The canterbury tales, p.90
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.90

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  52 hadde the bord bigonne: To ‘begin the board’ is to sit at the head of the table, in the place of highest honour. Since Prussia is specified, A. S. Cook suggested that the reference is to the ‘table of honour’ held by the Teutonic Knights (JEGP, 14 (1915), 375–88); see following notes.

  53–4 Pruce … Lettow: The crusading Order of the Teutonic Knights (largely Germans) campaigned against the heathen in Prussia and Lithuania, on the southern side of the Baltic Sea. The fourteenth century saw an intensification of their activities, which were supported by foreign volunteers, including Englishmen. See E. Christiansen, The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier 1100–1525 (London, 1980), esp. pp. 132–70. reised: The word reflects the German name ‘Reisen’ (journeys), which was given to the campaigns of the Teutonic knights (see Housley, The Later Crusades, pp. 339–41).

  Ruce: Russia, although a Christian country, adhered to the Orthodox rather than the Catholic sect, and this allowed hostilities against the Russians to be construed as crusades against schismatics. In 1378, Pope Urban VI granted indulgences to those who aided a ‘crusade’ against the Russians, but nothing much came of this. W. Urban suggests therefore that ‘Ruce’ refers not to Russia, but to Rossenia, which lay between Livonia and Prussia, and was visited by most of the English crusading expeditions (ChauR, 18 (1984), 347–53; cf. Cook, JEGP, 14 (1915), 385).

  56–7 Gernade … Algezir: Algeciras, in the Moorish kingdom of Granada, was besieged by the king of Spain from 1342 to 1344. For the presence of English knights at the siege, see Russell, Intervention, pp. 7–8.

  Belmarye: Usually taken to be the Moorish kingdom in North Africa (roughly corresponding with present-day Morocco) ruled by the Ben-Marin or Marinids (see C. E. Bosworth, The New Islamic Dynasties: A Chronological and Genealogical Manual, 2nd edn (New York, 1996), pp. 41–2).

  58 Lyeys … Satalye: King Peter of Cyprus besieged the castle of Lyeys in Lesser Armenia (modern Ayash) and destroyed its town in 1367. ‘Satalye’ is the modern town of Antalya in southern Turkey; it was taken by Peter of Cyprus in 1361.

  60 armee: This is the reading of both El and Hg. The case against the alternative reading aryue is argued by S. M. Kuhn, Medieval Studies Conference Aachen 1983, ed. W.-D. Bald and H. Weinstock (Frankfurt, 1984), pp. 85–102.

  62–3 Tramissene: Tlemcen, in Algeria, a Marinid stronghold from 1337 onwards (J. M. Abun-Nasir, A History of the Maghrib, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 1975), p. 128. The words ‘in listes’ show that the type of combat referred to is the duel, in which two combatants faced each other alone; death was a common result of such combats, and is not, as Jones suggests (pp. 81–6), evidence of the Knight’s ‘homicidal character’ (G. A. Lester, Neophilologus, 66 (1982), 460–68).

  65 Palatye: Probably to be identified with modern Balat on the west coast of Turkey. The Emir of Palatye formed a temporary alliance with King Peter of Cyprus in 1365.

  73–6 The sobriety of the Knight’s attire and equipment conforms to the ascetic ideal of knighthood outlined by St Bernard in the twelfth century (Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 108–9).

  gipoun: A padded, close-fitting tunic, reaching to the thigh, worn under the habergeoun, a coat of protective chain-mail, to prevent chafing (Zijlstra-Zweens, pp. 20, 24). On top of the chain-mail habergeoun a knight wore plate-armour, and over that a surcoat or ‘coat-armour’ bearing the coat-of-arms which identified him (ibid; cf. Kn 1016, Th 857–68 and nn.). The term gipoun is generally used for this surcoat by modern scholars (Blair, p. 75), and was also occasionally so used in medieval sources (see n. to Kn 2119–20); this confused terminology appears to have misled Jones (Chaucer’s Knight, pp. 125–35) into thinking that the Knight’s gipoun was the outer surcoat, and arguing that the marks on it from the hauberk show that the Knight has dispensed with plate-armour, in the manner of the fourteenth-century English mercenaries. It is difficult, however, to see how the gipoun could show on its outer surface the marks from a habergeoun worn beneath it. The more natural interpretation is that rust or oil from the metal habergeoun has marked the fustian gipoun worn underneath it. Medieval terminology for clothing is notoriously both imprecise and fluctuating, and the terms ‘gipoun’, ‘aketoun’, ‘pourpoint’, and ‘gambeson’ all refer to forms of this protective tunic (Zijlstra-Zweens, p. 68 and n. 110; Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 42–9, 52).

  79 SQUIER: The term denotes an aspirant to knighthood, usually but not necessarily a young man; the expense of equipping oneself with a knight’s arms led to a growing reluctance to assume knighthood in the later Middle Ages. Chaucer himself was a squire of the king’s household from the late 1360s on (Pearsall, Life, pp. 47–9), but acquired this title by service rather than by birth (see P. Strohm, Social Chaucer (Cambridge, MA, 1989), pp. 8–13).

  85–6 chivachye … Picardye: Chaucer himself apparently took part in a campaign in Artois and Picardy in 1369 (Life-Records, pp. 31–2), which was part of the long sequence of conflicts between England and France known as the Hundred Years War. Since Tatlock (Development and Chronology, pp. 147–8), it has been accepted that the reference here is to the ‘crusading’ campaign led by Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, in support of the citizens of Ghent in 1383 (Saul, Richard II, pp. 102–7). A. Gaylord has argued that the sorry hypocrisies of this ‘crusade’, so-called because it was directed against subjects of the king of France, who supported the anti-Pope Clement VII, were intended by Chaucer to tarnish the Squire’s glamorous image (Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters, 45 (1960), 341–61). But the Despenser campaign does not quite fit the Squire’s ‘chivachye’ geographically, since the fighting took place in Flanders, and there was only a brief sortie to Picardy, with a portion of the English force, in August 1383, in the course of which, Tatlock points out, Despenser ‘must have passed through Artois going each way’. (Cf. Gaylord, p. 351.)

  However, another campaign that Chaucer might plausibly be referring to here is the ‘chevauchée’ led by Thomas of Woodstock, earl of Buckingham, in 1380. The expedition aimed to bring support to the duke of Brittany, but it landed at Calais and rode south and then westwards across France, passing by Saint-Omer, Arras, Cleéry on the Somme, Rheims and Troyes (see Saul, Richard II, pp. 52–3, and for a map, Atlas of Medieval Europe, ed. A. Mackay with D. Ditchburn (London and New York, 1997), p. 158). Although this expedition never entered into a full-scale engagement with the French army (thanks to the prudence of the French king), Froissart’s Chronicles describe numerous small skirmishes and individual combats in which young squires and knights sought to win glory and ransom money (Chroniques, ed. G. Raynaud, vol. IX (Paris, 1894), pp. 236–89, and vol. X (Paris, 1899), pp. 1–44; cf. esp. IX, pp. 272–9, describing a French squire challenging any English gentleman to fight for love of his lady, and GP 88). The word ‘chivachye’ seems better suited to this great sweep through Artois and Picardy, beginning in the historical territory of the county of Flanders, than to the relatively restricted expedition led by Despenser.

  93 The Squire is wearing a houppelande, a new type of gown in the late fourteenth century, which instead of following the body closely, like his father’s gipoun, has ample folds caught in at the waist by a belt, and instead of tight-fitting sleeves, has sleeves which are funnel-shaped, widening at the wrist in an exaggerated manner. The houppelande could be full length, or very short, as the Squire’s is (C. W. Cunnington and P. Cunnington, Handbook of English Mediaeval Costume (London, 1952), p. 82).

  94–6 The Squire’s accomplishments (including the flute-playing mentioned at GP 91) are those in which young men of his class were traditionally trained (N. Orme, ChauR, 16 (1981), 38–59, at pp. 44–5), and also correspond to the activities enjoined on the aspiring lover by the God of Love in the Romance of the Rose (2183–98, tr. Horgan, p. 34). Drawing is not otherwise attested as a gentlemanly skill at this date, but the MED does not support Orme’s suggestion (ibid.) that ‘purtreye’ means ‘describe in speech or writing’.

  100 Carving at tabl
e was a Squire’s household duty (cf. Sum 2243–4; Mch 1772–3), and considered a courtly accomplishment: ‘every man that wille come to knighthode him behoveth to lerne | in his yongthe to kerve at the table | to serve to arme | and to adoube a knight’ (William Caxton’s translation of The Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry, ed. A. T. P. Byles, EETS o.s. 168 (London, 1926), p. 21; cf. Miller, p. 183).

  101 YEMAN: The word ‘yeoman’ could denote ‘either a freeholder of some substance or a household official of some status’ (J. C. Holt, Robin Hood (London, 1982), p. 120); the Yeoman’s relation to the Knight makes clear that the latter sense is relevant here. In military terms, yeomen were foot-soldiers (see Kn 2509, 2728), and thus ranked below the mounted knights and squires; in household service, a yeoman also ranked below a squire. Chaucer was a yeoman of the king’s chamber before becoming a squire (see Pearsall, Life, p. 48, and cf. n. to GP 79).

  he: That is, the Knight. The modesty of the Knight’s retinue is in line with the general sobriety of his appearance and equipment.

  103 Green clothing was traditionally favoured by foresters and hunters (Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 152–5).

  104 pecok arwes: Peacock feathers on arrows are praised by contemporary writers (Bowden, p. 87; Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 140–41; see also G. A. Test, American Notes and Queries, 2 (1964), 67–8). Robert Hardy, author of Longbow (New York, 1977), a practising archer and keeper of peacocks, confirms that the bronze pinion feathers (not the showy tail feathers) of the male bird are the best for use in arrows. They are ‘bright’ in comparison with the duller pinions of other birds, such as goose or crow, and ‘kene’ because they have a close texture and cut with a good, sharp edge.

  105–7 Under his belt: That is, he did not let his arrows rattle loose in a back or side quiver. Their feathers did not ‘droupe’, as they might have done if the glue and binding which attached them to the arrow was not kept in good order, so that the fletching came partly unstuck.

  115 Medals bearing the image of St Christopher were superstitiously supposed, in the Middle Ages as nowadays, to offer protection against accidents and danger. I have been unable to find evidence for the assertion in older editions of CT that St Christopher was the patron saint of foresters. However, the account of his martyrdom relates that when four hundred archers tried to shoot him, the arrows hovered in mid-air and one of them turned back on his persecutor (Golden Legend, II, 14). Perhaps this made him a good protector against stray arrows.

  117 A forster was he: The forests of medieval England were subject to special laws which safeguarded game for the king’s hunting; these laws were enforced by officers called foresters (W. B. McColly, ChauR, 20 (1985), 14–27). Bow and arrows were the characteristic accoutrements of the foresters, who were the only persons allowed to carry them in the forest (R. Grant, The Royal Forests of England (Stroud, Glos., 1991), pp. 112–24, esp. pp. 117, 121). The text does not make clear whether the Yeoman’s role as forester is related to his role as the Knight’s servant.

  120 by Seinte Loy: St Eligius (Eloi in French) was the patron saint of goldsmiths, and therefore a saint who might appeal to one who, like the Prioress, was fond of jewellery (J. L. Lowes, RomR, 5 (1914), 368–85). He also had several female disciples (A. S. Haskell, Essays on Chaucer’s Saints (The Hague and Paris, 1976), pp. 32–3).

  123 ‘Chanting the service has always demanded a nasal quality to avoid strain on the vocal chords’ (Bowden, p. 102); however, some medieval writers deplored singing ‘from the nose’ as ‘womanish’ (H. A. Kelly, ChauR, 31 (1996), 115–32, at pp. 127–8).

  124–6 The Norman Conquest established French as the language of the upper classes; by the fourteenth century, English was reasserting itself, but French still had the prestige of courtly speech. That the Prioress spoke Anglo-Norman, rather than Parisian French, is not in itself ridiculous (see W. Rothwell, MLR, 80 (1985), 39–54, and ChauR, 36 (2001), 184–207), but Chaucer’s reference to the ‘scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe’ does suggest that this is one of the contemporary jokes about ‘English French’ (I. Short, RPh, 33 (1980), 467–79). Stratford-at-Bow in East London was the site of a Benedictine nunnery (St Leonard’s Bromley); see M. P. Hamilton, in Philologica: The Malone Anniversary Studies, ed. T. A. Kirby and H. B. Woolf (Baltimore, MD, 1949), pp. 179–90, and D. Knowles and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, England and Wales (London, 1971), p. 266.

  127–36 The description of the Prioress’s table-manners is closely modelled on the rules for female deportment outlined by the Old Woman (La Vieille) in the Romance of the Rose (13378–402, tr. Horgan, pp. 206–7).

  159 The rosary was used to facilitate counting during the recitation of 150 Ave Marias. The large green beads were probably not, as Skeat claimed, intended to mark the recitation of a Pater noster after every tenth Ave, since this custom was not practised until after Chaucer’s time (B. Boyd, Modern Language Quarterly, 11 (1950), 404–16), but simply made counting easier.

  162 Amor vincit omnia: ‘Love conquers all’. The saying originates in Vergil (Eclogues X.69), and is quoted in RR (21302, tr. Horgan, pp. 328–9); in both cases the reference is to human, secular love, rather than the divine love appropriate to a nun, but the ambiguity in the phrase allows a convenient vagueness in the Prioress’s case about which kind of love is in question.

  164 chapeleine: A prioress or abbess had a nun appointed as her chaplain, to act as her secretary and assist her at church services (F. J. Furnivall, Anglia, 4 (1881), 238–40).

  preestes thre: Since we hear no more of two of these three priests, it has been suggested that Chaucer left this line incomplete, and the reference to the priests was supplied by a scribe (cf. n. to GP 24). However, the second half-line appears in all manuscripts, and thus has a strong claim to be original. A female companion would have been a necessity for a travelling nun, and there is nothing historically implausible about her being attended by as many as three priests in addition. For a full discussion of the arguments on each side, see M. Andrew, ed., A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: The General Prologue, 2 vols. (Norman, OK, and London, 1993), I, 173–6.

  165 A MONK: Strict moralists would have said that neither the Monk nor the Prioress should have been on the pilgrimage at all, since claustration was an essential feature of the monastic life to which they had committed themselves (see G. Constable, Studia Gratiana, 19 (1976), 123–46), but it was not unusual for monks and nuns to be given permission to travel outside the cloister for various purposes (see F. H. Ridley, The Prioress and the Critics (Berkeley, CA, 1965), p. 19, and H. A. Kelly, ChauR, 31 (1996), 115–32, at pp. 119–21). See also following n.

  166 outridere: For a full discussion of this term, see H. E. Ussery, Tulane Studies in English, 17 (1969), 1–30, at pp. 13–26. Benedictine monasteries drew their income from landed property, and the administration of their estates frequently required the monks to ride out on business (see Harvey, Living and Dying, p. 1). See also n. to Mil 3668, Sh 65–6 and n.

  172 kepere of the celle: Monasteries frequently had subordinate cells dependent on them, of varying size; the head of such a cell was often a likely candidate for promotion to an abbacy at the mother house or elsewhere (Ussery, Tulane Studies in English, 17 (1969), 1–30).

  Riverside punctuates with a full stop at the end of this line, so as to link it with GP 171. I agree with Robinson’s punctuation in taking it as introducing GP 173.

  173 The Rule of St Benedict of Nursia (c. 480–c. 550) laid down the principles and structure of monastic life. St Maurus, Benedict’s disciple, did not himself compose a monastic rule, and his linking with his master here must be explained by the legend that credits him with introducing the Benedictine Rule into France (see D. Knowles, The Religious Orders in England, vol. II (Cambridge, 1961), pp. 365–6). The names of the two saints are linked in a similar manner by Gower (Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 28–9).

  177–8 The text Chaucer has in mind may be Augustine’s comment on Nimrod, the ‘mighty hunter before the
Lord’ (Genesis 10:9; City of God XVI.4), or it may be Gratian’s Decretum (quoting ps. Jerome’s comment on Esau); see O. F. Emerson, MP, 1 (1903), 105–10. Despite numerous prohibitions against the sport, members of the monastic orders, and especially heads of religious houses, often engaged in hunting (N. Orme, in Chaucer’s England: Literature in Historical Context, ed. B. Hanawalt (Minneapolis, 1992), pp. 133–53, esp. p. 135).

  180 The comparison is proverbial; see Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 29–31.

  187 Austin: The C-fragment of the ME translation of the Romance of the Rose (but not the French original) similarly cites St Augustine (of Hippo) as urging manual labour on the religious orders (6583–98). The reference is most probably to Augustine’s De opere monachorum (CSEL 41, pp. 529–96; extracts translated in G. G. Coulton, Life in the Middle Ages, vol. IV (Cambridge, 1930), pp. 32–9).

  206 fat swan: The Benedictine Rule forbade monks to eat the flesh of quadrupeds. Whether or not St Benedict intended to allow the consumption of two-legged fowl, this is how his Rule was generally interpreted throughout the Middle Ages (see Harvey, Living and Dying, pp. 38–41).

  207 as broun as is a berye: A proverbial comparison. See Whiting B259–259a, and cf. Co 4368 and Wynnere and Wastoure 91, ed. S. Trigg, EETS o.s. 297 (Oxford, 1990).

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