Category Archives: canterbury tales

Part IV

In Part III of my analysis I began making the suggestion that Fragment IV and V of the Canterbury Tales among different manuscripts should be consolidated to reflect the relationship between the Clerk’s and Merchant’s tales, along with the relationships that unfold once the Merchant’s Tale finishes. While I made the argument between the relationship of the Merchant’s and Clerk’s tale in light of content and structural similarities, I will further explore how the Merchant’s Tale speaks in the same way to the Squire’s and Franklin’s tales, outlining the necessity of building an uninterrupted narrative comprised of the Clerk, Merchant, Squire and Franklin.

The first, and also easiest way of doing so would be to first look at the distinction in tale ordering between the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts with a discussion of what consists of scribal invention, and relying on common sense to decipher the original composite.

The Merchant’s and Squire’s endlinks follow each tale in both manuscripts, but they are used to introduce different tales. The importance of this will become evident as the analysis continues.

A table would best depict the differences, but for the purposes of this blog, I think I can present it in list form as well.

Ellesmere ordering: Merchant’s Prologue, Merchant’s Tale, Merchant’s endlink to the Squire, Squire’s Tale, Squire’s endlink to the Franklin, Franklin’s Tale.

Hengwrt ordering: Squrie’s Tale (with no introduction), Squire’s enlink to the Merchant, Merchant’s Tale, Merchant’s endlink to the Franklin, Franklin’s Tale.

As can be seen, Hengwrt has a different organization, and seems to be missing a component, the Squire’s introduction (which would only make sense if it followed another tale within the group). As was seen in earlier parts of this analysis, since Hengwrt was a sort of prototype manuscript, it is feasible that certain pieces came in later. Not to mention, as was discussed last time, it appears most probable that the scribe copied the pieces as they were received, only editing for content after the fact. If both of these ideas are taken into consideration we can trace how one manuscript morphed into the other. However, what is interesting to note is that in this section, unlike any other, the scribe attempted to make the pieces fit as he was writing them by fabricating links. However, in a larger context, as I will explain, the added links make little sense, and metrically speaking are poorly written in an obvious attempt to create relationships that simply were not there.

Ellesmere is one of the few manuscripts that contains the Merchant’s endlink, however, when other manuscripts include it, it never moves away from the Merchant. Due to the Host’s reference to the deceitful wife of the Merchant’s Tale (May), as well as his naming of the Merchant in the Merchant’s endlink, it shows its position to be right. Further, most critics will agree that the stanza is Chaucerian, and not a scribal invention, so the fact that it is omitted from numerous manuscripts is not because it was believed to be inaccurate, but probably because it did not yet exist, or was not attached to all of the extant copies of the Merchant’s Tale. Further, its omission from the different manuscripts is the probable motive for separating the Merchant and the Squire; without the endlink from the Merchant’s Tale, there is little binding the two. Yet once the connection is found, the case can be made as to why they belong in one group.

Several editions, including the Riverside Chaucer sever the Merchant’s endlink from the tale, with a notation of the beginning of a new fragment right before the Squire’s Tale. This is a modern editorial invention and has no historical precedent. All manuscripts that contain the Merchant’s endlink combine the Merchant’s Tale and Squire’s Tale into one group, using the flow of the stories as reasoning for keeping them together; The Ellesmere manuscript simply announces the Squire’s Tale as soon as the Merchant’s endlink finishes, with no announcement of a new fragment.

This is still a very roughly laid out idea in need of refinement as I am sure some things that make sense in my head are not coming across on paper (or blog). However, if you follow the order of edits between the manuscripts, it should become slightly more clear even if not yet convincing. I am not going to clean this area up yet, but rather proceed with the argument, and in the next section discuss the merit of the Squire-then Franklin ordering as opposed to Squire-then Merchant, relying on context to guide the analysis.

Part III

In Part II of my Chaucer research I established that not all groupings, or fragments are stable across manuscripts, making them difficult to trace. While what is considered Fragment III is for the most part unchanging across versions of the text, Fragment IV and V are often found broken up and rearranged, insinuating that they were never received as a full group; their adherence to each other was based on what the scribes believed to be common sense. The most apparent discrepancies in ordering occur with the Clerk’s, Merchant’s, Squire’s, and Franklin’s Tales, with the most likely explanation being that the tales were not found in one sequence, but individually, leaving the scribes to draw inferences for the links.

Yet there are several strands of scholarship that believe the links between these tales, along with the cues within the tales, were absolutely meant to create a coherence between them, and already in existence before the scribes had a chance to form any of their own opinions; it was only a matter of piecing the links and tales together. Further, it is believed (and I believe this as well), that the two fragments should never have been separated, but rather consolidated to reflect one of the most prominent sequences in the Canterbury Tales.

As has been discussed, the Clerk’s Tale must follow the Wife’s, but with no distinct marker of where within the Tales this must happen. Since the Wife’s Tale is a part of Fragment III in the Ellesmere, the Clerk’s Tale is the first part of Fragment IV. In the Hengwrt, for reasons rather unknown, the Clerk’s Tale follows the Second Nun’s Tale, once again implying that the scribe was most likely at first copying all the tales in the order in which they were received, and only later editing for context.

Several arguments have been made in favor of a repositioning of the Clerk’s Tale, but none propose convincing arguments for an alternate position. Furthermore, several manuscripts outside of Ellesmere place the Clerk’s Tale after the Summoner’s. Why?

The Clerk’s Tale itself is highly problematic. The different parts are clearly numbered and outlined, but the ending, including the Envoy, on several occasions appears in different orders, and the Host Stanza is often times missing (Harley4, Lansdowne, and Petworth House Manuscripts). The rationale for this has to do with the prologue of the Merchant’s Tale that picks up on the “wepying and waylyng” echoed by the last part of the Clerk’s Tale, making the Host Stanza appear intrusive and out of place. And if the Host Stanza does not belong in between these two parts, it definitely does not belong anywhere else, and therefore it is omitted in a number of manuscripts.

When Morse conducted a close analysis of the Ellesmere manuscript he found that the Host Stanza was written on a separate sheet, and perhaps added to the end of the Clerk’s Tale after the tale had already been copied without it. Once Morse mentions it, it becomes clear when looking at the manuscript, judging from the different colors of ink used. There is a very clear variation. In a more detailed report Parks looks at the variations of the aging process in different batches of ink, implying that different parts were added at different times during the copying process, some perhaps after the entire manuscript was completed. The addition or deletion of the stanza is scribal, however, the stanza itself is indisputably Chaucerian – and so it appears in almost every modern version of the text, including the Riverside, Norton, and Penguin editions.

Nevertheless, whether the Host Stanza should interrupt the movement of tales or not, the Merchant’s Tale should closely follow the Clerk’s, as the verbiage used to mirror each other is far too calculated to indicate otherwise. As previously stated, it is a strong belief that Fragments IV and V should be one cohesive fragment, and the indication comes from the rearrangement found between the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. In the Hengwrt, the Merchant’s Prologue, the piece that mimicks the ending of the Clerk’s Tale, is absent, with the implication that it had not yet been found. However, once it is procured, it’s inclusion in the Ellesmere indicates the “correct” placement of the Merchant’s Tale quickly following the Clerk’s. Unlike how the Clerk’s tale must follow the Wife at some indiscriminate point, the Merchant must follow the Clerk closely enough for the echo to be heard. Without the prologue, the most that could be gleaned from reading the Merchant’s Tale is not much more than what may be learned from reading the Clerk’s – both must follow the Wife.

However, both have more in common than just that. The two stories are so structurally similar (more so than any other two tales in the CT), that placing them together would best highlight the ways in which they identify with one another. Granted one is longer than the other, underneath the superficial differences, they are basically the same story with different character names.

To properly depict their similarities purely on structure, a tabular outline would serve best. (I am well aware that my blog does not format well, so I haven’t the slightest clue what this will look like when you see it, but it is supposed to be a two column table-like structure… so let’s pretend).

Clerk’s Tale                                                       Merchant’s Tale

Walter’s view on marriage                                January’s view on marriage
(two different views, but nevertheless outlined here)
Walter’s people announce their desire               January announces his desires for marriage
for his marriage
Walter ponders his decision                              January ponders his decision
Walter speaks with confidants                          January speaks confidants
(once again, both have different concerns, but that is a contextual deviation)
Walter’s marriage agreement to Griselde           January’s marriage agreement to May
Wedding reception and celebration                   Wedding reception and celebration
Griselde is overtly tested as a wife                    January tests his assumptions about wives through May
Griselde’s children are uncovered and               Pluto and Prosperyna are uncovered and more or
returned                                                             less return from the dead.
Griselde is returned to her station and all          May is forgiven, restored, and all is well.
is well.

It is almost as if both tales follow a template. However, the Clerk’s Tale, while Chaucerian in writing, is strictly adapted from Book X of the Decameron. So that is the template onto which the Merchant’s Tale is created, modeled after the Clerk’s, and the similarities would not be as prominent if the two would be split from each other. In fact, over a series of tales the similarities would be almost completely lost except to those probing for it. For an author that writes a retraction with such sarcasm and absolute boastfulness, he would surely want to advertise his many abilities, including the tale mirroring tricks witnessed here.

Note: the above “table” paralleling the two tales is exceptionally vague on purpose in order to underscore the main points. However, a close reading will also demonstrate how the language used during each interval is carefully chosen within each tale to echo back and forth.

The next piece of this argument is a little more involving and I don’t think I will be able to finish it tonight. My discussion of Fragment V is soon to follow.

Part II

In the first part of this research project I went over the major strands of inquiry concerned with ordering the Canterbury Tales, describing some of the problems encountered with different theories and methodologies.

I also briefly discussed the argument in favor of the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts. I will begin here stating that despite the many arguments against the Ellesmere ordering, and numerous disputes about its authenticity, its range of uses in anthologies/compilations/general texts speaks to its superiority as a text, if not to its authenticity of intention.

Going back to the idea of tale ordering, recall that the tales do not necessarily move around independently, but rather in groups, or fragments. This simplifies and complicates the process. If the tales move around in fragments, and there are reasons for tales to come in certain orders (i.e. Clerk after Wife), this effects the fragments altogether, moving them as units. Thus only a few relationships can determine how multiple tales move. The complicated part, however, is determining which tales comprise each fragment – something that can be done in two different ways which don’t always or necessarily work well together.

The first way is that of Manly and Rickert, analyzing every extant manuscript and finding the points of general consensus. If a majority of manuscripts depict a certain arrangement into a particular fragment, it makes it appear as though those tales belong together in a grouping. However, just because something is in the majority, does not make it right. The second option is to look at each tale individually and construct (or reconstruct) the fragments according to context. I think a combination of these two methods leads to some interesting results.

As previously mentioned, and sensible enough to where no explanation is needed, all of the manuscripts agree that the General Prologue is the beginning and the Retraction is at the end. N. F Blake asserts that this decision is indicative of a single trip, meaning the scribe(s) involved did not anticipate a return trip from Canterbury, and were certain that the Retraction marked an absolute end. I hate to have to disagree with Blake, especially considering his amazing scholarship in the area, but I have to disagree with one point. While, the Retraction does mark an absolute end, that does not absolutely exclude the idea of a return trip. Even though I am not necessarily a proponent of a return trip due to the small amount of tales we have to work with that hardly even conclude one trip, the Retraction does not (to me) imply that there was not a pre-ending, meaning that at one point along the way there could have been a sort of “conclusion” at Canterbury, followed by more tales, and ending in the Retraction as the finale, presumably back in London. Where this penultimate conclusion would have gone is hard to say, and whether any of the existing tales followed it is even harder.

Similarly, all manuscripts that have the Wife’s Prologue (not all 84 manuscripts include all of the tales) will contain a fragment that starts with it, and includes the Summoner’s and Friar’s tales respectively. These three are part of the larger marriage grouping of seven tales. In the Ellesmere, this is referred to as Fragment III, however, in other manuscripts, as shall be demonstrated, it moves around within the seven.

Note: Simply because the Ellesmere was considered the most authoritative manuscript for a number of years, even when particular manuscripts move the tales around, the numbering remains the same, and the fragments are placed “out of order.” The Ellesmere was considered the primary order and all others were variations. Thus when “Fragment III” is found in a different spot, it is still called “Fragment III.”

Manly and Rickert maintained that the tales were copied one at a time, but since they came out with their theory it has been stipulated that the fragments were copied in completed units, as unbroken series of tales and links that were left in that order by Chaucer, sufficiently clearly identified as complete units to never have been circulated in any other form. However, if you take into account the process of the scribe in between the Hengwrt and Ellesmere manuscripts, it becomes unquestionably clear that the order of Ellesmere, while preferable, is not the way in which the tales were acquired or originally linked. Why not and how so?

In order to understand the scribe’s physical process of constructing the Tales, parts of Chaucer’s intentions must be taken into account. While we cannot know for certain what he wanted to do, it is evident that he was trying to arrange the sequence of tales as link-tale-link-tale, with the prologues or end pieces of each teller serving as the links. Unfortunately, many of the tales had no links. If we are to accept the Hengwrt as the prototype manuscript (which I do), within this manuscript we can see that the precedent for the link-tale relationship had been set, and when links were unavailable, in expectation of their existence the scribe left spaces blank before each tale.

This is the order of a section of the tales in Hengwrt manuscript:

Wife of Bath Prologue and Tale
Intro to Man of Law, his tale, and endlink
2nd Nun
Clerk’s Prologue, Clerk’s Tale, Envoy to the Clerk’s Tale
Pardon’er’s Prologue, Pardoner
Chaucer the Pilgrim, Prologue to Sir Thopas
Nun’s Priest
Macniple’s Prologue, Manciple’s Tale
Parson’s Prologue, Parson’s Tale

This is the order in which the Tales were written, meaning, when looking at the inks used, along with penmanship and quire marks, it reflects the order in which the tales were physically transcribed.

Merchant’s Tale
Franklin’s Tale
Nun’s Tale
Clerk’s Tale
Physician’s Tale and Pardoner’s Tale
Shipman’s Tale, Prioress’s Tale, Thopas, Melibee, Monk’s Tale, Nun’s Priest’s Tale
Merchant’s Tale
Wife of Bath, Friar, Summoner

Let’s look at the discrepancy between the Wife and the Clerk. There is a distinct mention of the Wife in the Clerk’s Tale (Envoy). The Clerk’s Tale was physically written first. The first implication here is that the scribe was copying mechanically, and the Hengwrt is not a premeditated manuscript. During the writing of the Clerk’s Tale the scribe does not understand the reference since the Wife’s Prologue has not yet come up. He continues copying until the end, where the Wife finally comes in as part of the last section. By that point it is far too late to reinsert her at an earlier point, so he finishes copying, and the manuscript’s quires are readjusted to move the entire fragment she is in to precede the Clerk. Yet this is a messy job.

Since the same principle scribe who completed the Hengwrt was responsible for the Ellesmere, he learned his lesson, and made the correct readjustments as he completed it, in the process changing the way fragments were arranged. Again, it is not individual tales that move, but entire groups. The Wife had to be before the Clerk. How far before is not determined, so the scribe places the fragment immediately before the Clerk’s Tale when constructing the Ellesmere. Hence the grouping the Wife is in is generally Fragment III, while the Clerk is the first in the sequence for Fragment IV. The second time around, there is no ink variation – after having copied the Hengwrt the scribe was sure enough of himself to write the Ellesmere in one edited stretch.

Note: manuscripts often took many years to complete because it was a painstaking, manual process. However multiple scribes worked on each manuscript in different capacities, so when I state the Ellesmere was written in one stretch, I am not implying it was one long uninterrupted stretch. Also, when I refer to a single hand, I am not referring to any artwork, lettering, or borders, which would not have been completed by the same scribe, copying the actual work. These things were added on later, which is often evident in places where room was left in the writing for intended pictures. And pictures will be important in this argument (only briefly) in a little bit, but my main concern is for the actual writing. Also, this statement does not take into account medieval devotional texts that were primarily picture based with only a few words in the margins, where it was obvious that the pictures were created first. The same scribal practices were not meant to be used across all genres of manuscripts.

Nevertheless, regardless of the order in which the tales were originally written in the Hengwrt (judged by the inks used), the fact that the tales maintain some sort of semblance of order means that even in the Hengwrt there was some original planning, as the final order of the tales places them in accordance to links and references, to a certain extent.

Yet in the Ellesmere there are more links than in the Hengwrts. Where did these come from, and why were some added while others not? No one argues that the Tales (with only a few notable exceptions) are Chaucerian, implying that links were found, meaning the scribe was correct in leaving blank spaces for these. They must have been found in between the creation of the manuscripts leading the scribe to completely abandon the Hengwrts and rework his plan for the Ellesmere before undertaking the project. Most likely, the spacing he left in Hengwrts was insufficient for some of the links he found (an assumption I make by looking at the space that was used in the Ellesmere and comparing it to the space originally left in the Hengwrt, which looks insufficient), and considering there is no break in the Ellesmere, he had everything he though he would ever have before he began writing it. Evidence of his complete abandonment of the Hengwrts lies in the artwork. The first page has the large capital lettering for which space was left, but none of the other fanfare attributed to medieval manuscripts is found on subsequent pages. The project was ended and it became a learning experience and rough draft for the Ellesmere.

Once the scribe realized that certain tales reference others that were not in the “correct” order (and I use quotes because I am hesitant to attribute that much authority to the Ellesmere at this point), groupings were rearranged. This is how Fragment III came to its current position, as it got moved up significantly. Yet even when rearranging the tales the scribe did not tare the Wife away from her grouping, moving the Friar and Summoner along with her, and placing the Clerk as closely following as possible.

In light of the Clerk’s Tale and Envoy, the Merchant, too, had to move to allow for all the weeping and wailing on account of Griselde. Once the Merchant moved, the links had to be adjusted to account for a repositioning of the Squire following the Merchant, followed by the Franklyn, as opposed to the Hengwrt where the Squire, Merchant, Franklin trio were higher up in the ordering. Thus Hengwrt’s “Quod the Merchant” as the Squire’s Tale is interrupted becomes Ellesmere’s “Quod the Frankeleyn.” This is clear scribal intervention to form coherence where the originals were ambiguous.

Unfortunately not all of the groupings are as stable as Fragment III (which is why I chose to begin with it). So, as the tales move in groups, or fragments, and any changes pertaining to one effects all, it is one of the best indications that the individual tales speak to each other, and can continue the discussion only when ordered properly.

This is all I have for now (at the end it will be evident why this must come piecemeal, which I suppose is appropriate considering the topic), and there will be more in the next couple of days.