The canterbury tales, p.92
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.92

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  372 London was divided into 24 wards (25 after 1394), each governed by an elected alderman (Robertson, Chaucer’s London, pp. 69–71).

  377 vigilies: This is probably a reference to the vigil or wake which took place in church the night before a funeral mass. Members of fraternities were expected to join the funeral procession from the house of the deceased to the church, wearing their liveries, and to attend the vigil service. See Riley, Memorials, pp. 232, 463, and Unwin, Gilds, pp. 53, 101, 118. It is unlikely, however, that the processions were so grand that women’s gowns were carried for them, and this may be a joke on Chaucer’s part.

  390 as he kouthe: This seems to be a joke against the poor riding ability of sailors.

  397 Bordeaux, which at this period was still an English possession (being part of the territory that Eleanor of Aquitaine brought as dowry on her marriage to Henry II of England), conducted a flourishing export trade in wine with England and Flanders.

  404 Hull (on the east coast of England) and Cartagena (on the southeast coast of Spain) are obviously chosen for the sake of hyperbole rather than as precise indications of the scope of the Shipman’s travels (elsewhere in Chaucer, ‘Cartage’ means Carthage, but see K. Malone, MLN, 45 (1930), 229–30).

  408 Gootland: Probably not Jutland, but Gotland, an island off the Swedish coast; see Magoun, pp. 80–81. Finistere: Cape Finis-terre, a prominent headland in Galicia (north-west Spain); see Magoun, pp. 72–3. The general meaning of the line is ‘from North to South’.

  410 A Dartmouth ship called the Maudelayne is to be found in fourteenth-century records; Manly suggested that one of its masters, Peter Risshenden, was the model for Chaucer’s Shipman (New Light, pp. 169–81).

  414 The four ‘humours’ of the body (see n. to GP 333) were thought to be affected by stellar and planetary influences; a physician therefore had to take care to administer his remedies at a time when their effects would not be negated by adverse stellar conjunctions. See Curry, pp. 13–19, and Poubelle, Body and Surgery (tr. Morris), pp. 78–9.

  416 houres: The periods between sunrise and sunset, and between sunset and sunrise, were each divided into twelve ‘inequal hours’ (so called because their exact length would obviously vary according to the time of year) or ‘hours of the planets’, in each of which the influence of a particular planet was thought to be predominant. See North, Chaucer’s Universe, p. 78. Again, the Doctor must administer his treatment under the influence of a benign rather than a malevolent planet.

  417–18 ascendent: The ascendant is the zodiacal sign which at any given moment is rising on the eastern horizon at the point where it intersects with the ecliptic (see n. to Mch 2222–4); the planets were each assigned ‘mansions’ or ‘domiciles’ in the various signs of the zodiac, and the planet whose mansion was the sign in the ascendant at any time would then exercise greater influence (see North, Chaucer’s Universe, pp. 195–6). The ‘images’ were metal talismans engraved at this astrologically important moment, and thus, in theory, became impregnated with the powers of the beneficent planetary influence, so that they acted as charms. The Doctor must calculate the times when the right ascendant will ensure that the images are imbued with favourable influences. Advice on all these astrologico-medical matters is given at the end of the Calendar of Nicholas of Lynn (Eisner, Kalendarium, pp. 208–22), which Chaucer says he consulted in writing his Treatise on the Astrolabe. See also Curry, pp. 20–26.

  420–21 See n. to GP 333. Illness was thought to be the result of an imbalance between the four humours of the body; the physician would treat this imbalance by administering substances with the opposite elemental qualities to act as a corrective. See Rawcliffe, Medicine, pp. 34–6.

  425–8 apothecaries: Other medieval writers comment on the collusion between doctors and apothecaries, which is more to their benefit than the patient’s (Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 95–6).

  429–34 Similar lists of medical authorities are found elsewhere in medieval literature; see Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 92–3. Chaucer aims at impressiveness rather than verisimilitude. The name of Aesculapius, the legendary founder of Greek medicine who was worshipped as a god in the ancient world, was attached to numerous medical treatises in the Middle Ages. The other persons mentioned

  include all the eminent authorities of medicine … Dioscorides, who wrote on the materia medica, flourished AD c. 50. Rufus of Ephesus lived in the second century; Hippocrates is well known. Haly, probably the Persian Hali ibn el Abbas (d. 994), was a physician of the Eastern Caliphate; Galen, of course, the famous authority of the second century. Serapion was probably an Arab of the eleventh or twelfth century, author of the Liber de Medicamentis Simplicibus; Rhazes of Baghdad lived in the ninth or tenth century. Both Avicenna and Averroes were well known philosophers as well as physicians of the eleventh and twelfth centur[y] respectively. The name of Johannes Damascenus was attached to the writings of two ninth century medical authorities, Yuhanna ibn Masawaih and the elder Serapion. Constantinus Afer, a monk from Carthage [cf. Mch 1810–11 and n.] … came to Salerno in the eleventh century, bringing Arabian learning with him, whereas the last three are all British practitioners who wrote medical compendiums of great influence. The Scot, Bernard Gordon, was professor of medicine at Montpellier c. 1300. Gilbertus Anglicus lived in the latter part of the thirteenth century, and John of Gaddesden, whom Chaucer undoubtedly knew personally, taught at Merton College, Oxford, and died 1361. It is an impressive list …

  (T. J. Garbáty, Medical History, 7 (1963), 348–58, at p. 350)

  438 Most physicians in Chaucer’s time were clerics; the Doctor very probably either was a priest or aimed at becoming one; see Ussery, Chaucer’s Physician, pp. 29–30. Yet so far from being devout, doctors were usually thought of as a godless class; see Curry, pp. 30–31.

  442 pestilence: Bubonic plague (the Black Death) raged through England in 1348; sporadic outbreaks of pestilence (not necessarily bubonic plague) occurred for the rest of the century (J. F. D. Shrewsbury, A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles (Cambridge, 1970), pp. 126–41).

  443 Liquid gold was held to be medically efficacious. Chaucer ironically ascribes the Doctor’s love of gold to his professional dedication.

  445 biside BATHE: Manly (New Light, pp. 231–3) argued that this was a precise reference to the parish of St Michael’s juxta Bathon, outside the town walls, where weaving (see GP 447) was an important activity. But Chaucer may simply mean ‘near Bath’ in general.

  446 For the cause of the Wife’s deafness, see WB 668, 788–96.

  448 Ypres … Gaunt: Ypres and Ghent are towns in Flanders, thecentre of the medieval cloth trade; the Wife is thus ‘better than the best’.

  450 Atthe Offertory of the Mass, the congregation went up to the altar in order of rank to lay their offerings on it. Pars 407 mentions eagerness to take precedence on such an occasion as an example of the sin of Pride; see also Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 122–3. For historical evidence of quarrels over precedence in church, see E. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580(New Haven, CT, 1992), pp. 126–7.

  454 For medieval complaints about women’s fondness for exaggerated headgear, see Mann, Estates Satire, p. 124.

  456 Scarlet was a very fine and costly woollen fabric, usually (but not inevitably) dyed red in colour (Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 173–6).

  460 chirche-dore: Marriage was not generally accepted as a sacrament until the twelfth century; what gave it validity was not the priest’s blessing but the public vows uttered by the couple in front of witnesses. The ceremony therefore took place not inside the church but outside the church door, throughout the Middle Ages (J. Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 146–51).

  463–6 The places visited by the Wife include the major pilgrimagecentres of the Middle Ages: Jerusalem (for visits to the scenes of Christ’s life and other biblical events); Rome (for its churches and holy relics); Santiago de Composte
la in Galicia, north-west Spain (for the shrine containing the body of St James); Cologne (for the shrines of the three Magi, and of St Ursula and the 11,000 virgins). Boulogne possessed a shrine containing a miraculous image of the Virgin, which had arrived in a rudderless boat. For women’s fondness for going on pilgrimage, cf. WB 557, and see Mann, Estates Satire, pp. 123–4.

  475 remedies of love: That is, the kind of ‘know-how’ in prosecuting or terminating a love-affair which is taught by Ovid in his Art of Love and Remedies of Love.

  476 olde daunce: The Old Woman (La Vieille) in the Romance of the Rose, who is one of the literary progenitors of the Wife of Bath, also knows all about the ‘old dance’ (‘la vielle dance’) of love (3908j, tr. Horgan, p. 60). She also boasts of the ‘compaignie’ that flocked around her in her days of youth and beauty (12745–51, tr. Horgan, p. 197; cf. GP 461).

  478 For a comparison of the Parson’s portrait with the historical evidence for the late-medieval English priesthood, see R. N. Swanson, SAC, 13 (1991), 41–80.

  486 Parishioners were obliged to pay tithes (one-tenth of their income) to their parish priest; the penalty of non-payment was excommunication, which a grasping priest would be quick to impose.

  497–8 Matthew 5:19.

  500 The same question is to be found in the (early 13th c.) Roman de carité, ed. A. G. Van Hamel (Paris, 1885): ‘Se ors enrunge, queus ert fers?’ (LXII.10). For other examples of this image applied to priestly corruption, see J. Fleming, NQ, 209 (1964), 167, and cf. G. L. Kittredge, MLN, 12 (1897), 113–15.

  504 This image too is paralleled in the Roman de carité (LXXI.9–11), and also in Gower’s Vox Clamantis (The Complete Works of John Gower: The Latin Works, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford, 1902; repr. 1968), III.1063), but in slightly less vivid form (the priest is ‘dirtied’ rather than ‘shiten’).

  507–11 See n. to Pars 22. Langland complains that after the country population (and thus tithes) had been depleted by the Black Death, parish priests hired curates to look after their parishes and flocked to London to take on the more lucrative and less onerous office of chantry priest (PPl Prol.83–6). Historical evidence suggests, however, that this complaint was not well founded (see H. A. Kelly, ChauR, 28 (1993), 5–22, at pp. 12–13). The function of a chantry chapel was to provide regular Masses for the soul of the person who had founded and endowed it, or the souls of the members of a religious fraternity which maintained it for that purpose.

  Seinte Poules: St Paul’s Cathedral contained many chantries of this sort (see G. H. Cook, Medieval Chantries and Chantry Chapels (rev. edn, London, 1963), esp. pp. 139–46).

  512–14 The imagery of the shepherd, wolf and hireling (‘mercenarye’) is biblical; see John 10:11–13.

  540 The Plowman is most probably a peasant who owned his own plough and cultivated his own land (typically fifteen acres or more), rather than a landless labourer working for wages. He would thus pay greater tithes (see n. to GP 486) on his corn crop (the result of his ‘propre swink’), and lesser tithes on the increase of his livestock (‘catel’), such as lambs, calves, milk, eggs, and so on. See R. N. Swanson, Church and Society in Late Medieval England (Oxford, 1989), pp. 210–15.

  541 A tabard was a sleeveless overgarment, made of two rectangular pieces of cloth joined together at the shoulders. It was worn ‘primarily by members of the lower classes or by monks’ (MED s.v. 1a; see also Hodges, Chaucer and Costume, pp. 219–21).

  548 For the ram as prize in a wrestling match, see Th 740–41, and J. Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, ed. W. Hone (London, 1876), p. 146.

  562 tollen: The owner of a mill (normally the lord of the manor) claimed a toll of the grain ground at it (in addition to payment); in the late fourteenth century, it would not have been unusual for the miller himself to have bought the freedom of the mill, so that the toll would belong to him (Bennett, p. 91). This Miller manages to take three times his due.

  563 ‘And yet’ implies a contrast between lines 562 and 563, and since the first line is about stealing, the second is probably introducing an ironic reference to honesty by way of a reference to the proverb ‘An honest miller hath a golden thumb’, although it is recorded only after the medieval period (Tilley M953). A miller used his thumb in testing samples of grain; presumably the miller’s thumb is ‘golden’ because his rewards depend on using it with skill. Chaucer ironically implies that his Miller’s thumb is ‘golden’ because he has managed to grow rich by dishonest practices.

  567 MAUNCIPLE: A manciple was an official something like a steward, charged with buying provisions for the members of a corporate community such as a university college or (as in this case) one of the Inns of Court where lawyers were trained (the Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn). Chaucer’s Manciple is connected with one of the two Temples; for the history of their names and foundation, see Bowden, pp. 256–7.

  579 Lawyers, like clerks, might find lucrative employment with a lord, overseeing the running of his estates.

  587 REVE: A reeve was a manorial official whose duty was to oversee the work of the manor and to keep the accounts. Hence he had on the one hand to keep an eye on the efficient running of the manor and the behaviour of the other peasants, and on the other to make sure that his own efficiency and honesty could not be impugned by the auditor of his accounts.

  colerik: Choler was one of the four ‘complexiouns’ of the body (see n. to GP 333). The Reeve’s thinness and implied irascibility (GP 605) fit the traditional picture of the choleric man, but he lacks other features of the type (Mann, Estates Satire, p. 163).

  603 The bailiff was usually the manorial overseer appointed by the lord, and thus superior in station to the reeve, who was a serf in charge of his fellows. But ‘bailiff’ was also a term more generally used of various manorial servants, and this may be why Chaucer lumps the bailiff with ‘hierdes’ and ‘hines’.

  620 Baldeswelle: The present-day Bawdeswell in northern Norfolk. Norfolk people seem to have been generally thought of as crafty, treacherous and avaricious (Mann, Estates Satire, p. 166; A. J. Fletcher, MÆ, 52 (1983), 100–103; William Langland. Piers Plowman: The Z Version, ed. A. G. Rigg and C. Brewer (Toronto, 1983), pp. 16–17). However, they were also traditionally portrayed as numbskulls, which does not fit the Reeve (C. Lindahl, Earnest Games: Folkloric Patterns in the Canterbury Tales (Bloomington, IN, 1987), pp. 136–9).

  621 Tukked … as is a frere: See Sum 1737 and n.

  622 The Reeve perhaps rides at the rear of the procession in order to be as far away as possible from the Miller, who rides at the front (566). As manorial officials, reeves and millers were likely to have conflicting interests (F. Tupper, JEGP, 14 (1915), 265–70, at pp. 267–8), and these two pilgrims certainly fall into a quarrel at a later point in the journey (Rv 3864–5, 3913–20, 4318–24).

  623 SOMNOUR: A summoner was a minor official attached to the ecclesiastical court of a bishop or archdeacon, which dealt with various religious or moral offences (a sample list may be found at Fri 1304–14). His duty was to summon offenders and witnesses to appear before the court, and to act as an usher while it was in session (L. A. Haselmayer, Speculum, 12 (1937), 43–57).

  624 In medieval illustrations, seraphim have their faces coloured red, while cherubim are coloured blue; Chaucer seems to have confused the two orders of angels.

  625–35 Curry (pp. 37–47) diagnosed the Summoner’s skin disease in medieval medical terms as gutta rosacea (which gives him his red face and pimples), which has developed into alopicia, considered in the Middle Ages to be a type of leprosy, and has turned his pimples into ‘knobbes’, thinned his hair and swollen his eyelids. His liking for strong wine, garlic, onions and leeks, and for lechery, would have both caused and aggravated his condition (see T. J. Garbáty, Medical History, 7 (1963), 348–58). The medicaments listed by Chaucer (GP 629–31) are recommended by medical authorities for treating this complaint.

  637–8 These two lines are omitted in Hg, clearly
as a result of eyeskip between 636 and 638.

  638 no word but Latin: Gower (Mirour de l’Omme 8149–52; The Complete Works of John Gower: The French Works, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford, 1899)) comments that drunkenness has magical effects: it makes laymen talk Latin and French, while at the same time causing the clergy to forget what Latin they know. See also Mann, Estates Satire, p. 143.

  650 The ecclesiastical court dealt with sexual offences (fornication, adultery, etc.); the Summoner can be bribed to excuse an offender from appearing before the court.

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