torturous,
Of which the lord is helpless fallen, alas,
Out of his angle into the darkest house!
Oh Mars, oh influence, as in this case! (305)
Oh feeble moon unhappy is your pace!
You knit yourself where you are not received;
Where you were well, from thence are you banished.

Imprudent Emperor of Rome, alas!
Was there no astrologer in all your town? (310)
Is no time better than another in such case?
Of voyage is there no selection,
Namely to folk of high condition?
Not when a root is from birth known?
Alas, we were too lewd or too slow! (315)

To ship was brought this woeful fair maid
Solemnly, with every circumstance.
"Now Jesus Christ be with you all!" she said;
There was no more, but "Farewell, fair Custance!"
She pained herself to make good countenance; (320)
And forth I let her sail in this manner,
And turn I will again to my matter.

The mother of the Sultan, well of vices,
Had spied her son's plain intent,
How he would leave his old sacrifices; (325)
And right at once she for her counsel sent,
And they were come to know what she meant.
And when assembled was this folk together,
She sat herself down, and said as you shall hear.

"Lords," quoth she, "you know every one, (330)
How that my son is pointed to leave
The holy laws of our Koran,
Given by God's messenger Mohammed.
But one vow to great God I swear,
The life shall rather out of my body start (335)
Before Mohammed's law is out of my heart!

"What should tide us of this new law
But thraldom to our bodies and penance,
And afterward in hell to be drawn,
For we renounced Mohammed our belief? (340)
But, lords, will you make assurance,
As I shall say, assenting to my lore.
And I shall make us safe forever more?"

They swore and assented, every man,
To live with her and die, and by her stand, (345)
And each, in the best way he can,
To strengthen her shall all his friends try;
And she had this enterprise taken on hand,
Which you shall hear that I shall devise,
And to them all she spoke right in this way: (350)

"We shall first feign us Christianity to take -
Cold water shall not grieve us but a little! -
And I shall such a feast and a revel make
That, as I believe, I shall the Sultan requite.
For though his wife be christened never so white, (355)
She shall have need to wash away the read,
Though she a font full of water she with her brings."

Oh Sultaness, root of inequity!
Virago, you Semiramis the second!
Oh serpent under femininity, (360)
Like to the serpent deep in hell bound!
Oh feigned woman, all that may confound
Virtue and innocence, through your malice,
Is bred in you, as nest of every vice!

Oh Satan, envious since the same day (365)
That you were chased from our heritage,
Well you know to women the old way!
You made Eve bring us in service;
You will destroy this Christian marriage.
Your instrument - so wail-away the while! - (370)
You make of women, when you will beguile.

This Sultaness, whom I blame thus and curse,
Let privately her counsel go their way.
Why should I in this tale longer tarry?
She rode to the Sultan on a day, (375)
And told him that she would renounce her faith,
And Christianity of priest's hands take,
Repenting herself that she was a heathen so long,

Beseeching him to do her that honor,
That she must have the Christian folk to feast - (380)
"To please them I will do my labor."
The Sultan said, "I will do at your behest,"
And kneeling thanked her of that request.
So glad he was, he knew not what to say.
She kissed her son, and home she went her way. (385)

Explicit prima pars.*
*(End the first part)
Sequitur pars secunda.*
*(Follow part the second)

Arrived were these Christian folk to land
In Syria, with a great solemn group,
And hastily this Sultan sent his message
First to his mother, and all the reign about,
And said his wife was come, our of doubt, (390)
And prayed her to ride to the queen,
The honor of his reign to sustain.

Great was the press, and rich was the array
Of Syrians and Romans met together;
The mother of the Sultan, rich and gay, (395)
Received her also with happy cheer
As any mother might her daughter dear,
And to the next city there beside
A soft pace solemnly did they ride.

I don't believe the triumph of Julius, (400)
Of which Lucan made such a boast,
Was more royal or more elaborate
Than was the assembly of this blissful host.
But this scorpion, this wicked spirit,
The Sultaness, for all her flattering, (405)
Cast under this full mortally to sting.

The Sultan came himself soon after this
So royally that it is wondrous to tell,
And welcomed her with all joy and bliss.
And thus in mirth and joy I let them dwell; (410)
The fruit of this matter is that I tell.
When time came, men though it for the best
That revels stint, and men went to their rest.

The time came, this old Sultaness
Had ordained this feast of which I told, (415)
And to the feast Christian folk themselves dressed
In general, yea, both young and old.
Here might men feast and royalty behold,
And dainties more that I can to you devise;
But all too dear the bought it before they rose. (420)

O sudden woe, that ever is successor
To worldly bliss, sprayed with bitterness,
The end of the joy of our worldly labor!
Woe occupies the end of our gladness.
Hear this counsel for your truth: (425)
Upon your glad day have in your mind
The unanticipated woe or harm that comes behind.

For shortly to tell, at one word,
The Sultan and the Christians every one
Were all hewn and stabbed at the board, (430)
Except for only dame Custance alone.
This old Sultaness, cursed crone,
Had with her friends done this cursed deed,
For she herself would all the country lead.

There was no Syrian that was converted, (435)
That of the counsel of the Sultan knew,
That he was not all hewn before he escaped.
And Custance did they take at once, foot hot,
And in a ship all rudderless, God knows,
They had set her, and bid her learn to sail (440)
Out of Syria again toward Italy.

A certain treasure that she thither had,
And, true to say, food of great plenty
They had given to her, and clothes also she had,
And forth she sailed in the salt sea. (445)
Oh my Custance, full of benignity,
Oh Emperor's young daughter dear,
May he that is lord of Fortune you steer!

She blessed herself, and with full piteous voice
Unto the cross of Christ thus said she: (450)
"Oh clear, oh blessed altar, holy cross,
Red with the Lamb's blood full of pity,
That washes the world from the old inequity,
Me from the fiend and from his claws keep,
That day that I shall drench in the deep. (455)

"Victorious tree, protection of true,
That only worthy was to bear
The King of Heaven with his wound new,
The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spear,
Banisher of fiends out of him and her (460)
On which your limbs faithfully extend,
Me keep, and give me might my life to amend."

Years and days floated this creature
Throughout the Sea of Greece unto the Strait
Of Gibraltar, as it was her fate. (465)
On many a sorry meal now may she feed;
After her death full often may she wait,
Before the wild waves will her drive
Unto the place where she shall arrive.

God liked to show his wonderful miracle
In her, for we should see his mighty works;
Christ, which is to every harm medicine,
And certain means oft, as know clerks, (480)
Does a thing for certain end that full dark is
To man's wit, that for our ignorance
We can not know his prudent purveyance.

Now since she was not at the feast slain,
Who kept her from the drenching in the sea? (485)
Who kept Jonah in the fish's maw
Until he was spouted up at Nineveh?
Well may men know it was no man but he
That kept Hebrews from their drenching,
With dry feet throughout the sea passing. (490)

Who bade the four spirits of tempest
That power had to annoy land and sea,
Both north and south, and also west and east,
"Annoy neither sea, nor land, nor tree"?
Truly, the commander of that was he (495)
That from the tempest always this woman kept
As well when she woke as when she slept.

Where might this woman meat and drink have
Three years and more? How lasted her food?
Who fed the Egyptian Mary in the cave, (500)
Or in the desert? No man but Christ, without fail.
Five thousand folk it was as great marvel
With loaves five and fishes two to feed.
God sent his plenty at her great need.

She drove forth into our ocean (505)
Throughout our wild sea, until at last
Under a castle that I cannot name,
Far in Northumberland the wave her cast,
And in the sand his ship stuck so fast
That thence would it stay of all a tide; (510)
The will of Christ was that she should abide.

The constable of the castle fared down
To see this wreck, and all the ship he sought,
And found this weary woman full of care;
He found also the treasure that she brought. (515)
In her language mercy she besought,
The life out of her body to twain,
Her to deliver of the woe that she was in.

A manner Latin corrupt was her speech,
But nevertheless thereby she was understood. (520)
The constable, when he liked no longer to seek,
This woeful woman he brought to the land.
She knelt down and thanked God's delivery;
But what she was she would to no man say,
For foul or fair, though she should die. (525)

She said she was so dazed in the sea
That she forgot her mind, by her oath.
The constable had of her such great pity,
And also his wife, that they wept for rue.
She was so diligent, without sloth, (530)
To serve and please all in that place
That all loved her who looked on her face.

The constable and dame Hermengild, his wife,
Were pagans, and that country everywhere;
But Hermengild loved her right as her life, (535)
And Custance had so long sojourned there,
In prayers, with many a bitter tear,
Until Jesus had converted through his grace
Dame Hermengild, constabless of that place.

In all that land no Christians dared gather; (540)
All Christian folk had been chased from that country
Though pagans, that conquered all about
The coasts of the north, by land and sea.
To Wales fled the Christianity
Of old Britons dwelling in this isle; (545)
There was her refuge for the meanwhile.

But still not were Christian Britons so exiled
That there were not some that in their privacy
Honored Christ and heathen folk beguiled,
And near the castle such there dwelt three. (550)
One of them was blind and might not see,
Unless it was with the same eye of his mind
With which men see, after they are blind.

Bright was the sun as in a summer's day,
for which the constable and his wife also (555)
And Custance had taken the right way
Toward the sea a furlong away or two,
To play and to roam to and fro,
And in their walk this blind man they met,
Crooked and old, with eyes fast shut. (560)

"In name of Christ," cried this blind Briton,
"Dame Hermengild, give me my sight again!"
This lady waxed afraid of the sound,
Lest her husband, shortly to say,
Would for Jesus Christ's love have her slain, (565)
Until Custance made her bold, and bade her work
The will of Christ, as daughter of his church.

The constable waxed troubled of that sight,
And said, "What amounts all this fare?"
Custance answered, "Sir, it is Christ's might, (570)
That helps folk out of the fiend's snare."
And so to an extent she did our law declare
That she the constable, before it was evening
Converted, and in Christ made him believe.

This constable was not lord of this place (575)
Of which I speak, where he Custance found,
But kept it strongly many a winter's space
Under Alla, king of all Northumberland,
That was full wise, and worthy of his hand
Against the Scots, as men may well hear; (580)
But turn I will again to my matter.

Satan, who ever waits us to beguile,
Saw of Custance all her perfection,
And cast at once how he might requite her while,
And made a young knight that dwelt in that town (585)
Love her so hot, of foul affection,
That truly he thought he should die,
But he of her might once have his will.

He wooed her, but to no avail;
She would do no sin, by any way. (590)
And for spite he compassed in his thought
To make her a shameful death to die.
He waited until the constable was away,
And secretly upon a night he crept
In Hermengild's chamber, while she slept. (595)

Weary, awake so long for her prayers,
Slept Custance, and Hermengild also.
This knight, through Satan's temptations,
Went softly to the bed,
And cut the throat of Heremengild in two, (600)
And laid the bloody knife by dame Custance,
And went his way, there God give him mischance!

Soon after came the constable home again,
And also Alla, that was king of that land,
And saw his wife dispiteously slain, (605)
For which he full oft wept and wrung his hands,
And in the bed the bloody knife he found
By Dame Custance. Alas, what might she say?
For truly woe was with her always.

To king Alla was told all this mischance, (610)
And also the time, and where, and in what way
That in a ship was found this Custance,
As here-before you have heard described.
The king's heart of pity began to tremble,
When he saw so benign a creature (615)
Fallen in distress and dark fate.

For as the lamb toward his death is brought,
So stood this innocent before the king.
This false knight, that had this treason wrought,
Did accuse that she had done this thing. (620)
But nonetheless, there was a great mourning
Among the people, and they said they can not guess
That she had done so great a wickedness.

For they had seen her ever so virtuous,
And loving Hermengild right as her life. (625)
Of this bore witness each in that house,
Save he that Hermengild slew with his knife.
This gentle king had been greatly moved
Of these witnesses, and thought he would inquire
Deeper in this case, a truth to learn. (630)

Alas! Custance, you have no champion,
And you cannot fight, so wail-away!
But he that died for our redemption,
And bound Satan (and still lies where he laid),
So be your strong champion this day! (635)
For, unless Christ an open miracle reveals,
Without guilt you shall be slain as swift.

She set herself down on knees, and thus she said:
"Immortal God, who saved Susannah
From false blame, and you, merciful maid, (640)
Mary I mean, daughter to Saint Anne,
Before whose child angels sing Hosanna,
If I am guiltless of this felony,
My succor be, or else shall I die!"

Have you not sometime seen a pale face, (645)
Among a press, of he that is being led
Toward his death, where he gets no grace,
And such a color in his face has had
Men might know his face that was in trouble
Amongst all the faces in the crowd? (650)
So stood Custance, and looked her about.

Oh queens, living in prosperity,
Duchesses, and you ladies everyone,
Have some pity on her adversity!
An Emperor's daughter stood alone; (655)
She had no man to whom she might make her moan.
O blood royal, that stands in this dread,
Far are you friends at your great need!

This king Alla had such compassion,
As gentle heart is filled of pity, (660)
That from his eyes ran water down.
"Now hastily have fetched a book," quoth he,
"And if this knight will swear how that she
This woman slew, yet will we us advise
Whom that we will shall have as our justice." (665)

A Briton book, written with Evangiles,
Was fetched, and this book he swore at once
She guilty was, and in the mean while
A hand smote him upon the neck bone,
That down he fell at once as a stone, (670)
And both his eyes burst out of his face
In sight of everybody in that place.

A voice was heard in general audience,
And said, "You have slandered, guiltless,
The daughter of holy church in high presence; (675)
Thus have you done, and yet hold I my peace!"
Of this marvel aghast was all the press;
As bewildered folk they stood each one,
For dread of vengeance, save Custance alone.

Great was the dread and also the repentance (680)
Of them that had wrong suspicion
Upon this hapless innocent, Custance;
And for this miracle, in conculsion,
And by Custance's meditation,
The king - and many another in that place - (685)
Was converted, thanked be Christ's grace!

This false knight was slain for his untruth
By judgment of Alla hastily;
And yet Custance had of his death great pity.
After this Jesus, of his mercy, (690)
Made Alla wed full solemnly
This holy maiden, that is so bright and shines;
And thus has Christ made Custance a queen.

But who was woeful, if I shall not lie,
Of this wedding but Donegild, and no more, (695)
The king's mother, full of tyranny?
She thought her cursed heart burst in two.
She would not her son had done so;
She thought it a spite that he should take
So strange a creature to be his mate. (700)

I like not of the chaff, or of the straw,
To make so long a tale as the corn.
What should I tell of the royalty
At marriage, or which course went before;
Who blew in a trumpet or a horn? (705)
The fruit of every tale is to say:
They ate, and drank, and danced, and sang and played.

They went to bed, as it was good and right;
For though that wives be full holy things
They must take in patience at night (710)
Such manner of necessities as are pleasing
To folk that have wedded them with rings,
And lay a little their holiness aside,
As for the time, it may no better betide.

On her he begat a boy child at once (715)
And to a bishop, and his constable also,
He took his wife to keep, when he was gone
Toward Scotland, his foe-men to seek.
Now fair Custance, who is so humble and meek,
So long was gone with child, until that still (720)
She held to her chamber, abiding Christ's will.

The time was come that a boy child she bore;
Maricius at the font they him called.
This constable did forth send a messenger,
And wrote unto his king, who was called Alla, (725)
How that this blissful tiding was fallen,
And other tidings useful to say.
He took the letter, and forth he went his way.

This messenger, to do his advantage,
Unto the king's mother rode swift, (730)
And saluted her full fair in his language:
"Madame," quoth he, "you may be glad and blithe,
And thank God a hundred thousand times!
My lady queen has a child, without doubt,
To joy and bliss to all this reign about. (735)

"Lo, here are the letters sealed of this thing,
That I must bear with all the haste I may.
If you will send aught unto you son the King,
I am your servant, both night and day."
Donegild answered, "As now at this time, nay; (740)
But here all night I will that you take your rest.
Tomorrow will I say you what I like."

This messenger drank steadily ale and wine,
And stolen were his letters secretly
Out of his box, while he slept like swine; (745)
And counterfeited was full subtly
Another letter, wrought full sinfully,
Unto the king direct of this mater
From his constable, as you shall after hear.

The letter said the queen delivered was (750)
Of so horrible a fiendish creature
That in the castle none so hardy was
That any while dared there endure.
The mother was an elf, by fate
Come, by charms or by sorcery, (755)
And every man hated her company.

Woe was this king when he this letter had seen,
But to no man he told his sorrows sore,
But of his own hand he wrote again,
"Welcome the order of Christ forevermore (760)
To I who am now learned in his lore!
Lord, welcome is your lust and your pleasance;
My lust I put in all your ordinance.

"Keep this child, albeit foul or fair,
And also my wife, unto my homecoming. (765)
Christ, when he likes, may send me an heir
More agreeable than this to my liking."
This letter he sealed, privately weeping,
Which to the messenger was taken soon,
And forth he went; there is no more to do. (770)

Oh messenger, full of drunkenness,
Strong is your breath, and your limbs falter always,
And you betray all secrets.
Your mind is lost, you jangle as a jay,
Your face is turned in a new array. (775)
Where drunkenness rules any group,
There is no counsel had, without doubt.

O Donegild, I have no English proper
To your malice and your tyranny!
And therefore to the fiend I you resign; (780)
Let him write of your treachery!
Fie, mannish, fie! - oh nay, by God, I lie -
Fie, fiend-like spirit, for I dare well tell,
Though you here walk, your spirit is in hell!

This messenger came from the king again, (785)
And at the king's mother's court he alighted,
And she was of this messenger full fain,
And pleased him in all that ever she might.;
He drank, and well his girdle stuffed;
He slept, and he snorted in his guise (790)
All night, until the sun began to rise.

Again were his letters stolen every one,
And counterfeited letters in this way:
"The king commands his constable at once,
Upon pain of hanging, and on high sentence, (795)
That he should not suffer in any way
Custance within his realm to abide
Three days and one quarter of a tide;

"But in the same ship as he her found,
Her, and her young son, and all her gear, (800)
He should put, and push her from the land,
And charge her that she never again come there."
Oh my Custance, well may your soul have fear,
And, sleeping, in your dream were in penance,
When Donegild cast all this ordinance. (805)

This messenger on morn, when he woke,
Unto the castle went the closest way,
And to the constable he the letter took;
And when that he this piteous letter saw,
Full of the said, "Alas and wail-away!" (810)
"Lord Christ," quoth he, "how may this world endure,
So full of sin is many a creature?

"Oh mighty God, if that it is your will,
Since you are rightful judge, how may it be
That you will suffer innocents to kill, (815)
And wicked folk reign in prosperity?
Oh good Custance, alas, so woe is me
That I must be your tormentor, or die
A shameful death; there is no other way."

Weeping both young and old in all that place (820)
When the king this cursed letter sent,
And Custance, with a deadly pale face,
The fourth day toward her ship she went.
But nonetheless she took in good intent
The will of Christ, and kneeling on the beach, (825)
She said, "Lord, always welcome is your order!

"He that kept me from the false blame
While I was on the land amongst you,
He can keep from harm and also from shame
In salt sea, although I see not how. (830)
As strong as ever he was, he is yet now.
In him I trust, and in his mother dear,
That is to me my sail and also my rudder."

Her little child lay weeping in her arm,
And kneeling, piteously to him she said, (835)
"Peace, little son, I will do you no harm."
With that her kerchief of her head she removed,
And over his little eyes she it laid,
And in her arm she lulled him full fast,
And into heaven her eyes up she cast. (840)

"Mother," quoth she, "and maid bright, Mary,
True is that through woman's provocation
Mankind was lost, and damned always to die,
For which your child was on a cross rent.
Your blissful eyes saw all his torment; (845)
Then is there no comparison between
Your woe and any woe man may sustain.

"You saw your child slain before your eyes,
And yet now lives my little child, for faith!
Now, bright lady, to whom all the woeful cry, (850)
You glory of womanhood, you fair maid,
You haven of refuge, bright star of day,
Rue on my child, that of your gentleness
Pities on every pitiful in distress.

"Oh little child, alas! What is your guilt, (855)
That never wrought sin as yet, indeed?
Why will your hard father have you killed?
Oh mercy, dear constable," quoth she,
"As let my little child dwell here with you;
And if you dare not save him, for blame, (860)
So kiss him once in his father's name!"

Therewith she looked backward to the land,
And said, "Farewell, husband ruthless!"
And up she rose, and walked down the beach
Toward the ship - followed by all the crowd - (865)
And ever she prayed her child to hold his peace;
And took her leave, and with a holy intent
She blessed herself, and into the ship she went.

Stocked was the ship, it is no doubt,
Completely for her full long space, (870)
And other necessaries that should need
She had enough - hailed be God's grace!
For wind and weather almighty god purchase,
And bring her home! I can no better say,
But in the sea she drove forth her way. (875)

Explicit secunda pars.*
*(End part the second.)

Sequitur pars tercia.*
*(Follows part the third.)

Alla the king came home soon after this
Unto his castle, of which I told,
And asked where his wife and his child were.
The constable did his heart cold,
And plainly all the manner he him told (880)
As you have heard - I can tell it no better -
And showed the king his seal and also his letter,

And said, "Lord, as you commanded me
Upon pain of death, so I have done, certain."
This messenger tortured was until he (885)
Must reveal and tell, flat and plain,
From night to night, in what place he had lain;
And thus by with and subtle inquiring,
Discovered was from whom this harm did spring.

The hand was known that the letter wrote, (890)
And all the venom of this cursed deed,
But in what way, certainly, I know not.
The effect was this: that Alla, out of doubt,
His mother slew - that may men plainly read -
For she was a traitor to her allegiance. (895)
Thus ended old Donegild, with mischance!

The sorrow that this Alla night and day
Made for his wife, and for his child also,
There is no tongue that tell it may.
But now will I unto Custance go, (900)
That floated in the sea, in pain and woe,
Five years and more, as liked Christ's order,
Before her ship approached land.

Under a heathen castle, at last,
Of which the name in my text I do not find, (905)
Custance, and also her child, the sea up cast.
Almighty God, that saved all mankind,
Have on Custance and on her child some mind,
That fallen was in heathen land once again,
In point to die, as I shall tell you soon. (910)

Down from the castle came there many a man
To look on this ship and on Custance.
But shortly, from the castle, on a night,
The lord's steward - God give him mischance -
A thief, that had renounced our creed, (915)
Came into the ship alone, and said he should
Her lover be, whether she would or would not.

Woe was this wretched woman begone;
Her child cried, and she cried piteously.
But blissful Mary helped her right at once; (920)
For with her struggling well and mightily
The thief fell overboard suddenly,
And in the sea he drowned for vengeance;
And thus had Christ kept undefiled Custance.

O foul lust of lechery, lo, your end! (925)
Not only that you weaken man's mind,
But truly you will his body break.
The end of your work, or of your lusts blind,
Is lamenting. How many may men find
That is not for work sometime, but for the intent (930)
To do this sin, be either slain or broken!

How may this weak woman have this strength
Her to defend against this renegade?
Oh Goliath, unmeasurable of length,
How might David make you so defeated, (935)
So young and of armor so desolate?
How dare he look upon your dreadful face?
Well may men se, it is not but by God's grace.

Who gave Judith courage or hardiness
To slay Holofernes in his tent, (940)
And to deliver out of wretchedness
The people of God? I say, for this intent,
That right as God spirit of vigor sent
To them and saved them out of mischance,
So sent he might and vigor to Custance. (945)

Forth went her ship through the narrow mouth
Of Gibraltar and Morocco, driving always
Sometimes west, and sometimes north and south,
And sometimes east, full many a weary day,
Until Christ's mother - blessed be she always! - (950)
Had shaped, through her endless goodness,
To make an end of all her heaviness.

Now let us stint of Custance but a while,
And speak of the Roman Emperor,
That out of Syria did by letters know (955)
The slaughter of Christian folk, and dishonor
Done to his daughter by a false traitor,
I mean the cursed wicked Sultaness
That at the feast let slay both more and less.

For which this Emperor had sent at once (960)
His senator, with royal ordinance,
And other lords, God knows, many of,
On Syrians to take high vengeance.
The burned, slew, and brought them to mischance
Full many a day; but shortly - this is the end - (965)
Homeward to Rome they shaped themselves to wend.

This senator returned with victory
Toward Rome, sailing full royally,
And met the ship driving, as says the story,
In which Custance sat full piteously. (970)
Nothing he knew what she was, nor why
She was in such array, and she would not say
Of her estate, although she should die.

He brought her to Rome, and to his wife
He gave her, and her young son also; (975)
And with the senator she led her life.
Thus can Our Lady bring out of woe
Woeful Custance, and many another more.
And a long time dwelt she in that place,
In holy works ever, as was her grace. (980)

The senator's wife her aunt was,
But for all that she knew her never the more.
I will no longer tarry in this case,
But to king Alla, who I spoke of before,
That for his wife wept and sighed sore, (985)
I will return, and I will leave Custance
Under the senator's governance.

King Alla, who had his mother slain,
Upon a day fell in such repentance
That, if I shall tell shortly and plain, (990)
To Rome he came to receive his penance;
And put himself in the Pope's ordinance
In high and low, and Jesus Christ besought
Forgive his wicked works that he wrought.

The fame at once through Rome town was borne, (995)
How Alla king shall come in pilgrimage,
By servants that went him before;
For which the senator, as was his way,
Rode towards him, and many of his lineage,
As well to show his high magnificence (1000)
As to do any king a reverence.

Great cheer did this noble senator
To king Alla, and he to him also;
Each of them did the other great honor.
And so it fell that in a day or two (1005)
This senator was to king Alla gone
To feast, and shortly, if I shall not lie,
Custance's son went in his company.

Some men would say at request of Custance
This senator had led this child to feast; (1010)
I may not tell every circumstance -
But as be may, he was there at the least.
But true is this, that at his mother's behest
Before Alla, during the meat's space,
This child stood, looking in the king's face. (1015)

This Alla king had of this child great wonder,
And to the senator he said at once,
"Whose is that fair child that stands yonder?"
"I know not," quoth he, "by God and by Saint John!
A mother he has, but a father has he none (1020)
That I know" - and shortly, in a moment,
He told Alla how that this child was found.

"But God knows," quoth this senator also,
"So virtuous a person in my life
I never saw as she, nor heard of more, (1025)
Of worldly women, maid, or of wife.
I dare well say she had rather a knife
Through her breast, than be a women wicked;
There is no man could bring her to that point."

Now was this child like unto Custance (1030)
As possible is a creature to be.
This Alla had the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and thereon mused he
If that the child's mother were any part she
That is his wife, and privately he sighed, (1035)
And sped himself from the tale that he might.

"By my faith," thought he, "phantom is in my head!
I ought deem, of skillful judgment ,
That in the salt sea my wife is dead."
And afterward he made his argument: (1040)
"What know I if that Christ has hither sent
My wife by sea, as well as he her sent
To my country from thence that she went?"

And after noon, home with the senator
Went Alla, for to see this wondrous chance. (1045)
This senator did Alla great honor,
And hastily he sent after Custance.
But trust well, she liked not to dance
When that she knew wherefore was that command;
Hardly upon her feet might she stand. (1050)

When Alla saw his wife, fair he her greeted,
And wept such that it was piteous to see;
For at the first look he on her set
He knew well truly that it was she.
And she, for sorrow, as dumb stood as a tree, (1055)
So was her heart torn in her distress,
When she remembered his unkindness.

Twice she swooned in his own sight;
He wept, and he excused piteously.
"Now God," quoth he, "and his saints bright (1060)
Surely on my soul as have mercy,
That of your harm as guiltless am I
As is Maurice my son, so like your face;
Else the fiend fetch me out of this place!"

Long was the sobbing and the bitter pain, (1065)
Before that her woeful hurts might cease;
Great was the pity for to hear him lament,
Through which complaints did her woe increase.
I pray you all my labor to release;
I may not tell her woe until tomorrow, (1070)
I am so weary to speak of sorrow.

But finally, when that the truth was known
That Alla was guiltless of her woe,
I swear a hundred times did they kiss,
And such a bliss was there between them two (1075)
That, save the joy that lasts evermore,
There is nothing like that any creature
Has seen or shall, while that the world endures.

Then she prayed her husband meekly,
In relief of her long, piteous pain, (1080)
That he would pray her father specially
That of his majesty he would incline
To vouchsafe some day with him to dine.
She prayed him also that he should by no way
Unto her father no word of her say. (1085)

Some men would say how that the child Maurice
Did this message unto this Emperor;
But, as I guess, Alla was not so foolish
To him that was of so sovereign honor
As the that is of Christian folk the flour, (1090)
Sent any child, but is better to deem
He went himself, and so it may well seem.

This Emperor had granted gently
To come to dinner, as he besought;
And well read I he looked busily (1095)
Upon this child, and on his daughter thought.
Alla went to his inn, and as he ought,
Arrayed for this feast in every way
As far as his knowing might suffice.

The morning came, and Alla began himself to dress, (1100)
And also his wife, this Emperor to meet;
And forth they rode in joy and in gladness.
And when she saw her father in the street,
She alighted down, and fell to his feet.
"Father," quoth she, "your young child Custance (1105)
Is now full clean out of your remembrance.

"I am your daughter Custance," quoth she,
"That once you had sent unto Syria.
It is I, father, that in the salt sea
Was put alone and damned to die. (1110)
Now, good father, mercy I you cry!
Send me no more into any heathen place,
But thank my lord here of his kindness."

"Who can the piteous joy tell all
Between them three, since the were thus met? (1115)
But of my tale make an end I shall;
The day went fast, I will no longer delay.
This glad folk to dinner they themselves set;
In joy and bliss at meat I leave them dwell
A thousandfold well better than I can tell. (1120)

This child Maurice was since Emperor
Made by the Pope, and lived in Christianity;
To Christ's church he did great honor,
But I let all his story pass by;
Of Custance my tale is specially. (1125)
In the old Roman histories may men find
Maurice's life; I bear it not in mind.

This king Alla, when he his time saw,
With his Custance, his holy wife so sweet,
To England did they go the right way, (1130)
Where as they lived in joy and in quiet.
But little while it lasted, I you heed,
Joy of this world, for time will not abide;
From day to night it changes as the tide.

Who lived ever in such delight one day (1135)
That he did not move either conscience,
Or ire, or talent, or some kind of fear,
Envy, or pride, pro passion, or offense?
I do not say but for this end this sentence,
That little while in joy or in pleasance (1140)
Lasted the bliss of Alla with Custance.

For Death, that takes of high and low his rent,
When passed was a year, even as I guess,
Out of this world king Alla he took,
For whom Custance had full great heaviness. (1145)
Now let us pray God his soul bless!
And dame Custance, finally to say,
Toward the town of Rome went her way.

To Rome was come this holy creature,
And found her friends whole and sound; (1150)
Now has she escaped all her fate.
And when that she her father had found,
Down on her knees she fell to the ground;
Weeping for tenderness in heart blithe,
She praised God a hundred thousand times. (1155)

In virtue and in holy charitable deeds
They lived all, and never asunder went;
Until death departed them, from this life they lead.
And fare now well! my tale is at an end.
Now Jesus Christ, that of his might may send (1160)
Joy after woe, govern us in his grace,
And keep us all that are in this place! Amen.

Here ends the tale of the Man of Law

Our Host upon his stirrups stood at once,
And said, "Good men, hearken every one!
This was a thrifty tale for the occasion! (1165)
Sir Parish Priest," quoth he, "for God's bones,
Tell us a tale, as was this forward before.
I see well that you learned men in lore
Know much good, by God's dignity!"

The Parson him answered, "Benediction! (1170)
What ails the man, so sinfully to swear?"
Our Host answered, "Oh Jankin*, be you there?
I smell a Lollard in the wind," quoth he.
"Now! good men," quoth our Host, "hear me;
Abide, for God's dignified passion, (1175)
For we shall have a sermon;
This Lollard here will preach us something."
*(Jankin is a mocking name for a priest, a Lollard is a heretic)

"Nay, by my father's soul, that shall he not!"
Said the Shipman, "Here shall he not preach;
He shall no gospel gloss here nor teach. (1180)
We believe all in the great God," quoth he,
"He would sow some difficulty,
Or sprinkle weeds in our clean corn.
And therefore, Host, I warned you before,
My jolly body shall tell a tale, (1185)
And I shall clink you so merry a bell,
That I shall wake all this company.
But it shall not be of philosophy,
Nor files, nor terms quaint of law.
There is but little Latin in my maw!" (1190)


Chaucer FYI - 5 The Cook's Tale

"Ahah! Hahahah! Hahaha! Haha. Whoo. Ha. Well, anyway, I guess you had to be there."

The above should be the last line of The Cook's Tale. Poor little Rodger, he didn't even get a "here ends the Cook's tale" from Chaucer - just the deafening sounds of crickets and the shuffled feet and jangling reins of a confused and underwhelmed audience of pilgrims and readers.

FYI, I love The Cook's Tale.

When I'm talking to people who haven't read this tale I sum it up for them with the following explanation:

"Once upon a time there were whores somewhere." If I have time after that, I may say "and a guy who played dice and stole from his boss. Oh yeah, and whores! I told you about the whores right?"

I know that there's only one whore in The Cook's Tale, and it's more about Perkin the Reveler, but that's no fun. And really, it's more about Rodger the Cook who totally missed the point of the Reeve's tale, and who missed the day in medieval grade school when the plague-ridden teacher explained what elements are required to complete a story before passing out and infecting a third of the class.

But I digress.

There are some critics who argue that The Cook's Tale is unfinished. I, personally, would argue that the tale is complete but that the Cook is a few fries short of a happy meal. Rodger may believe that he's totally done - he's told an amusing story about a funny character and he's just rolling along, keeping up with the other pilgrims - and good for him! Better for Chaucer, actually; including an idiot character early in the collection keeps things light - especially as a follow-up to the creepy feeling that accompanies the rapes in The Reeve's Tale.

I don't have a lot to say beyond that, which shouldn't surprise anybody after reading a tale that, including the prologue, is only 97 lines long. There's not an awful lot of material to examine in this sort of venue.

I'm sure if I were trying to be dry and professional, a good little college student, I could try to force a fifteen page paper in this space discussing all the serious issues at hand in The Cook's Tale, and maybe someday I will just to be snarky, but right now I'm just basking in the fact that Chaucer did a great job of pointing out that there always have been and always will be idiots in this world.

The Cook's Tale

The prologue of the Cook's Tale.

The Cook of London, while the Reeve spoke, (4325)
For enjoyment thought he was being scratched on the back.
"Ha! ha!" quoth he, "For Christ's passion,
This miller had a sharp conclusion
Upon his argument of harborage!
Well said Solomon in his language, (4330)
'Do not bring every man into your house,'
For harboring by night is perilous.
Well ought a man advised be
Whom that he brings into his privacy.
I pray to God, so give me sorrow and care (4335)
If ever, since I was called Rodger of Ware,
Heard I a miller better set a work.
He had a joke of malice in the dark.
But God forbid that we stop here;
And therefore, if you vouchsafe to hear (4340)
A tale of me, a poor man,
I will tell you, as well as ever I can,
A little trick that fell in our city."

Our Host answered and said, "I grant it you.
Now tell on, Rodger; look that it be good, (4345)
For many a pastie have you ladled gravy,
And many a Jake of Dover have you sold
That has been twice hot and twice cold.
Of many a pilgrim you have Christ's curse,
For of your parsley yet they fare the worse, (4350)
That they have eaten of your fatted goose,
For in your shop many flies are loose.
Now tell on, gentle Rodger your name.
But yet I pray you, be not wrathful for game;
A man may say full truth in game and play." (4355)

"You say full true," quoth Rodger, "by my faith!
But 'true play, bad play' as the Fleming says.
And therefore, Harry Bailey, by your faith,
Be you not wrath, before we depart here,
Though that my tale is of a hosteler. (4360)
But nonetheless I will not tell it yet;
But before we part, surely, you shall be requited."
And therewith all he laughed and made cheer,
And said his tale, as you shall after hear.

Here begins the Cook's Tale.

An apprentice once dwelt in our city, (4365)
And of a craft of food-sellers was he.
Merry was he as a goldfinch in the wood,
Brown as a bear, a proper short fellow,
With locks black, combed full festively.
He could dance so well and jollily (4370)
That he was called Perkin the Reveler.
He was as full of love and paramour
As the hive is full of honey sweet;
Well was the wench that with him might meet.
At every bridal party would he sing and hop; (4375)
He loved better the tavern than the shop.
For when there was any procession in Cheapside,
Out of the shop thither would he leap -
Until he had all the sights seen,
And danced well, he would not come again - (4380)
And gathered him a crowd of his sort
To hop and sing and make such sport;
And there they set time for to meet,
To play at the dice in such a street.
For in the town there was no apprentice
That fairer could cast a pair of dice
Than Perkin could, and thereto he was free
Of his expense, in a place of privacy.
That found his master well in his business,
For often times he found his cash-box full bare. (4390)
For truly an apprentice reveler
That haunts dice, riot, or paramour,
His master shall in his shop it buy,
Even though he has no part of the minstralry.
For theft and riot, they are interchangeable, (4395)
Even if he knows how to play a cithern or a fiddle.
Revel and truth, and in a low degree,
They are at odds all day, as men may see.

This jolly apprentice with his master abided,
Until he was almost out of his apprenticeship, (4400)
All was he scolded both early and late,
And sometime led with revel to Newgate*. *(a prison)
But at last his master bethought,
Upon a day, when he his paper sought,
Of a proverb that says this same word: (4405)
"Well better is a rotten apple out of hoard
Than it rot all the remnant."
So fared it with a riotous servant;
It is full less harm to let him pace
Than he harm all the servants in this place. (4410)
Therefore his master gave him quittance,
And bade him go, with sorrow and with mischance!
And thus this jolly apprentice had his leave.
Now let him riot all the night or leave.
And because there is no thief without a friend, (4415)
That helps him to waste and to spend
Of what he bribe can or borrow may,
At once he sent his bed and his array
Unto a peer of his own sort,
That loved dice, and revel, and sport, (4420)
And had a wife that held for countenance
A shop, and shagged for her sustenance.

Chaucer FYI - 4 The Reeve's Tale

Well, if it isn't obvious by now, then I've lost a little hope for humanity. The tale-tellers interact. Chaucer is clearly trying to hammer this point home in this tale; the Reeve's prologue is almost entirely about why he wants to have a story-time smackdown with the Miller, and the last line of his story is his final jab at the Miller.

Chaucer wanted his audience to be aware that his speakers were more dynamic than the speakers in other tale collections because it not only made him more interesting as an author, it made the tales themselves more interesting. Chaucer took almost all of his stories from a preexisting source, at least in part. Since they were around beforehand, Chaucer took pains not only to make them more artistic, but to give a good reason for re-telling the tales. The Reeve's Tale in particular had several sources and analogues, and was probably fairly well known as a folk story as well as a piece of German/French/Italian literature, so when Chaucer put his pretty English spin on it, it wasn't that much more compelling than any of the others - until, that is, he made the story into an act of vengeance. At that point, an oft-repeated albeit funny story had an additional draw. Now the reader isn't necessarily reading to find out what happens in the tale - they may already know - they're reading to find out what happens to the person telling the tale as well, and looking for any jokes or pokes Chaucer may have added that were directed at the object of the tale. In this manner, Chaucer managed to brilliantly revivify old stories in a wonderfully modern method. Hollywood, take note.

On to another point - we're going to get back to tale-teller interaction more with the Friar and the Summoner - I have to apologize to anyone reading this. It is unclear in my translation that the brothers Alain and John have thick, nearly incomprehensible, Northern Middle English accents. Some of that can be seen by their use of unusual aphorisms, but not as much is communicated as I would have liked. To Simkin, his family, and the warden of Cambridge they sound like utterly hilarious backwoods hicks, which is part of why Simkin thinks that he'll be able to trick them so easily as well as part of the reason that they so badly don't want to be tricked. I'm sorry - I was trying to translate more for verbal accuracy than for anything else, and if you're reading this alongside the Middle English, your original text should show this dynamic well enough.

Now on to shagging. "Swyved" is a word that I ranted about in my last Chaucer FYI post, so I won't go into depth on it, suffice to say that I was trying to find a euphemism for "copulated with" that was a single-word verb (rather two-word verb phrases such as "made love" or "had sex") that was bawdy enough to fit the tone of the story and English enough that Chaucer might have used it if it had been around in his time. "Screwed" "boned" "humped" and yes, even "fucked" were considered, and I just ended up deciding that "shagged" was the best choice to act as an equivalent to "swyved." I will say though, if you read it with an Austin Powers voice in your mind, you're going to make me very happy and very sad at the same time.

Well, I seem to have exhausted my ability to be wry for the moment, so I feel that now is the time to discuss a rather serious issue in this tale: rape in the time of Chaucer.

Reading The Reeve's Tale for the first time was pretty jarring for me as I approached the end. I was excitedly waiting for a sneaky trick, wanting to find out what the brothers did to avenge themselves. Then Alain snuck up to the daughter's bed and became "aton" with her before she had a chance to cry out. Only about fifty lines later she is helping with his revenge and crying as he leaves the bed he was never invited into. Ahem. What!? Then John tricks Simkin's wife into his bed and they hump like bunnies all night long and she has no idea who she's in bed with. While part of my mind was amused by how Simkin's theft was being repaid, the rest of it was cringing away from the supposed "heroes" of the tale who were raping the wife and daughter of their host.

What can really be said about this? What can be offered as an excuse? In most of the other analogues, the stories have no character, they're just bawdy stories and everyone ends up laughing, so did Chaucer kick it up a notch to get a bigger laugh? Is this treatment of sex included because rape was funny in the 1300s? No; we can dismiss that theory. Did Chaucer think involuntary sex was hilarious? Probably not, no. So why does Chaucer include two fairly clear rapes in what is supposed to be a funny story? My theory is that Chaucer includes it to illustrate that while he is funny and clever and bright, the Reeve is not. I think that this tale approaches sex in this manner because it is the way that the bitter, old, wrathful Reeve would approach it - tastelessly, somewhat violently, and for the reason of perceived offense. I think Chaucer wants his audience to be uncomfortable with this story because he wants his audience to be uncomfortable with the Reeve - he is easing his readers into the very bottom of this particular downward spiral, which will come to a crashing, ridiculous end with The Cook's Tale, and which will leave the audience hungry for something "higher" that Chaucer then happily gives to us in The Man of Law's Tale. In this light, the inclusion of rape in The Reeve's Tale is brilliant - Chaucer is playing his audience like a fiddle, manipulating them into wanting to read the stories that he has written in the order that he chose to present them.

Sorry to sound like a nutcase fan-girl, but how unbelievably cool is that? One of the most "ick" moments in The Canterbury Tales may be there because the author wanted us to be grossed out enough to crave the "sentence" that is shortly going to follow.

Hats off, everyone. Chaucer is officially a badass.


The Reeve's Tale

The Prologue of the Reeve's Tale.

When folk had laughed at this nice case (3855)
Of Absolon and handy Nicholas,
Diverse folk diversely they said,
But for the most part they laughed and played.
At this tale I saw no man himself grieve,
Except for only Oswald the Reeve. (3860)
Because he was of carpenter's craft,
A little ire was in his heart left;
He began to grouch, and blamed it a little.

"I swear," quoth he, "full well could I you requite
With blearing of a proud miller's eye, (3865)
If I should like to speak of ribaldry.
But I am old; I like not to play for age;
Grass time is done; my fodder is now forage;
This white top writes my old years;
My heart is also molded as my hairs, (3870)
But if I fare as does an open-air vendor -
That the same fruit is ever longer the worse,
Until it be rotten in mullock or in straw.
We old men, I dread, so fare we:
Until we are rotten, we can not be ripe; (3875)
We hop always while the world will pipe.
For in our will there strikes ever a nail,
To have a hoary head and a green tail,
As has a leek; for though our might is gone,
Our will desires folly ever in one. (3880)
For when we may not do, then will we speak;
Yet in our ashes old is a fire over raked.

"Four embers we have, which I shall devise -
Boasting, lying, anger, coveting;
These four sparkle long into age. (3885)
Our old limbs might well be unwieldy,
But will shall not fail, that is truth.
And yet I have always had a colt's tooth,
As many a year as it has passed hence
Since the tap of my life began to run. (3890)
For, truly, when I was born, at once
Death drew the tap of life and let it go on,
And ever since has the tap so run
Until almost all empty is the tonne*. *(cask)
The stream of life now drops on the rim. (3895)
The innocent tongue may well ring and chime
Of wretchedness that is passed long ago;
With old folk, save dotage, there is no more!"

When our Host had heard this sermoning,
He began to speak as highly as a king. (3900)
He said, "What amounts from all this wit?
What shall we speak all day of holy writ?
The devil take a reeve to preach,
Or a cobbler or a shipman or a barber.
Say forth you tale, and tarry not the time.
Lo Deptford, and it is half-way prime!
Lo Greenwich, where many a shrew is in!
It is past time your tale to begin."

"Now, sirs," quoth this Oswald the Reeve,
"I pray you all that you not yourselves grieve, (3910)
Though I answer, and somewhat set his hood;
For it is permissible with force to show force.

"This drunk Miller has told us here
How beguiled was a carpenter,
Maybe in scorn, for I am one. (3915)
And, by your leave, I shall him requite at once;
Right in his churl's terms will I speak.
I pray to God his neck might break;
He can well in my eye see a straw,
But in his own he can not se a beam." (3920)

Here begins the Reeve's Tale.

At Trumpington, not far from Cambridge,
There goes a brook, and over that a bridge,
Upon which brook there stands a mill;
And this honest truth I you tell:
A miller was there dwelling many a day. (3925)
As any peacock he was proud and gay.
He could pipe and fish, and nets mend,
And turn cups, and well wrestle and shoot;
Always by his belt he bore a long rapier,
And of a full sword sharp was the blade. (3930)
A jolly dagger he bore in his pouch;
There was no man, for peril, who dared him touch.
A Sheffield knife he bore in his hose.
Round was his face, with a pug nose;
As bald as an ape was his skull. (3935)
He was a market-beater at full.
There dared no man hand upon him lay,
That he didn't swear he should soon repay.
A thief he was for truth of corn and meal,
And sly at that, and used to stealing. (3940)
His name was called haughty Simkin.
A wife he had, come from noble kin;
The parson of the town her father was.
With her he gave full many a pan of brass,
For Simkin should in his blood ally. (3945)
She was fostered in a nunnery;
For Simkin would have no wife, as he said,
Unless she were well nourished and a maid,
To save his estate of yeomanry.
And she was proud, and impertinent as a magpie. (3950)
A full fair sight it was upon them two;
On holy days before her he would go
With his hood wound about his head,
And she came after in a gown of red;
And Simkin had hose of the same. (3955)
There dared no man to call her but "dame";
Was none so hardy that went by the way
That with her dared rage or once play,
Unless he would be slain by Simkin
With rapier, or with knife, or bodkin. (3960)
For jealous folk are perilous evermore -
At least they would their wives think so.
And also, for she was somewhat sullied,
She was as dignified as water in a ditch,
And full of disdain and scorn. (3965)
She thought that a lady should herself spare,
What for her kindred and her nurture
That she had learned in the nunnery.

A daughter they had between them two
Of twenty years, without any more, (3970)
Saving a child that was of half year age;
In cradle it lay and was a proper boy.
This wench thick and well grown was,
With pug nose and eyes gray as glass,
With buttocks broad and breasts round and high. (3975)
But right fair was her hair; I will not lie.

This parson of the town, for she was fair,
In purpose was to make her as his heir,
Both of his chattel and his house,
And difficult he made it of her marriage. (3980)
His purpose was to bestow her high
Into some worthy blood of ancestry;
For holy church's good must be expended
On holy church's blood, that is descended.
Therefore he would his holy blood honor, (3985)
Though that he holy church should devour.

Great monopoly had this miller, out of doubt,
With wheat and malt of all the land about;
And namely there was a great college
Men called the Solar Hall at Cambridge; (3990)
There was their wheat and also their malt ground.
And on a day it happened, in a time,
Sick lay the manciple on a malady;
Men thought wisely that he should die.
For which this miller stole both meal and corn (3995)
A hundred times more than before;
For before that he stole only courteously,
But now he was a thief outrageously,
For which the warden chided and made fuss.
But thereof set the miller not a weed; (4000)
He blustered fiercely, and swore it was not so.

Then were there young poor scholars two,
That dwelt in this hall, of which I say.
Testy they were, and lusty for play,
And, only for their mirth and revelry, (4005)
Upon the warden busily they cried
To give them leave, but a little time,
To go to the mill and see their corn ground;
And hardily they dared lay their necks
The miller should not steal them half a peck (4010)
Of corn by slight, nor by force them rob;
And at last the warden gave them leave.
John was called one, and Alain called the other;
Of a town they were born, that was called Strother,
Far in the north; I can not tell where. (4015)

This Alain made ready all his gear,
And on a horse the sack he cast at once.
Forth went Alan the clerk, and also John,
With good swords and with shields by their side.
John knew the way - they needed no guide - (4020)
And at the mill the sack down he laid.
Alain spoke first: "All hail, Simon*, in faith! *(Simkin is a nickname for Simon)
How fares your fair daughter and your wife?"

"Alain, welcome," quoth Simkin, "by my life!
And John also, how now, what do you here?" (4025)

"Simon," quoth John, "by God, who has no peer.
He must serve himself that has no swain,
Or else he is a fool, as clerks say.
Our manciple, I think he will be dead,
So ache always the teeth in his head; (4030)
And forth am I come, and also Alain,
To grind our corn and carry it home again;
I pray you speed us hence that you may."

"It shall be done," quoth Simkin, "by my faith!
What will you do while it is in hand?" (4035)

"By God, right by the hopper will I stand,"
Quoth John, "and see how the corn goes in.
Yet saw I never, by my father's kin,
How that the hopper wags to and fro."

Alain answered, "John, and will you so? (4040)
Then I will be beneath, by my crown,
And see how that the meal falls down
Into the trough; that shall be my sport.
For John, in faith, I may be of your sort;
I am as ill a miller as are you." (4045)

The miller smiled at their nicety,
And thought, "All this is nothing but a wile.
They think that no man may them beguile,
But by my thrift, yet shall I blear their eye,
For all the slight in their philosophy. (4050)
The more quaint tricks that they make,
The more will I steal when I take.
Instead of flour yet will I give them bran.
'The greatest clerks are not wisest men,'
As once the wolf thus said to the mare. (4055)
Of all their art I count not a weed."

Out the door he went full privately,
When he saw his time, softly.
He looked up and down until he had found
The clerks' horse, where it stood bound (4060)
Behind the mill, under an arbor;
And to the horse he went fair and well;
He stripped of the bridle right at once.
And when the horse was loose, he began to go
Toward the fen, where the wild mares ran, (4065)
And forth with "wehee," through thick and through thin.

This miller went again, no word he said,
But did his work, and with the clerks played
Until their corn was fair and well ground.
And when the meal was sacked and bound, (4070)
John went out and found his horse away,
And began to cry "Harrow!" and "Wail-away!"
Our horse is lorn, Alain, for God's bones,
Step on your feet! Come of, man, all at once!
Alas, our warden has his palfrey lorn." (4075)
This Alain all forgot, both meal and corn;
All was out of his mind his husbandry.
"What, which way is he gone?" he began to cry.

The wife came leaping inward with a run.
She said, "Alas! your horse goes to the fen (4080)
With wild mares, as fast as he can go.
Curses come on his hand that bound him so,
And he that better should have knit the rein!"

"Alas," quoth John, "Alain, for Christ's pain
Lay down your sword, and I will mine also. (4085)
I am full strong, God knows, as is a roe;
By God's heart, he shall not escape us both!
Why didn't you put the horse in the barn?
Ill hail! By god, Alain, you are a fool!"

These innocent clerks had full fast run (4090)
Toward the fen, both Alain and also John.

And when the miller saw that they were gone,
He half a bushel of their flour had taken,
And bade his wife go knead it in a cake.
He said, "I true the clerks were leery. (4095)
Yet can a miller make a clerk a fool,
For all his art; now let them go their way!
Lo, where he goes! You, let the children play.
They will get him not so lightly, by my crown."

These hapless clerks ran up and down (4100)
With "Keep! Keep! Stand! Stand! Down here, watch behind,
Go whistle you, and I shall keep him here!"
But shortly, until it was truly night,
They could not, though they did all their might,
Their horse catch, he ran always so fast, (4105)
Until in a ditch they caught him at last.

Weary and wet, as a beast is in the rain,
Came poor John, and with him came Alain.
"Alas," quoth John, "the day I was born!
Now are we driven to contempt and to scorn. (4110)
Our corn is stolen; men will us fools call,
Both the warden and our fellows all,
And namely the miller, wail-away!"

Thus complained John as he went by the way
Toward the mill, and Bayard in his hand. (4115)
The miller sitting by the fire he found,
For it was night, and further might they not;
But for the love of God they him besought
Of harboring and of ease, as for their penny.

The miller said again, "If there be any, (4120)
Such as it is, yet you shall have your part.
My house is narrow, but you have learned art;
You can by arguments make a place
A mile broad of twenty feet of space.
Let see now if this place may suffice, (4125)
Or make it room with speech, as is your guise."

"Now, Simon," said John, "by Saint Cuthbert,
Always are you merry, and this is fair answered.
I have heard said, 'Man shall take of two things:
Such as he finds, or take such as he brings.' (4130)
But especially I pray you, host dear,
Get us some meat and drink, and make us cheer,
And we will pay truly at full.
With empty hands men may not hawks lure;
Look, here is our silver, ready to spend." (4135)

This miller into town his daughter sent
For ale and bread, and roasted them a goose,
And bound their horse, it should no more go loose,
And in his own chamber made them a bed,
With sheets and with blankets fair spread (4140)
Not ten or twelve feet from his own bed.
His daughter had a bed, all by herself,
Right in the same chamber by and by.
It might be no better, and why?
There was no roomier harborage in the place. (4145)
They supped and they spoke, them to solace,
And drank ever strong ale at best.
About midnight they went to rest.

Well has this miller varnished his head;
Full pale was he for drunk, and not red. (4150)
He belched, and spoke through the nose
As if he had a hoarse throat, or had a cold.
To bed he went, and with him went his wife.
As any jay was she light and jolly,
So was her jolly whistle wet. (4155)
The cradle at her bed's foot was set,
To rock, and to give the child to suck.
And when that drunken all were in the crock,
To bed the daughter went right at once;
To bed went Alain and also John; (4160)
There was no more, they needed no sleeping draught.
This miller had so surely imbibed ale
That as a horse he snorted in his sleep,
Nor of his tail behind did he take any keep.
His wife bore him a base, one full strong; (4165)
Men might hear her snoring for two furlongs;
The wench snored also, to keep company.

Alain the clerk, who heard this melody,
He poked John, and said, "Do you sleep?
Have you ever heard such a song before now? (4170)
Lo, such a hymn is among them all;
A wild fire upon their bodies fall!
Who heard ever such an amazing thing?
Yea, they shall have the flour of ill ending.
This long night there tides me no rest; (4175)
But yet, no force, all shall be for the best.
For, John," said he, "all ever might I thrive,
If that I may, yonder wench will I shag.
Some ease has law shaped us,
For, John, there is a law that says thus: (4180)
That if a man in a point be aggrieved,
That in another he shall be relieved.
Our corn is stolen, truly, it can't be denied,
And we have had an ill fit all this day;
And since I shall have no amendment (4185)
Against my loss, I will have easement.
By God's sail, it shall not be otherwise!"

This John answered, "Alain, watch yourself!
The miller is a perilous man," he said,
And if that he out of his sleep awoke, (4190)
He might do us both a villainy."

Alain answered, "I count him not a fly."
And up he rose and by the wench he crept.
Until so nigh he was, before she might espy,
That it had been too late to cry, (4195)
And shortly to say, they were conjoined.
Now play, Alain, for I will speak of John.

This John laid full still a moment or two,
And to himself he made pity and woe. (4200)
"Alas," quoth he, "this is a wicked trick;
Now may I say that I am but an ape.
Yet has my fellow something for his harm;
He has the miller's daughter in his arm.
He risked himself, and has his needs sped, (4205)
And I lie as a chaff-sack in my bed;
And when this trick is told another day,
I shall be held daft, a weakling!
I will arise and risk it, by my faith!
'Unhardy is unlucky,' thus men say." (4210)
And up he rose, and softly he went
Unto the cradle, and in his hand took it,
And bore it softly unto his bed's foot.

Soon after this the wife her snoring stopped,
And came awake, and went out to piss, (4215)
And came again, and did her cradle miss,
And groped here and there, but she found none.
"Alas!" quoth she, "I had almost miss-gone;
I had almost gon to the clerk's bed.
Aye, blessings! Then had I foul sped!" (4220)
And forth she went until the cradle she found.
She groped always further with her hand,
And found the bed, and thought nothing but good,
Because the cradle by it stood,
And didn't know where she was, for it was dark; (4225)
But fair and well she crept in to the clerk,
And laid full still, and would have caught a sleep.
Within a while this John the clerk up leaped,
And on this good wife he laid on sore.
So merry a time never had she had for a long time; (4230)
He pricked hard and deep as if he were mad.
This joly life these two clerks led
Until the third cock began to sing.

Alain waxed weary in the dawning,
For he had shagged all the long night, (4235)
And said, "Fare well, Maline, sweet girl!
The day is come; I may no longer bide;
But evermore, where so I go or ride,
I am your won clerk, so have I sworn!"

"Now, dear sweetheart," quoth she, "go, fare well! (4240)
But before you go, one thing I will you tell:
When you wend homeward by the mill,
Right at the entry of the door behind
You shall a cake of half a bushel find
That was made of your own meal, (4245)
Which I helped my sire to steal.
And, good sweetheart, God save you and keep!"
And with that word almost she began to weep.

Alain up rose, and thought, "Before it is dawn,
I will go creep in by my fellow,"
And found the cradle with his hand at once.
"By God," though he, "All wrong have I miss-gone.
My head is dizzy of my shag tonight,
That makes it so I go not right.
I know well by the cradle that I have miss-gone; (4255)
Here lies the miller and his wife also."
And forth he went, in the name of twenty devils,
Unto the bed where the miller lay.
He thought to have crept by his fellow John,
And by the miller in he crept at once, (4260)
And caught him by the neck, and soft he spoke.
He said, "You John, you swine's-head, awake,
For Christ's soul, and hear a noble game.
For by that lord that is called Saint James,
As I have thrice in this short night (4265)
Shagged the miller's daughter bolt upright,
While you have, as a coward been aghast."

"You, false harlot," quoth the miller, "has?
Ah, false traitor! False Clerk!" quoth he,
"You shall be dead, by God's dignity! (4270)
Who dares be so bold as to disparage
My daughter, who is come of such lineage?"
And by the Adam's apple he caught Alain,
And he took him dispiteously again,
And on the nose he smote him with his fist. (4275)
Down ran the bloody stream upon his breast;
And in the floor, with nose and mouth broken,
The wallowed as do two pigs in a poke;
And up they went, and down again at once,
Until that the miller stumbled at a stone, (4280)
And down he fell backward upon his wife,
That knew nothing of this nice strife;
For she was fallen asleep a little while
With John the clerk, who had waked all the night,
And with the fall out of her sleep she started up. (4285)
"Help! holy cross of Bromeholm," she said,
"In manus tuas*! Lord, to thee I call! *(into your hands)
Awake, Simon! The fiend is on me fallen.
My heart is broken; help! I am not but dead!
There lies one upon my womb and on my head. (4290)
Help, Simkin, for the false clerks fight!"

This John stirred up as fast as ever he might,
And grasped by the walls to and fro,
To find a staff; and she stirred up also,
And knew the house better than did this John, (4295)
And by the wall a staff she found at once,
And saw a little shimmering of a light,
For at a hole the moon shone in bright,
And by that light she saw them both two,
But truly she didn't know who was who, (4300)
But as she saw a white thing in her eye.
And when she began this white thing to espy,
She though the clerk had worn a nightcap,
And with the staff she drew always nearer and dearer,
And believed she had hit this Alain at the full, (4305)
And smote this miller on the bald skull,
That down he went, and cried, "Harrow, I die!"
These clerks beat him well and let him lie,
And dressed themselves, and took their horse at once,
And also their meal, and on their way they were gone. (4310)
And at the mill yet they took their cake
Of half a bushel of flour, full well baked.

Thus is the proud miller well beaten,
And has lost the grinding of the wheat,
And payed for the supper every bit (4315)
Of Alain and of John, who beat him well.
His wife is shagged, and his daughter also.
Lo, such it is a miller to be false!
And therefore this proverb is said in full truth,
"He will not win well that evil does." (4320)
A guiler shall himself beguiled be.
And God, who sits in high majesty,
Save all this company, great and small!
Thus have I requited the Miller in my tale.

Here is ended the Reeve's tale.

Chaucer FYI - 3 The Miller's Tale

After the honor, glory and nobility of The Knight's Tale, it is easy to see a fall in progress as The Miller's Tale is read and understood. Where the Knight was hyper-focused on the importance of degree and keeping distance between the various estates, the Miller happily mocks degree in a number of cases. At one point he describes something as "shining like a noble new struck in the tower;" this phrase has two meanings, which are at least partially lost in modern parlance. Modern readers don't know that a noble was a kind of circulated coin which, newly minted, shone very brightly - they are therefore likely to dismiss the line as a whole as incomprehensible, and thus will also miss the pun on newly created nobility, the "new money" of Chaucer's time. The Miller also jokes that Alison is essentially a "fine fling for a gentleman, or a good wife for a churl," which, after the high-flung ideals of love in The Knight's Tale is a rather pertinent jab at idealistic or unrealistic love as well as at the Knight's respect for degree.

The Miller lets us know from the start through such hints as those listed above, as well as his drunken rantings in his prologue that he is telling a base tale for base men, and it is in this way that we see him as the first, contemptuous, and reactionary example of tale-teller interaction. In The Reeve's tale we will see the Reeve reacting violently against the Miller for making fun of carpenters by making fun of a miller, and so on down the line for many of the tales. Somewhat ironically, it is appropriate that the Knight has no real opportunity to react against another tale-teller since his sense of honor associated with his degree would prevent him from insulting someone of a lower class.

Now onto my rant:

Translating Middle English into Modern English is difficult for a number of reasons. Some of these I've made little effort to address in my translation - I generally don't modernize syntax too much, I tend to leave in some of the articles that are superfluous in Modern English, I don't make much of an effort to hold punctuation to Modern English standards; that is because these things do very little to impede the translation of meaning to a modern reader. They may make reading my translation somewhat more frustrating, but they also make my translation all the more authentic. What I do have an issue with, however, is the difficulty found in translating some Middle English words into a Modern English vocabulary.

This was not as difficult, interestingly, in The Knight's Tale or the General Prologue where the vocabulary was held to a higher (and as it turns out, more lasting) standard. In The Miller's Tale, however, where the speaker is expected to be more colloquial, it is possible to see the depth of the losses we've experienced in the English language.

The Miller's speech is wonderfully funny, but frustratingly difficult to understand - which makes it hard for a first-time reader to appreciate the humor. Chaucer can't be blamed for this, but translators who are too frightened of offending a reader or treating "The Work" with anything less than reverence and kid gloves can and should be blamed for some of the trouble that readers have in approaching Chaucer.

There are four examples I would like to bring to the fore in The Miller's Tale. One is excusable, one is frustrating, one is infuriating, and one is unforgivable.

The first deals with one of the in-text notes in my translation of The Miller's Tale - the word "hende" according to many translators means simply "courteous" or "helpful." The reason this is excusable in a translation is that the pun is so close to lost that it would be difficult to elegantly convey it to a modern audience. Courteous, helpful Nicholas is handy. He is a handy man, not a handy-man, but one who is useful. That is enough, for basic readers - those who are not college students. College students should also be able to find out, without reaching for a Middle English dictionary or reading a few dry articles, that Nicholas is a grabby man. That his hands wander. If you are reading the original Middle English, perhaps you should be able to extrapolate that from the word "hende" and the context, but it is unlikely that overtaxed students will be able to on a single read-through. Please, for goodness' sake, footnote that sort of thing.

The frustrating example of translation or glossing is at the "ers" end of the story, occurring in only the last couple hundred lines. The frustrating word is, of course, "ers." I remember the first time I read this tale; I saw the word on the page, looked at it, read it in context and thought to myself "no, Chaucer wouldn't talk about some guy kissing some girl's ass. I should check in the glossary." Then I did check the glossary, and "ers" wasn't in it. Then I checked a few translations; I found "bum," I found "buttocks," and I found "behind," but I didn't find anything that looked like "ers." That's when I had my first encounter with a Middle English dictionary, one that first defined "ers" as buttocks, but at least conceded that it was "colloquially, ass." An ass is an ass! Not a bum or a buttock! Chaucer used the word for a reason, and "ass" is a hell of a lot closer to the Middle English than "buttocks" is, and a lot more appropriate for the person telling this tale. Sanitizing the language of a potty-mouthed, drunken Miller so that a modern reader's delicate sensibilities won't be offended makes no sense; especially since the word that's being tidied up can be spoken on network television and in PG rated movies. Congratulations, you just made Chaucer more puritanical than Disney. You heathens!

The fourth, infuriating, example of translator frustration I want to discuss involves another in-text note I made to the reader. "Queynte," with various spellings, has many meanings in Middle English. It can mean clever, sly, strange, supernatural, occasionally rural (as an extension of strange), and according to the glossary of The Riverside Chaucer, can mean an "elegant, pleasing (thing)" - wait, that doesn't make any sense - or "i.e., pudendum" - well, that's better. I can type "pudendum" (a word I had honestly not encountered before a line note in this textbook) into Google and find out that it's a rather outdated way of saying "vagina." Not only does this textbook - which is honestly, a pretty good text - go out of its way to avoid saying "vagina" by being so vague as to say "elegant, pleasing (thing)" in its stead, when the book actually gets around to saying "vagina" it doesn't bother to use a word for the part, even a medical word, that anyone this century has ever heard of, no - they use an outdated Latin word that literally means "something to be ashamed of." Tell you what, I'm not ashamed - Nicholas grabbed Alison by her cunt. Ta-da! Now, wasn't that simpler than the hair-pulling exercise that The Riverside Chaucer put us through?

The unforgivable sin that I came across while translating may actually seem rather minor in comparison. At the end of The Miller's Tale, after we've been through ass kissing, cheating, trickery, and the general delightful nastiness of the characters the Miller sums up for us. How kind. One of the last things we hear about was how "swyved" the carpenter's wife was. Seeing an unfamiliar word, I looked at the note at the bottom of the page. Then, unable to believe the callousness of the editor, I looked it up in the back of the book, then another translation, then in a dictionary (which I can forgive because dictionaries aren't supposed to be read.) According to all these sources, "swyved" means "copulated with." Can we please, possibly, in any way, make that definition more clinical, less interesting and less funny for readers who are already trying to muster the strength to wade through a book that is rapidly falling out of our curriculum because it's inaccessible to modern audiences? Nicholas and Alison weren't copulating! Okay, well technically they were, but putting it that way in a translation or a glossary makes it sound like Alison wasn't cheating on her husband with their boarder before having her stalker make out with her ass only to have that same stalker burn a strip of skin as wide as a hand off her lover's ass with a hot plow blade just before her husband broke his arm by falling out of a barn because he thought Noah's flood was coming. Can we at least say "made love" or "had sex," because "copulated with" just doesn't quite fit the tone of this circus/soap opera of a story, now does it?