Tag Archives: fragments

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.

Part V

In continuing my argument for the consolidation of Fragments IV and V in the Canterbury Tales, I left off discussing the connection between the Merchant’s and Squire’s tales, contingent upon the Merchant’s endlink appearing within manuscripts. Thus far I have established that the Merchant follows the Clerk, who is in turn followed by the Squire.

However, at the first line of the introduction to the Squire’s Tale, some manuscripts, including Hengwrt and Petworth, read “Sire Frankleyn” instead of “Squire.” The heading in Hengwrt states, “Here folwen the wordes of the worthy Hoost to the Frakeleyn,” and the Franklin’s Tale follows. The variations among the ordering of the tales in various manuscripts indicates that there was no predominant ordering to be had and thus the tales were introduced in the order in which the scribes wrote them. Again, referring to the Ellesmere and Hengwrt, only after haphazard copying is the manuscript edited to create the Ellesmere with the ordering edited to reflect content along with common sense.

If the Host’s invitation to the next story teller is to the Franklin, and it reads “Sire Frankeleyn, com neer, if it youre wille be,” then it is extrametrical. For an author who so meticulously oversees his form, as can be surmised from the General Prologue down to the structural similarities between tales that I outlined in the previous section of his project, it is most bizarre that this line should stick out so obviously. Surely Chaucer did not momentarily forget how to count only to resume flawlessly in subsequent lines. Chances are, as the tales were being copied in no particular order other than the one in which they were received, the scribe noticed introductions or words of encouragement for the other tale tellers, and lacking one here, he improvised before reading the actual tale which would have given him some clues.

The lines directly following the “Franklin’s” invitation to tell a tale are: “and sey somwhat of love, for certes ye/ Konnen theron as much as any man.” (with obvious variations on spelling between manuscripts). While the Host is often off the mark when drawing his conclusions on the various tales, he is not so removed that he would ask the grumpy Franklin to tell a sappy love story – a topic much better suited to the Squire, “a lovyere, and a lusty bacheler”… merrily riding along, covered in “fresh floures, whyte adn rede.” That sounds much more like someone who should be telling love stories. And that is exactly what he does. Following in the footsteps of the Knight’s Tale of Arcite and Palimon, two courtly lovers who all but botch the concept of chivalry, the Squire tells an even more absurd tale of love, as only a young man could. In fact, the tale is so terrible, it is not left unfinished as some scholars speculate, but is rather interrupted by the real Franklin who had just about had enough.

Note: the stipulation that the tale was unfinished is due to the fact that it does indeed stop mid sentence. While it can be argued that it was left unfinished because it was honestly a terrible tale, the notion that the tale was purposefully interrupted seems more feasible; the tale had been bad for quite some time, and not looking as though it would get any better, thus if it was meant to be abandoned altogether Chaucer would have done so much sooner. It is more likely that it went on and on as it did to demonstrate cause for its interruption – the Franklin just couldn’t stand it anymore (and the audience would thank him kindly). Yet, since the Franklin stops the Squire and offers nothing but praise for a tale well told, there have been many who have accepted the Franklin’s words at face value, refusing to take diplomacy, common courtesy, or downright sarcasm into account, using his apparent praise to argue that the Squire’s Tale is unfinished, and not interrupted. However, if the tale displeased him, no one should expect the Franklin, a man with a public persona and agenda for social ascension, to outright tell the noble boy to shut up.

Another clue (right at the beginning) that the introduction by the Host to the Squire, is actually intended to the Squire and not the Franklin, has to do with the way in which the words are read, keeping in mind Chaucer’s love for word play.

The Host intuits that the teller of the next tale “konnen theron as much as any man” on the subject of love. The obvious reading is that he knows as much as any other man and therefore has a means for telling a tale on the subject. However, a dual connotation is that he knows as much as *a* man, implying that the teller is not in fact yet a man, but a boy. Much of Chaucer’s language is generally (and often intentionally) ambiguous, making it extremely difficult to discern absolute meaning, but in conjunction with the previous pieces of this argument, it is difficult to ignore the possibility of the second reading.

Further, a look at the way these tales were physically written provides the last clue to their ordering. According to Cooper’s analysis of the manuscript’s binding, in the Hengwrt, the Merchant’s endlink and Franklin’s Prologue are written on an inserted leaf. Also, simply looking at pictures one can tell that there is far more room in between the two then there is text – half the page is empty. Thus the scribe wrote the pieces in anticipation of… well, I don’t know what. There are theories of what he may have been waiting for, but all seem very far fetched attempts at answering a rather mysterious question. What was he waiting for? I personally believe he didn’t even know, but left the blank space because something about the current ordering of the tales was askance – the blank space is less of a mystery of “what” and rather an indication as to his hesitancy in placing the Franklin’s Prologue after the Merchant’s endlink. As evidence, when the same scribe later copied the Ellesmere, the Merchant – Squire – Franklin piece was rearranged as we have it now, and the manuscript flows smoothly with no indication of a break. In other words, he was far more sure of himself here, and felt no need to leave empty space.

Returning to context, this is the heading at the top of the next leaf:

Heere folwen the wordes of the

Frankeleyn to the Squire, and the

wordes of the Hoost to the Frankeleyn (spelling again varies, I am using Ellesmere).

Several manuscripts such as Christ’s Church, Corpus Chrisi, and New College omit these lines altogether. (Note: This is actually a rather important point, but unfortunately I don’t have access to digital images of the Christ’s Church manuscript, so I am relying on others’ transcripts… if I ever make more of this project, this will have to be better looked into, and I think to fully flesh out the evidence I should also look closer at Petworth and Lansdowne, if not others). Hengwrt (and perhaps other manuscripts) use the Squire’s endlink to introduce the Merchant’s Tale, and the word “Marchantes” replaces “Frakeleyn.” So, why do these other manuscripts omit these lines altogether? It might not make it correct, but consensus among a majority of manuscripts would heavily tilt the argument towards acceptance of one or the other. However, so few manuscripts seem to have these words, the only evidence we can rely on for accuracy once again looks at rhyme and meter.

Where Ellesmere’s “That knowe I wel, sir, quod the Frankelyn” (only a little below the lines quoted a paragraph earlier), is looked at in terms of Hengwrt’s “That knowe I wel sir, quod the Merchantes certeyn,” it is an obvious attempt to maintain the rhyme, and in doing so, the line becomes extrametrical. This time it is better masked than the previous time that an extrametrical unit was introduced, due to the rhyme of the words, but when read within the surrounding text something about the line just stands out, and upon a second (or perhaps third or fourth) look, it is discovered.

In addition, since Chaucer typically introduced the themes of the tales within their headlinks, or the endlinks of the previous tales, in this case it would seem more likely that the theme of “gentillesse,” as it is introduced, is better fitted to the Franklin’s Tale, rather than the Merchant’s that appears to be the exact opposite of the concept.

Since the Franklin’s Tale does follow the Squire’s, we can begin comparing them to figure out why they were placed together (assuming Chaucer didn’t just happen to write them that way). McCall makes an interesting argument that the Franklin’s and Squire’s Tales belong together because they are both organized along temporal lines. Unlike the Bradshaw shift (mentioned in Part I of this project), that is an entire argument based on less than a handful of references to place names, this argument holds some weight as no other tales contain as many references to time, aside from the General Prologue. According to McCall (and the text, of course), the Squire’s Tale begins on March 15th and ends roughly two months later where the Franklin’s Tale begins on May 6th and ends in December. While this is even more proof that the Squire’s Tale was meant to be interrupted and not simply left unfinished, that is not my purpose here, (and I will probably have to reassess and rework this in earlier). McCall then states that the two tales contain key words in which the Squire’s Tale emphasizes youth and the Franklin’s Tale focuses on the old. But this argument can be taken so much further, and demonstrate parallels between the tales which indicate that Chaucer wrote each with the other in mind, and thus they must be linked together. Just like I had looked at the Clerk’s and Merchant’s tales earlier for contextual parallels that proved one would not simply follow the other, but do so closely, here I will look at different parallels, drawing the same conclusion. The structural similarities are too great for the tales to be separated.

First, I will outline these similarities in a “table,” but just like last time, it may or may not appear as a table on your end since I don’t know how to do it properly in the blog. Secondly, I am certain I am missing references, and will reread both tales again to pick up any missing words from my list here. These are simply the most obvious.

Squire’s Tale                                            Franklin’s Tale

“Ides of March”                                       “Frosty… December”

“Phebus… ful joly was”                        ” Phebus wax old”

***both of these are only one line below the previous example

“exaltacioun”                                           “declynacion”

“Ares”                                                          “Capricorn”

***exact same monthly references as the first example used

“sonne sheene”                                         “shoon ful pale”

“yonge grene”                                           “destroyed… grene”

“songen”                                                      “crieth”


The similarities are not solely in stray words, but these help illustrate how the stories reflect each other, and are almost a continuation. In the first, while not finished, the young woman laments her lover leaving her for another, while in the second, the man returns from war to find his wife has promised herself to another. We do not know the outcome of the first, but in the second, despite, and perhaps due to, the Franklin’s excessive desire towards appearing noble, the characters in the tale, including Dorigen, conduct themselves with utmost chivalry (the implications, and the outcome, are something to be discussed elsewhere another time). In every sense, the Franklin’s Tale appears to act as a second half, or a completion of the Squire’s Tale. Of course this leads to a completely different argument as to why the Squire’s Tale may not have been completed. (Obviously this project appears to need better organization because I seem to be jumping all over the place, and I am really trying not to – however, if I want to pursue this to its end, all of these little “extra” things should at some point be addressed).

Yet, in light of every clue presented in favor of the Franklin’s Tale following the Squire’s it must be noted that not as much evidence, if any, exists to the contrary. In fact, for every instance that I have so far noted where the ordering is different, there appears to be no reasoning behind it, and other scholars, far more advanced and invested than me, have also failed to find evidence in support of a different ordering. Even those who argue against the Squire-Franklin combination (very few, and an almost non existent argument in recent years), still do not offer an alternative.

The Clerk, Merchant, Squire, and Franklin, are simply meant to be together, in one long sequence, and dividing them into fragments, aside from creating an easy way of numerating them, is unnecessary.

Similar combinations of fragments also exist. The evidence may not be as strong, but enough remains in existence to argue the consolidation of fragments VI and VII, and IX and X.

However, next time I actually want to move backwards within the manuscripts and look at the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale. A lot has already been done on her, so I will be brief; what I wish to look at is why she is (constantly) placed within the same fragment as the Friar and Summoner. Judging from their descriptions in the General Prologue it seems she is the odd one out of this Fragment, but there is in fact a reason to place her where she is, and why she has maintained that place among manuscripts.