The canterbury tales, p.89
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.89

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  Petrarch, Opere latine Francesco Petrarca, Opere latine, ed. Antonietta Bufano, 2 vols. (Turin, 1975).

  Petrus Alfonsi, Disciplina Clericalis ed. Alfons Hilka and Werner Söderhjelm (Heidelberg, 1911).

  — The Scholar’s Guide, tr. Joseph Ramon Jones and John Esten Keller (Toronto, 1969).

  — The Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi, tr. and ed. Eberhard Hermes; English tr. by P. R. Quarrie (London, 1977).

  PF Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls.

  PL Patrologiae Cursus Completus Series Latina, ed. J.-P. Migne, 221 vols. (Paris, 1844–55).

  PMLA Publications of the Modern Language Association of America.

  Pollock and Maitland Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitland, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I, 2nd edn, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1968).

  Poubelle, Body and Surgery Marie-Christine Poubelle, The Body and Surgery in the Middle Ages, tr. Rosemary Morris (Cambridge, 1990).

  PPl William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Complete Edition of the B-Text, ed. A. V. C. Schmidt, 2nd edn (London, 1995).

  PPl C Piers Plowman by William Langland: An Edition of the C-Text, ed. Derek Pearsall (London, 1978).

  PQ Philological Quarterly.

  Pratt, CT Robert A. Pratt, ed., The Tales of Canterbury, Complete (Boston, 1974).

  Publilius Syrus Minor Latin Poets, ed. J. Wight Duff and Arnold M. Duff (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1934; rev. edn 1935), pp. 3–111.

  Rawcliffe, Medicine Carole Rawcliffe, Medicine and Society in Later Medieval England (Stroud, Glos., 1995).

  Renart le Contrefait, ed. Raynaud and Lemaître Renart le Contrefait, ed. Gaston Raynaud and Henri Lemaître, 2 vols. (Paris, 1914).

  RES Review of English Studies.

  Rewriting Chaucer, ed. Prendergast and Kline Rewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text 1400–1602, ed. Thomas A. Prendergast and Barbara Kline (Columbus, OH, 1999).

  Riley, Memorials Henry Thomas Riley, ed., Memorials of London and London Life in the XIIIth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries (London, 1868).

  Riverside The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston, 1987).

  Riverside CT Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales Complete, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston, 2000).

  Robertson, Chaucer’s London D. W. Robertson, Jr, Chaucer’s London (New York, 1968).

  Robinson The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. F. N. Robinson, 2nd edn (Boston, 1957).

  RomR Romanic Review.

  Rowland, Blind Beasts Beryl Rowland, Blind Beasts: Chaucer’s Animal World (Kent, OH, 1971).

  RPh Romance Philology.

  RR Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Romance of the Rose, ed. Félix Lecoy, CFMA, 3 vols. (Paris, 1966–70).

  — The Romance of the Rose, tr. Frances Horgan (Oxford, 1994).

  Russell, Intervention P. E. Russell, The English Intervention in Spain and Portugal in the Time of Edward III and Richard II (Oxford, 1955).

  SA Sources and Analogues of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster (Chicago, 1941; repr. New York, 1958).

  SA2 Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, ed. Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 2002–5). No page references are given for vol. 2 because it was not published when this edition of CT went to press.

  SAC Studies in the Age of Chaucer.

  Salzer, Sinnbilder Anselm Salzer, Die Sinnbilder und Beiworte Mariens in der deutschen Literatur und lateinischen Hymnenpoesie des Mittelalters (Linz, 1886–94; repr. Darmstadt, 1967).

  Saul, Richard II Nigel Saul, Richard II (New Haven, CT, 1997).

  Singer Samuel Singer, Sprichwörter des Mittelalters, 3 vols. (Bern, 1944–7).

  Skeat The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Walter W. Skeat, 7 vols., 2nd edn (Oxford 1899; repr. 1972).

  Song of Roland La Chanson de Roland, ed. F. Whitehead (Oxford, 1965).

  — The Song of Roland, tr. Glyn Burgess (Harmondsworth, 1990).

  South English Legendary The South English Legendary, ed. Charlotte d’Evelyn and Anna J. Mill, 3 vols., EETS o.s. 235–6, 244 (London, 1956–9; repr. 1967–9).

  SP Studies in Philology.

  Sumption, Pilgrimage Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (London, 1975).

  Tatlock, Development and Chronology John S. P. Tatlock, The Development and Chronology of Chaucer’s Works (London, 1907; repr. Gloucester, MA, 1963).

  TC Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, ed. Barry Windeatt (London, 2003).

  Teseida see Boccaccio, Opere.

  Tilley Morris Palmer Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor, MI, 1950).

  Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale Bibliotheca Mundi. Vin-centii Burgundi… Speculum Quadruplex, vol. IV (Douai, 1624; repr. Graz, 1965).

  Walter of Châtillon, Alexandreis Galteri de Castellione Alexandreis, ed. Marvin L. Colker (Padua, 1978).

  — The Alexandreis, tr. R. Telfryn Pritchard (Toronto, 1986).

  Walther Hans Walther, Proverbia Sententiaeque Latinitatis Medii Aevi, 5 vols. (Göttingen, 1963–7).

  Whiting B. J. Whiting, with the collaboration of Helen Westcott Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases From English Writings Mainly Before 1500 (London and Cambridge, MA, 1968).

  Wise, Influence of Statius Boyd Ashby Wise, The Influence of Statius upon Chaucer (Baltimore, MD, 1911; repr. New York, 1967).

  Wood Chauncey Wood, Chaucer and the Country of the Stars: Poetic Uses of Astrological Imagery (Princeton, NJ, 1970).

  Zijlstra-Zweens H. M. Zijlstra-Zweens, Of his array telle I no lenger tale: Aspects of Costume, Arms and Armour in Western Europe (Amsterdam, 1988).


  These Notes provide some guidance towards critical interpretation of the Canterbury Tales, but are not intended as a full literary-critical commentary, or as a summary of current critical opinion. Their primary aims are to explain places in the text that a modern reader will find hard to understand, to indicate the most important literary sources and traditions on which Chaucer drew, and to indicate some of the more interesting textual questions. As far as possible within the inevitable space restrictions, they aim to contain relevant information within themselves, rather than simply referring the reader to sources where it may be found.

  References in the Notes to works of Chaucer other than the Canterbury Tales are to The Riverside Chaucer, general editor L. D. Benson (Boston, 1987; Oxford, 1988). Troilus and Criseyde may also be consulted in the Penguin Classics edition by Barry Windeatt (London, 2003). Abbreviated References are used in the Notes for works that are cited in connection with two or more different tales. Works cited more than once within the notes on the same tale (and accompanying prologue/epilogue) are cited in full on their first occurrence, and thereafter in abbreviated form. Classical authors are cited from editions in the Loeb Classical Library; in such cases, details of editors, place and date of publication are not supplied (with the exception of works included in the Minor Latin Poets volume, which may be traced through the Abbreviated References list). The same is true for patristic and medieval Latin authors whose works are cited from the series Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (CCSL), Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis (CCCM) or Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesi-asticorum Latinorum (CSEL). Biblical references are to the Latin Vulgate Bible (which includes the apocryphal books omitted from the King James Authorized Version of 1611); however, I follow the Authorized Version in referring to 1–2 Samuel, followed by 1–2 Kings, rather than 1–4 Kings, and use its more familiar spellings for the books of the Bible. English translations are generally taken from the Douai-Rheims version of the Vulgate, though they have occasionally been adjusted for the sake of greater clarity or to bring out correspondences with the relevant passage in Chaucer. In textual notes, an asterisk against the headword (lemma) before the square bracket means that an emendation of the El/Hg text is supported by readings in other manus
cripts. The abbreviations for grammatical forms are those used in the Glossary. Other abbreviations used are:

  AN Anglo-Norman

  AV The Holy Bible (Authorized King James Version)

  BL British Library

  ME Middle English

  MS, MSS manuscript, manuscripts

  OF Old French


  The portraits that make up the General Prologue are so vivid that scholars were long convinced that Chaucer was here drawing not on literary sources but on contemporary life. In this belief, J. M. Manly attempted to identify real-life models for the Host and several of the pilgrims (see nn. to GP 326, 410; Co 4336, 4358), and claimed that Chaucer’s audience would probably have recognized more. Only with the Host, however, is the evidence for a real-life model strong, and it is now generally recognized that the General Prologue is structured on the model of the literary genre known as estates satire, in which the various classes of society are reviewed in turn (Mann, Estates Satire). The list of social classes included in the General Prologue is longer and more varied than is often the case, but the details of the pilgrims’ appearance and behaviour are largely those associated with their estate or profession. Their portraits conjure up the everyday realities of their professional or working lives. Unlike the writers of estates satire, however, Chaucer refrains for the most part from moral criticism, and also withholds the information on which such criticism might be based. His own responses to the pilgrims, as narrator and their fictional companion, are based on a general criterion of sociability. The complex responses to each pilgrim which are constructed and manipulated by the pilgrim-narrator, often by adopting their own point of view on the world, animate the estates stereotypes and create the impression that they are three-dimensional figures (ibid., pp. 190–202).

  1–14 The description of spring in these lines closely resembles a passage in Book IV of Guido delle Colonne’s History of the Destruction of Troy (ed. Griffin, pp. 34–5), a work on which Chaucer drew for his Troilus and Criseyde:

  It was the time when the aging sun in its oblique circle of the zodiac had already entered into the sign of Aries, in which the equal length of nights and days is celebrated in the equinox of spring; when the weather begins to entice eager mortals into the pleasant air; when the ice has melted, and the breezes [zephiri] ripple the flowing streams; when the springs gush forth in fragile bubbles; when moistures exhaled from the bosom of the earth are raised up to the tops of the trees and branches, for which reason the seeds sprout, the crops grow, and the meadows bloom, embellished with flowers of various colors; when the trees on every side are decked with renewed leaves; when earth is adorned with grass, and the birds sing and twitter in music of sweet harmony. Then almost the middle of the month of April had passed

  (tr. Meek, pp. 33–4)

  In Guido, however, spring is the prelude to war rather than pilgrimage.

  2 droghte of March: The often expressed view that Chaucer is here basing himself on literary convention rather than actual weather conditions in England has been convincingly contested by J. A. Hart, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 4 (1963), 525 – 9, and A. S. Daley, ChauR, 4 (1970), 171–9.

  7 the yonge sonne: The sun is ‘young’ because it has just passed the spring equinox, which is the beginning of the solar year.

  8 the Ram: The zodiacal sign of Aries (Latin for ‘ram’). (On the zodiac, see n. to Mch 2222–4.) The sun passes through Aries from 12 March to 11 April; the opening reference to April shows that ‘his halve cours’ cannot mean ‘half his course’ (which would place the date around the end of March), but must mean that the sun has completed the half of its course that fell in April (North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 132). This supposition is confirmed by ML 5–6, which gives the date as 18 April.

  And how would you know when [the Ram was half-way through Aries]? You might have in the church or town hall a zodiac sun-dial, such as can be seen on the wall of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Then the shadow of the sun at midday would tell you where the sun was in the zodiac …

  (S. J. Tester, A History of Western Astrology

  (Woodbridge, 1987), p. 127)

  For an argument that the constellation of Aries, whose position in the sky no longer coincided with the zodiacal sign, is meant here, see S. Eisner, ChauR, 28 (1994), 330–43.

  13 palmeres: The name originally denotes a pilgrim who had returned from the Holy Land and carried a palm-branch as a sign of this.

  16–17 The ‘martyr’ is St Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in his own cathedral in 1170 and canonized three years later. His shrine at Canterbury was one of the most important pilgrimage resorts in the Middle Ages, and was made resplendent by the priceless treasures offered to the saint. See H. Loxton, Pilgrimage to Canterbury (Newton Abbot, 1978).

  20 The Tabard Inn stood in the High Street of the borough of Southwark, which lies across London Bridge on the south bank of the Thames, conveniently placed for the main route to Canterbury (now the Old Kent Road). The Inn no longer exists, but the site on which it stood is the present-day Talbot Yard. It is number 119 on the map at p. 34 of Carlin, Medieval Southwark.

  24 The number of pilgrims described in GP, excluding Chaucer himself, is not twenty-nine but twenty-seven; if the ‘preestes thre’ of GP 164 are included, the number rises to thirty. Numbers were usually represented in the manuscripts by Roman numerals rather than words, and so could more easily be misread.

  43 A KNIGHT: For a detailed analysis of the Knight’s portrait, see T. Jones, Chaucer’s Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (London, 1980); his view that Chaucer’s praise is ironical, and that the Knight is in fact a callous and brutal mercenary, has not, however, found general acceptance. For a refutation, see J. H. Pratt, ChauR, 22 (1987), 8–27; for a reassessment, see M. Keen, in Armies, Chivalry and Warfare in Medieval Britain and France, ed. M. Strickland (Stamford, 1998), pp. 1–12.

  47 his lordes werre: The lord in question has been variously interpreted as God, the king or the Knight’s feudal overlord. The latter is the most probable, since knights belonged to the lower orders of the aristocracy, providing armed service for greater lords in return for their landed holdings. This means that the claim often made by critics, that Chaucer begins his series of pilgrims at the top of the social scale, does not hold good; see further n. to GP 744.

  51 ff. The list of the Knight’s campaigns covers too long a time-span to be a realistic account of one person’s career; it is rather a traditional literary device for indicating the scope and magnitude of a knight’s achievements (Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 110–13). Some of the places mentioned by Chaucer (Alexandria, Prussia, Lithuania, Russia) also appear in other lists of this sort. Useful maps may be found in Jones, Chaucer’s Knight, pp. 50, 60, 68, and N. Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274–1580 (Oxford, 1992).

  Most, though not all, of the campaigns in which the Knight has fought are of a religious character, directed against the heathen on the boundaries of Christian Europe in Spain, North Africa, the Baltic and the Near East; see the detailed discussion by J. M. Manly, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 38 (1907), 89–107, and A. S. Cook, Transactions of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 20 (1916), 165–240. Although not as popular (or as lucrative) as fighting in France, participation in crusading campaigns was by no means uncommon among fourteenth-century English knights; see M. Keen, in English Court Culture in the Later Middle Ages, ed. V. J. Scattergood and J. W. Sherborne (London, 1983), pp. 45–61 (repr. in Keen, Nobles, Knights, and Men-at-Arms in the Middle Ages (London and Rio Grande, 1996), pp. 101–19), for the involvement of numerous English knights in crusading activities in these areas, and Thomas J. Hatton, ChauR, 3 (1968), 77–87, for crusading propaganda in the last decades of the fourteenth century.

  Alisaundre: The rich city of Alexandria fell in 1365 to the forces of Peter of Lusignan, king of Cyprus, but after a week of plunder the victors abandoned it,
being unable to garrison it (Housley, The Later Crusades, pp. 40–43). Its capture was the subject of a long, celebratory poem (La Prise d’Alexandrie) by Chaucer’s French contemporary Guillaume de Machaut. Cf. Mk 2391–2.

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