Part VII

Last time, after having finished looking at Fragment III, I mentioned the Man of Law. His situation within tale ordering is one of the most unique, moving independently throughout several fragments contingent upon which manuscript you consult. In Hengwrt he follows the Wife-Friar-Summoner group, and intercedes right before the Squire-Merchant-Franklin (which were identified to be misordered in the previous part of this project). In Ellesmere the Man of Law follows the Cook, right before the Wife. Corpus Christi, New College, Petworth and several others maintain that he follows the Cook, but move the Squire and Merchant around to precede the Wife. We have already discussed why this won’t work.

Just like I had argued that the Clerk had to follow the Wife, I will state that the Man of Law needs to precede her, preferably right before without any tales separating the two. This means that even within the manuscripts where he comes right after the Cook, he is often too far removed from the Wife.  While there are many flaws within the Ellesmere, it appears it is one of the only manuscripts to have gotten this completely right, from ordering to spacing. However, recently I got a chance to inspect a digitized copy London British Library Additional MS 35286. The Ad3 manuscript has been for the most part marginalized due to how little is known about it, and the fact that it was produced so much later than the other manuscripts that are now considered authoritative.

The curious thing about Ad3 is that while it looks like a mini Ellesmere, it is not. It is not a verbatim copy of Ellesmere, nor is the scribe in any way connected to Ellesmere or Hengwrt, and therefore removed from its creation. While the scribe may have been inspired by the Ellesmere, that too seems unlikely since the Ellesmere was created for a private collection, unreleased to the public for hundreds of years, and more importantly it is the differences, not the similarities that demand this manuscript be regarded in its own right. More so, the Ad3 manuscript is incomplete, with multiple spelling deviations; it was not copied from a master manuscript, but rather compiled much like the others, with scribal intervention when needed. For my purposes here, however, I will note one similarity that Ad3 shares with Ellesmere and only a few others manuscripts – the Man of Law’s position separating the first and third fragment, with nothing in between. The same thought process previous scribes underwent was present here as well, and at the same level of mature thought as Adam Pinkhurst possessed when compiling his latter manuscripts.

If manuscript consensus is to be taken as authoritative, then the ordering I am arguing for here would be thought of as wrong. Yet much like the reasoning used to stipulate the Hengwrt is a prototype of the Ellesmere, I will state that the majority of manuscripts do not conform to this ordering due to a superficial link referenced in the Man of Law’s Epilogue. Further, I will rely on a more subtle connection to demonstrate the Man of Law’s right place – the same connection that some scribes must have made when choosing this ordering above the more popular one.

If Fragment I is undisputed as the start of the Canterbury Tales (which it is), then, following the introduction of “whan that aprill with his shoures soote / the droghte of March hath perced to the roote […] and the yonge sonne / hath in the Ram his half cours yronne” (Ellesmere), it makes sense for the following section to convene on “the eighte and twentithe day / of Aprill” (Ellesmere) or “the egthe and twenty day / of Aprill” (Ad3), the earliest possible day mentioned that could follow the GP and maintain accuracy. If this tale came at any later point in the Tales it would shift the General Prologue to almost a week earlier; as is, this would make it an approximation of the Ram’s midpoint on the calendar, thus it must be inserted as quickly as possible. Since we are still early on in the Tales it makes sense that Chaucer was writing them in order and had not yet started skipping around, so the train of thought from this fragment will be traced to the beginning of the next (when we get to the Epilogue).

The Man of Law is bid to tell his tale by the Host, urging him on because the morning is already coming to an end. Since travel could only be done by light and it is presumably around ten in the morning, they had only about six or seven more hours of travel. Let’s pause and look at the time frame. The day before, as the pilgrims were embarking on their journey, they stopped at the inn where they got to know each other, and Chaucer the pilgrim poetically illustrated each of their portraits in the General Prologue. At this point, the Host introduces the tale telling competition – it is well past noon. The Knight, Miller, and Reeve tell their tales, bringing us to a stopping point for the day. The next morning they run late (noted by the Host’s rushing), and begin with the Man of Law, followed by Fragment III of the Wife, Friar, and Summoner that lasts until the Summoner finishes, announcing “my tale is doon we been almoost at towne” (Ellesmere) or “my tale is doun we ben almost at toun” (Ad3), ending the tale telling for the day. Such a natural breakdown gives the Clerk enough time to ruminate over what he had heard, especially in consideration to the Wife, and in the morning as the Host notices the Clerk had not said anything yet, he bids him to tell a tale, which he will do in response to the previous day’s tale telling, and as I had discussed before, with a clerk’s (or scientist’s) inclinations. The tales told this day are lengthier, and thus take up the entirety of the day’s journey, ending with the Franklin’s pronouncement that he “kan nomore [his] tale is at an ende” (Ellesmere and Ad3), but not before asking the question of which character was the most generous in his tale (a weightier question than seemingly appears), and an appropriate end to the day so that the pilgrims may further discuss at dinner. The following Fragments VI and VII disrupt the cadence thus far established; their purpose will be discussed in another part of this project.

Aside from the Host’s words at the beginning of the Man of Law’s prologue indicating a start to the day, there seems to be no other reason thus far for why the Man of Law requires his current position, and it won’t be until his tale is told in which there are certain words and themes that are likely to have triggered the Wife’s “experience, though noon auctoritee” speech right after. The heroine of his tale, Constance, an allegorical name for a concept that in medieval times was synonymous with patience, is a widow, married on several occasions, abused, yet resilient in seeking happiness. Already the similarities are unfolding between her and the Wife. Also, much like the Man-of-Law, a lawyer, interprets the law, the Wife interprets written laws and traditions, especially biblical texts to manipulate these texts to suit her purposes. The Man of Law, through scholarship and actual profession embodies the “auctoritee” that the Wife lacks. However, the subject of the Man’s tale is removed from his field of expertise – the Wife can “debat” endlessly on marriage with nothing more than her “experience.” Also, she seems able to do so at the drop of a hat, with no need for time to think on anything, meaning she can therefore directly follow the Man of Law and respond his tale on a whim.

The last piece of evidence serves to both demonstrate why the Man of Law was not always appropriately placed and also makes the case for the times he was. There are several additional manuscripts (aside from Ad3) in which there was a Shipman’s Prologue – one that no longer exists among the authoritative manuscripts. This prologue was often written right after the Man of Law’s Epilogue, continuing the linking process. However, the idea was at one point abandoned either by Chaucer or the scribes, due to a better narrative, and the Shipman’s Tale, left on its own, was moved down the manuscript. If the Shipman’s Prologue was left intact and considered an extension of the Man of Law’s Epilogue two clues can be traced to make the case for the subsequent tales. First, at one point, the Host mentions the name “Iankin,” perhaps reminding the Wife of her latest husband and thus leading her into her enumeration of husbands. If this stanza was still intact then the name could be traced from here, to the Wife’s husband’s name, all the way to the end of the Summoner’s Tale where it is mentioned again. These three are the only references to the name within the Tales, and would function as a subtle linking point. The stipulation I would like to make is that that was the initial intention, but after writing the Shipman’s Prologue it was obvious that his tale would not fit into the tableau of Man of Law-Wife-Friar- Summoner, and thus the entire thing got dropped; during this process the Man of Law became disassociated from any fragment and became its own floating piece.

For those manuscripts where there may have been remnants of the Shipman’s Prologue, the Man of Law’s Tale moved even as the Prologue may have been discarded through scribal editorship. Yet even as the Shipman’s Prologue was abandoned, those who paid enough attention either saw the small connection, or were able to make the larger ones discussed above. The second clue is even more subtle, but also relies on the scribe having seen the Shipman’s Prologue before deciding to discard it. At one point in the short prologue the Shipman states “Heer schal he nat preche / he schal no gospel glosen here ne tech” in regards to the Parson (who ends up telling his tale right before the Retraction in most manuscripts). The Parson does not in fact preach, interpret, or teach gospel here because the Wife will do so in her prologue, not with the “auctoritee” the Parson has on the matter, but once again using her own “experience.” The type of tale the Shipman outlines fits with the Wife’s Prologue, just as her prologue fits to parallel the Man of Law. So while the Shipman’s Prologue served as the perfect link and clue for this ordering, at no point in this cohesive group is there room for the Shipman’s Tale (despite it’s content for which there can be some argument). The piece was expunged, erasing linking indications. However, when considered together, as much as Fragments IV and V were associated, so are II and III. They are not two separate fragments lacking a link, but rather one long segment with a portion removed from the middle, leaving two end pieces to be reconnected.

Note: I did not take time to mention the feminine pronouns used in regards to the Shipman that are often used to insinuate his space in the manuscript was initially reserved for the Wife simply because that argument has already been made several times and needs only a cursory mention at most.

Next time I wan to explore what happened to the Shipman’s Tale and how it relates to the other seemingly stray tales of Fragments VI and VII. Now that I have access to a few more digital manuscripts than I did last week, I hope to have another section done soon.

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