Tag Archives: tale ordering




Last time, in looking at the progression of the Shipman’s Tale it became apparent that at one point it was meant to accompany the Man of Law’s Tale (indicated by the lost Shipman’s Prologue that still has remnants in certain manuscripts), but instead was shifted to the bottom. Not all of the manuscripts follow the same ordering as to when the Man of Law should tell his tale, and even less on who should follow him, however, I argued that the Man of Law needs to precede the Wife. Yet in this part I want to explore what actually happened to the Shipman’s Tale. It makes sense his prologue was abandoned because it was no longer useful as a linking device, and in the few places it did exist, it only served to cause confusion. The Tale, nevertheless, was not abandoned, implying that either Chaucer had already written it prior to creating it’s prologue and conceptualizing tale ordering, or he continue writing it with the idea of finding a place for it later. Regardless of why it was finished, it was placed within Fragment VII, one that I believed was reserved for those tales that were either struck from other fragments, or just did not fit anywhere else. Nonetheless there is another point, one that I did not initially see until I really got into the Shipman’s Tale, but very much exists. While I like to refer to Fragment VII as the “refuse” pile of leftover tales where connections to where the tales should have been can be made, there are distinct relations between them within the fragment despite their seeming disparities. In the end I hope to demonstrate a cohesive ordering.

I am going to first discuss each tale’s connections to the Tales as a whole before isolating them as a grouping (using the Ellesmere ordering).

The Shipman’s Tale has a story. Aside from the prologue to the tale, which was discussed last time, it is unclear of where it was intended to go after it was moved away from the Man of Law. However, some clues within the tale are telling of the original intent. These lines can be found at the beginning of the tale:

But wo is hym that payen moot for al
 The sely housbonde algate he moste paye
 He moot us clothe  and  he moot us arraye
Al for his owene worshipe richely
In which array we daunce iolily.
And if þt he noght may  per auenture
 Or ellis  list no swich dispence endure
But thynketh  it is wasted and ylost
Thanne moot another payen for oure cost
Or lene us gold and that is perilous (Ellesmere,  Hengwrt, Cambridge University MS, and Ad3).


Several other manuscripts omit the tale completely, but what immediately draws attention to these lines is found within the manuscripts that have only partial versions of the Shipman’s Tale, namely Corpus Chisti, and Harley4. In Corpus Christi the tale is abruptly stopped after line 14 (in which array we daunce iolily), and in Harely4 it is interrupted after line 10 (But wo is hym that payen moot for al). They are resumed at a later time – most probably to be edited and not leave unfinished tales – since it is difficult to believe that the scribes did not have the entirety or majority of the tale at their disposal since it is unlikely that only 10-15 lines were written on a single sheet to be transcribed. They stopped because they saw something the other scribes did not catch (or chose to ignore) – the second person pronouns used throughout this short section. The “us” used to describe wives was clearly meant to be said by a female character, however, only one female character would be at liberty to discuss being a wife, the Wife of Bath. Even though we do not have all of the tales, the General Prologue catalogs every character, depicting no other woman who would take on this task (a fact that has been well documented). The Wife’s Prologue and Tale were already completed, and so the tale was given to another character. Yet the decision as to which character it would be given was rather poorly made. Why would a Shipman be telling tales about wives, merchants, and monks? According to his description in the GP, his demeanor would come closer to that of the Miller and Reeve rather than harboring middle class concerns.


Since the Shipman’s Tale was originally left out of several manuscripts it was probably not widely circulated. However, of the ones that do include it in its entirety, especially the Ellesmere and Hengwrt, the scribe most likely noticed the disparity in language but chose not to discontinue it, rather putting it aside and moving it further down in the manuscript for another reason, the content. It may not be an appropriate tale for a Shipman, and it may well have been intended for a female story teller (which is at this point generally well accepted), but the content plays well with two other characters in the Tales, the Merchant and Monk.


The Merchant’s Tale is rather indicative of his inability to grasp reality. On the surface he tells a tale denouncing marriage, considering his own where he is married to a rather shrewish woman. However, once the story is dissected it becomes evident that the Merchant’s grasp of how others work is really at fault. Briefly, his tale is about January and his lovely wife May. While it appears January found an amazing wife, both young and beautiful, he is paranoid about her probability of infidelity, and rightfully so as she is unfaithful every chance she gets. To curtail her behavior he places her on a leash so he may never lose sight of her. Ironically, this is when he actually loses his sight, and relies more and more on the leash to gauge the whereabouts of his wife. Since he is blind he must rely on her to tell him what she is doing, even while on the leash, and to make matters more ridiculous, she finds a means of engaging in an affair even with these conditions. At one point, during her walk in the garden with her husband, her and her lover climb into a tree in order to be together. Of course this is completely unbelievable, and to further add to this, at this very moment, as May and her lover are in the middle of things, Apollo restores January’s sight. He looks up, and finds his wife in a most compromising position (nevermind that she is in a tree). Without missing a beat, May thanks the Gods for January’s sight, as she claims she had heard that if she were to engage in extramarital sex, in a tree, his sight would be restored. Thus, according to her she was doing it for January’s sake. January then thanks the Gods and thanks May for being such a good wife as to sacrifice herself for his benefit. Again, as with everything else in the Tales it is important to note what is not being said. Is January that naive? No. Just as May improvised on the spot, he played along. The alternative would be to acknowledge her infidelity, be shamed by it, and in the process shame her, which would mean he would have to renounce her as a wife, and he would have nothing left. Arguably he could use his power, influence and money to obtain another young and pretty wife just as he had obtained May. And chances are she will be just as unfaithful, so basically, why bother? He has what he has, she makes him happy (to whatever extent that may be), and the status quo is maintained. While the Merchant may believe he is telling a tale about a terrible wife and the woes of marriage, he is telling a tale with a moral more akin to a cross between the Wife’s Prologue and the Manciple’s Tale.


The Shipman’s Tale is a direct parallel, using the character of a naive merchant, blind to his wife’s indiscretions, and when faced with parts of them, immediately forgives her in order to restore the peace and maintain his honor; what is done cannot be undone, and the choice of how to cope with it is his own. While the merchant here does not discover his wife’s infidelity per se, he is privy to her dishonesty which she cannot maintain when blatantly called out for it. Just like May, she does not miss the opportunity not to conceal her actions, but make the best of them, and the merchant follows her lead.


The second commentary is made against the Monk who, from his description in the GP, is the kind of clergy member that is better associated with the upper class. To better understand why this was so common at the time it would be helpful to know how the three class system first developed in England; it was devised by the church (not in England), where the clergy still operated in ways remnant of  the Caesarian Clergy that was for the most part ruling Rome. High ranking church officials typically came from noble families, and continued to behave that way within their roles in the church. The lower ranking church officials while emulating nobility, were specifically imitating nobility found within their own upper ranks. When the three class system first began being used it was implied that the clergy, and not the nobility, were the first/highest estate. As the clergy became diluted with nobility and spirituality was on the decline, the estates became inverted to reflect the ways in which society really worked – instead of the nobility striving for piety and salvation (although they all wanted salvation), the clergy was working towards appearing more noble. Here the Monk who skips church to go hunting is not condemned for his actions because he is not alone in acting against what may be perceived appropriate to his station.

In the Shipman’s Tale the monk is not just clergy but combines the two classes, as he is Sir John the monk, a character flagrantly torn between the two houses of his existence which can be seen by his charitable disport towards those lower than him as well as his ease of functioning in the secular world of the merchant. While the pilgrim Monk was simply catering to his upper class pretensions, mimicking those who spend their days hunting and slumbering away, with his greatest stated vice being his love of food, in the Shipman’s Tale the monk/noble is not only practically participating in prostitution, but knowingly committing adultery as well. And if there is any doubt that that comparison should be made by the reader, when we get to the Monk’s Prologue, as the Host interrogates the Monk about his personal life, he inquires in what house he is ordained, beginning with “wher shal I calle yow my lorde dan Iohn / or dan Thomas, or elles dan Albons?” It is a simple and innocent enough question, only coincidentally, and fleetingly recalling Sir John the monk of the Shipman’s Tale. Yet the allusion is there. These two contextual points account for most of the distinct positions the Shipman’s Tale has had throughout different manuscripts (not even taking into account Bradshaw’s Shift and Furnivall’s amendment to it). If read as a comparison with the Merchant, its position before the Squire, and thus considerably closer, if not directly following the Merchant’s Tale makes sense (until other evidence is introduced as to why it could not go there, intruding upon another more solid ordering).

However, in light of the criticism on monks and the clergy in general, its current position within Fragment VII is justified. Further, just as we saw with the Miller and Reeve and then with the Friar and Summoner, the Monk will reply to the Shipman’s Tale, not with a ribald tale about shipmen, but with a compilation of short stories on morality in an attempt to preserve the faith in clergymen such as himself. Therefore fittingly, the Monk’s Tale will also be found within this fragment, (yet not directly) after the Shipman’s Tale, and perhaps drawing stylistically on the preceding Tale of Melibee, although I will be discussing this later. Like the Monk, the Prioresse belongs to the clergy, but her behavior is also indicative of aspirations for a higher class. To defend her own piety in light of what was believed about the church, she begins her prologue with praise towards the Virgin, and tells a tale that is a tribute to Mary. For those who analyze the Tales in accordance to a narrative arc, the Prioresse’s Tale should come even lower in the ordering, closer to the end. However, this tale is nothing more than a reiteration of popular beliefs, and an obvious rote recital. It is not entertaining (which will notably be the case for most of the religiously centered tales) or well written. It’s placement within Fragment VII was most likely due to the superficial outline of the us/them separation that will later be found in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, along with the fact that two other clergy members can be found within this fragment while the the Shipman’s Tale and the Tale of Melibee ostensibly deal with morality of sorts.

Chaucer the pilgrim, although acting as narrator, is also directed by the Host to tell a tale. In keeping with his self description from the GP, he is not well versed, his “wit is short, ye may wel understonde” (GP 745 Elesmere) and just as he “moot reherce as ny as evere he can/ everich a word, if it be in his charge,” (GP 732 Ellesmere) when he is bid to tell a tale, he can only retell “a ryme [he] lerned long agoon” (709 Sir Thopas-Pro Ellesmere). In other words, he is excellent at retelling what others have said without creating anything of his own (an amused reference towards Chaucer the author and the Tales themselves that are an artistically crafted amalgamation of previous works and ideas). If this is the case, then it would make sense for this tale to follow the Prioresse. The visual cue that the pearl in the Prioresse’s Tale elicits is then taken up in a retelling of Sir Thopas (topaz). However this tale is not so much concerned with piety as it is with a commentary on chivalry, taking the Knight’s Tale even further. While the Knight portrayed Arcite and Palamon as knights in less than a favorable light, Sir Thopas is not so much reprehensible as laughable where knighthood is reduced to a ridiculous lifelong quest for imaginary monsters, full of cliches and knightly stereotypes. Once this point is sufficiently made, before the dreadful tale can continue, the Host interrupts and bids Chaucer the pilgrim to tell another tale, which sets him on Melibee. The Tale of Melibee in structure is just as long-winded as Sir Thopas, and much like the Monk’s Tale that follows, it is a collection not of tales, but quotes.  If one were to combine bits and pieces of these three tales, the result would be highly reminiscent of the Parson’s Tale in Fragment X. As Thopas advanced the precious stone imagery, Melibee draws from the morality aspect of the Prioresse’s Tale. Yet here it is reversed – the Christians took revenge against the Jews who slaughtered the little boy in the Prioresse’s Tale, while in Melibee his wife, Prudence, advises against vengeance towards those who hurt his daughter, also a child. While many critics discuss how Melibee and Thopas speak to one another, and Melibee is nothing more than a whimsy response to Thopas, it can now be seen how both respond to the Piroresse in style (Thopas) and context (Melibee).

In a sense, the Prioresse-Thopas-Melibee trio can be regarded as a grouping within a grouping. They are very much tied to each other, and regardless of where the tales preceding and following it were originally meant to be, these three were inserted in a way that made the most sense (all things considering), fitting in with what may have simply been the Shipman-Monk-Nun’s Priest section. I am going to return to this shortly. The Monk  follows in the more widely accepted order, maintaining the style Melibee began (perhaps another good reason to have inserted the tales in here),which was a series of quotes, and creates his tale as a series of short stories that all center around the fall of the proud. Many consider this to be Chaucer’s worst tale, and while I am not sure I can make that strong of an assertion, it is certainly not his best. As he defends the reputation of monks that may have been tarnished during the Shipman’s Tale, the Monk’s stories make him appear no more moral than the Prioresse’s Tale made her.

To remedy the Monk’s morality tale, the Nun’s Priest tells his arguably much better tale, in which hubris is also punished. In it, Chauntecleer, the rooster, reminds the audiences of the distinction between nobility and regular classes, a theme briefly touched upon in the Shipman’s Tale where the merchant was honored to be in acquaintance with the monk who represented the clergy and nobility. As Chauntecleer parades around the farm blinded by his flawless image of self, he embodies human qualities commonplace within bestiary tales, and in doing so not only compares animals to humans, but also vice versa. Several critics have used this comparison to prompt a link between this and the Prioresse’s Tale, focusing on the us/them division. While the connection can be made, the Prioresse’s Tale is hardly one on morality, and actually condones vengeance and supremacy of one group over another – nothing of which is being implied in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale where it appears everyone is similarly at fault, with the idea that anyone can, if not careful, fall.

Now that each tale in Fragment VII has more ore less been identified in context, I want to suggest a rearrangement that falls in line with no extant manuscript; each of the manuscripts contains a piece of the puzzle, but none are completely correct. It appears (perhaps only to me), that the six tales within this fragment can be neatly divided in threes: Shipman-Monk-Nun’s Priest and Prioresse-Thopas-Melibee. I believe the latter of this threesome was inserted within the fragment for lack of a better place to put it, and based on cursory evidence made to fit. While there are indeed similarities between all six of these, the same case can be made between all of the tales; after all Chaucer did write them. The evidence for the Shipman-Monk connection is strong enough to envision one directly following the other, and as the Monk’s Tale is a retort to the Shipman, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale is a response to the Monk, with all three “quyting” the one before. Regarding them in this way allows for a smoother flow of ideas, uninterrupted with another set of tales that have different concerns. Also, it appears that the majority of the connections which may be made between these two threesomes come in during the latter tales, leading to my next proposal that in dividing these six tales, the Prioresse-Thopas-Melibee group not only become their own fragment, but get moved up following Fragment V, between the Franklin and the Physician.

The first argument in this regard exists due to the Shipman’s endlink in which the Host addresses the Shipman and Prioresse, thanking the first for his story while asking the latter to tell her tale. It has already been determined that the Shipman’s Tale is unreliable at best. The Shipman’s Prologue, missing from most manuscripts, attempted to justify an obviously incorrect ordering, and the tale itself is evidenced to have been written for a different character, so to suddenly attribute authority to the Shipman’s Epilogue would seem extraordinary. Further, the Prioresse’s Prologue has a different beginning throughout the different manuscripts, meaning it was most likely a standalone tale, much like the Physician’s, unattached with links to anything else, and the only indication of its preceding Sir Thopas is the Prologue to the Sir Thopas Tale which tellingly does not vary between manuscripts.

As I discussed in a previous part of this project, the Franklin’s Tale is temporally placed as the end of the pilgrim’s day, and the Franklin asks a question for them to ponder while having dinner, or retiring to their beds. The question being: who was the most dignified/gracious of the characters in his tale? The underlying meaning of this question centers around concepts of spiritual nobility and truth/justice, the same concept the Prioresse will attempt to discuss in her tale (despite that she does not fully succeed and we do not see the implications of justice/righteousness played out until Melibee which begins to touch upon the discussion that others will solidify).

Returning to the idea of time, having the Prioresse follow the Franklin places her as the first story teller of the day, and thus her immediate recital of praise for Mary would be the equivalent of matins, as opposed to the Physician’s Tale that has no introduction, nor reason for placement (despite Skeat’s argument to the contrary), or the Pardoner’s statement that he will “eten of a cake” being taken to mean he is having breakfast even though cakes were more often eaten later in the day. Yet, once Melibee opens the conversation on vengeance, revenge, and forgiveness, the Physician’s Tale takes it up with the story of Virginius and Virginia (and while Shipley and Koch believed these two tales were closely related, I am removing the Man of Law from this equation and not moving these tales near Fragment II, an argument solely based on Furnivall’s observance that the Man of Law asserts to “speke in prose,” as does Melibee). In keeping with the theme of sin, the Pardoner tells his tale in which money is the root of all evil. While several manuscripts do place the Shipman after the Pardoner, there have been arguments against the placement, as the Shipman’s Tale is often thought of as too lighthearted. His tone may be less dire than the Physician’s or Pardoner’s, but his subject is not. If the Pardoner preaches against falling prey to the desire for money, the Shipman illustrates the concept. Simultaneously he harasses the Monk and begins another chain of reactions within the Tales.

This is my proposed tale ordering thus far:

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

Yet my rearrangement of the fragments does not effect the remaining three or the previous five fragments very much. However, next time, as I look at the Manciple’s Tale, some orders may shift since I feel Fragment IX is best suited elsewhere, contingent upon the Manciple’s Prologue.

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.

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.