Part IX


At the end of the last section of this project I proposed certain changes to tale ordering in which I split up Fragment VII into two parts, dividing the six tales into separate groupings to better accommodate their internal contexts and physical clues within various manuscripts. I will briefly skip Fragment VIII, and look at Fragment IX containing the Manciple’s Prologue and Tale instead.

The first clue to deciphering the Manciple’s order within the Tales is actually found in the Parson’s Prologue of Fragment X. In Hengwrt, at the beginning of the Parson’s Prologue where it is announced that “By that the Mauciple hadde his tale al ended,” the word “Mauciple” was written over an erasure. Further, the ink used for the Manciple’s Tale was from a different batch altogether, as it yellowed differently from the ink in Fragment X. In other words, it was added much later.  The main argument against claiming the Manciple’s Tale is out of place, however, has to do with the ink type of the actual word “Manciple” as it appears in the Parson’s Prologue; while it was written over erasure, the ink did not yellow in the same way as the tale, leading many to believe that it was not an inserted afterthought but rather originally planned. This is very possible, but my opinion is that any original planning was on the part of the scribe, as the movement of the Manciple’s Tale will be traced. First, the Parson’s Prologue and Tale are incredibly long making it not unlikely, or unreasonable, that he would have to go back and mix more ink for another tale. Then it must be noted that the Manciple’s piece is written in the same ink as the Nun Priest’s Tale.

Before any more connections can be made, it is important to focus on the erased word. Why is there an erased word with “Mauciple” written over? There was another tale that needed to go before the Parson’s Prologue, but the Hengwrt scribe did not have it. He edited out the other teller’s name and put in “Mauciple,” realizing that the Manciple from earlier would now be more fitting. To better understand this argument, the Hengrwrt needs to be taken into consideration. The Manciple’s Prologue and Tale were written already, halfway through the manuscript. However, just as the scribe found several other editorial mistakes he corrected when later compiling the Ellesmere, here, too, he makes a note for moving the Manciple’s Tale down, and consequently the previous tales along with it (Fragment VII and Fragment VIII that have not yet been discussed). The reasoning for this is rather simple: references to location. This is not to give too much credence to the Bradshaw Shift, but it does appear that throughout Fragments VIII and IX the pilgrims are drawing much more closer to Canterbury than they had yet been, meaning these two fragments needed to be near the end rather than the middle. In the Manciple’s Prologue the pilgrims come to “a litel town / which y clepid is Bobbe upanddown / under the Blee” while in the Canon Yeoman’s Prologue they are at “Boghtou under Blee.” I am intentionally ignoring any arguments made in favor of certain tales being reserved for a return trip since so little evidence exists that most of those arguments are deepest rooted within the writers’ ambitions. However, what I would like to propose is switching Fragments VIII and IX. While the scribe was correct in moving these fragments down the ordering sequence and keeping them together, he reversed their order.

It appears that after the scribe realized he was at the end and that the Manciple’s Tale should have been inserted closer to the Parson’s Tale and subsequent Retraction, he moved the Manciple’s Tale and Fragment VII down because they had originally been written in one continuous strip (recall the inks used to complete the Nun’s Priest’s Tale and the Manciple’s Prologue were the same). Yet what becomes immediately noticeable when looking from the Hengwrt to the Ellesmere is the addition of several tales. At some point in between creating these two manuscripts more tales became available, and the scribe used his knowledge of the tales already in his possession to find the best place for the new ones. Some were quite obvious while others were only superficially so. One such late tale is the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale that is not included in earlier manuscripts, and no mention of the Canon or Yeoman is made in the General Prologue, meaning that the characters were an afterthought, or appropriated from a different project Chaucer may have been working on, deciding they would be better suited in the Tales (not the first time he had done this).

Once the Second Nun’s  and Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologues and tales came to light, due to the geographical reference in the latter’s tale, the entire fragment was linked with the Manciple’s fragment. Just like those who discredit Bradshaw for forming entire chains of tales according to a few sparse geographical references that could have easily been edited out later, here the connection does not rely solely on these place names, nor does my argument for reversing the fragments, but rather treats them as markers for further analysis. When the scribe decided that Fragment VIII should precede Fragment IX, it was not only done because he had already written “Mauciple” in the following fragment in the prototype manuscript, and did not want to renege on his original editing. On the surface it appeared that the Second Nun should follow the Nun’s Priest, especially since both tales are concerned with various natures of morality, as is the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale. Yet this is a most superficial reading, and further, it leaves the Manciple’s Tale oddly out because it is then followed by the Parson’s Tale that preaches many of the same values found in tales from Fragment VIII. Therefore, while I do not dispute that they should be closely kept together in light of the geographical mention, a better reason to keep them together is found within the text, but for different reasons than the scribe may have had.

Just as we saw in (what I refer to as the Second Trio) Fragment VII, the imagery of the pearl from the Prioresse’s Tale being carried forward in the Tale of Sir Thopas (topaz), here, in placing Fragment IX before Fragment VIII, the bird imagery of Chauntecleer is echoed by the white crow in the Manciple’s Tale. Moreover, the two tales seem to play off each other as the Nun’s Priest’s Tale is beautifully told (often considered one of Chaucer’s best works), while the Manciple’s bird story takes a piece of Ovid’s Metamorphosis and inundates it with over the top allusions and unnecessary narration. Both have a moral at the end, but while the Nun’s Priest’s Tale warns the audience against hubris, the Manciple’s has more worldly concerns, namely knowing when to keep one’s mouth shut (albeit an important lesson that would benefit many). In a more stylized fashion, the Second Nun’s Tale would then follow these two, conflating the several themes from the Nun’s Priest’s and Manciple’s Tales.

Chastity is celebrated throughout the tale of St. Cecilia as told by the Second Nun, and a virtue that directly contrasts the wife in the Manciple’s Tale who was equally as worshiped by her husband but was nevertheless unfaithful to him. While both women die for their vices and/or virtues, their deaths are intricately tied to singing – the wife in the Manciple’s Tale is murdered by her husband after the white crow sings of her infidelity, and Cecilia sings for three days until death. Both forms of singing are equatable to truth telling as the crow uncovers the truth behind the wife’s affair, and Cecilia sings of the truth of Christianity, converting as many as she can in her final hours (highly reminiscent of the Prioresse’s Tale). Yet while singing serves to tie these tales, and also the Nun’s Priest’s Tale together, the motives behind the singing vary. If one recalls Chauntecleer, he sang out of hubris to hear his own golden voice and proudly display it for others. The white crow seems to have no motives, repeating what it saw simply because it can. While on the opposite side of the spectrum, Cecilia sings altruistically for the benefit of others.

A final link that ties the Second Nun’s Tale to the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, solidifying the unity of this fragment (and further strengthened by the fact that less than a handful of manuscripts ever separate the two), relies on an interpretation of Cecilia in which she represents Heaven and simultaneously acts as the converter of souls. To make this argument as straightforward as possible, she converts base pagan souls into golden Christian ones, which leads into the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale describing the debasement he experienced within the field of alchemy, a craft dedicated to converting base metals like lead, into silver and gold. The alchemist in the tale is the epitome of avarice and pride, which is a far better tale to directly precede the Parson who will be concerned with enumerating the seven deadly sins along with the act of penance, as opposed to the Manciple’s Tale that is arguably just a retelling of the Merchant’s Tale if it were turned into a tragedy. In short, it is far more likely that the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale would have sparked the Parson’s somber mood and consequent tale right before the end.

Thus while the obvious, immediate disparities within physical manuscripts and narratives provide important information, they are best used as guides for further analysis. After having conducted just that, here is the resulting sequence of tales (including those discussed last time):

Fragments 1-5 (as depicted in Ellesmere and most other authoritative manuscripts) ending with the Franklin’s Tale

Fragment VII(second trio) – Prioresse-Thopas-Melibee

Fragment VI- Physician-Pardoner

Fragment VII(first trio) – Shipman-Monk-Nun’s Priest

Fragment IX – Manciple

Fragment VIII – Second Nun-Canon’s Yeoman

Once again, the ordering in previous fragments has not been effected, but the flow of tales has been improved. Next time I want to explore the The Tale of Gamelyn, a curious little tale that weaves its way in and out of manuscripts, and consequently challenging its own authenticity and place within the tale sequence.

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