The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Beidler, Peter G. "The Plague and Chaucer's Pardoner." 16 (1982): 257-69.
Reading the Pardoner's Tale in light of the plague deepens readers' understanding of the tale. The three rioters of the tale enjoy themselves in the tavern as did those who historically survived the plague. The treasure appears under the tree because it had belonged to a victim of the plague, and the old man is a survivor of the plague from a nearby village. Boccaccio's Decameron provides useful contemporary evidence about medieval attitudes toward the plague. A plague setting allows the Pardoner to suggest that money is corrupt and that all humans must be prepared to die. The Host responds angrily to the Pardoner because the Pardoner's sinfulness makes the Host and the other pilgrims vulnerable as the next plague victims.
Cherniss, Michael D. "The Clerk's Tale and Envoy, the Wife of Bath's Purgatory, and the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1972): 235-54.
The Clerk's Envoy presents a theme which continues through the Merchant's Tale. The Clerk's Tale presents both a secular and a spiritual moral to which even the Envoy does not resolve. The Envoy contains two ironies: one is the logical extreme that there are no Griseldas, and the other demands whether or not wives may trust their husbands. The double irony allows the Clerk to connect the marital (secular) sphere of his tale with a spiritual moral. An additional level of irony suggests that even shrewish wives perform a spiritual service for their husbands, helping them to develop the character of Job. The Clerk's idea of purgatory in marriage contrasts with January's idea of paradisical marriage, but aligns with the church's view of marriage. January, then, parodies Griselda's patience in the face of trials. Ironically, however, January never recognizes the purgatorial aspects of his marriage; he is too blind. The Host's response to these tales indicates that he believes marriage to be the purgatory the Wife and Merchant describe, not the paradise offered by the Clerk.
Collette, Carolyn P. "Heeding the Counsel of Prudence: A Context for the Melibee." 29 (1995): 416-33.
Prudence is most often associated with males, particularly rulers, as a study of texts by John of Salisbury and Christine de Pisan shows. In Christine's works, however, Prudence begins to acquire feminine characteristics. She is associated with avoiding violence, both on the political level, and between husband and wife. Chaucer's Prudence in the Tale of Melibee is a noble wife, conducting herself in accordance with the behavior patterns outlined in the French models. Even the Host associates Prudence with the traditional advice given to wives about patience. Thus the Tale of Melibee engages traditional materials directed towards women.
Covella, Sister Frances Dolores. "The Speaker of the Wife of Bath Stanza and Envoy." 4 (1970): 267-83.
Given the Clerk's characterization in the General Prologue and in his tale, readers must find it difficult to believe that he is the speaker of the whole Envoy which appears at the end of his tale, particularly since it includes the "Wife of Bath" stanza which disputes the moral of his tale. Manuscript evidence does not clearly indicate whether the Clerk mockingly imitates the Wife or whether he indeed speaks the entirety of the Envoy or if the Pardoner, the Host, or the Wife may have interrupted the Clerk at this point. Of the four possible speakers, the Wife of Bath seems most probable, but there is not conclusive evidence to support this assertion.
Duncan, Charles F. "'Straw for youre gentilesse': The Gentle Franklin's Interruption of the Squire." 5 (1970): 161-64.
The Franklin's interruption of the Squire releases the Knight and the Host from an embarassing situation. The Host cannot stop the Squire without presuming a social position he does not possess, and the Knight cannot halt the Squire without embarassing them both. The Franklin's age and social position allow him to suspend the Squire's story without offending his social betters.
Eberle, Patricia J. "Commercial Language and the Commercial Outlook in the General Prologue." 18 (1983): 161-74.
The references to money in the Canterbury Tales show Chaucer's assumptions of a financially sophisticated audience aware of venal satire. In the courtly love tradition, money was spoken of only as a reward or gift, and commercial activities were ignored. The fabliau maintains this distinction, since characters focus on spending and earning. The General Prologue, however, assumes characteristics of both romance and fabliau, thus implying that Chaucer wrote for an audience that would appreciate both traditions. The Host points out that time is money and that poetry is idleness. The pilgrims treat each other in such a way as to suggest that professions, and therefore money, are closely linked to who people are.
Ebin, Lois. "Chaucer, Lydgate, and the 'Myrie tale.'" 13 (1979): 316-35.
Chaucer and the Host generate different definitions of the qualities of a good tale, and their definitions differ from Lydgate's perception. The Host operates under the definition that good stories compel the audience's attention and entertain. Chaucer seems, however, to operate under a different definition, one that examines the skill of the story-teller. This concern appears most clearly in the Reeve's Tale and the Man of Law's Tale. Chaucer further develops his concern with writing by connecting rhetorical skill to the intent of the story-teller as in the Merchant's, Squire's, Franklin's, and Pardoner's Tales. The Host's response to Melibee raises the question of multiple possible meanings. The Parson's Tale suggests an additional element of a good tale--audience benefit or edification. In Siege of Thebes, Lydgate suggests that a good tale both entertains and edifies. Lydgate moves away from his sources in order to emphasize virtues that the ruling class would imitate and to propound the power of words over the power of the sword.
Fritz, Donald W. "Reflections in a Golden Florin: Chaucer's Narcissistic Pardoner." 21 (1987): 338-59.
Scrutiny of the Pardoner demonstrates that he has never achieved entry into the adult world. Instead he remains in the puer stage, as shown by his self-focus and fascination with his own desires, his fear of commitment, age, and death, and his desire for wealth. His self-centeredness diametrically opposes his presentation of himself as a great spiritual force who can absolve sins. He attracts audiences by his boldness in revealing his loathing for them. His tale also reflects his puerility. The Host's response to the Pardoner indicates that he has pierced the Pardoner's façade and will not reinforce any of the Pardoner's ego-gratification.
Halverson, John. "Chaucer's Pardoner and the Progress of Criticism." 4 (1970): 184-202.
The Pardoner's motivation for his tale has been hotly debated; the question of his drunkenness and of the strained relationship between him and the other pilgrims is closely related to his motivation. Critics argue that the Pardoner merely attempts to con the pilgrims or that he is demonstrating his pride in his ability to defraud. His overblown self-descriptions, however, become dubious, but the "benediction" presents a difficulty for this view. Early critics understood the Pardoner's impotence as a representation of his spiritual state. Now, critics more carefully examine indications that the Pardoner and the Summoner are homosexual. Other scholars have attempted to demonstrate that the Pardoner has some orthodox tendencies, but he remains a disgusting character. If readers take his self-descriptions at face value, they perceive that he has committed the unforgivable sin--rejecting God--so he experiences "living death and present hell" (192). From the beginning, the Pardoner seems to focus on death, and his tale demonstrates a search for death. The ambiguity of the old man, however, has posed a problem for this interpretation. Various critics have suggested that he represents only an old man, Death himself, the Wandering Jew, and the vetus homo (old man of sin), or all of them at once. Readers must remember, however, that they know about the Pardoner only from what he himself says, and readers can assume that he is aware that he has a relationship to those around him. His "song" suggests a resemblance to Faux Semblant in Roman de la Rose and may show an attempt to manipulate his audience in order to play a trick on them. The Pardoner seems to wear a mask which serves both to protect him and to release malice while satisfying his ego. The Pardoner's playfulness escapes the Host who responds in anger, thus thwarting the Pardoner's desire to make the pilgrims look foolish and demonstrating that the Pardoner has overestimated the sophistication of his audience. At its root, however, the tale is a meditation on death which strongly affects the Pardoner and darkly colors his tale.
Hirsh, John C. "The Politics of Spirituality: The Second Nun and the Manciple." 12 (1977): 129-46.
Political references in Chaucer's "Legend of St. Cecile" indicate his concern over the Great Schism. When Cecilia urges Valerian and Tiberce to steadfast deaths, she becomes the center of attention, suggesting that she is a figure of the unified church. Like the Second Nun's Tale, the Manciple's Tale deals with the relationship between life and religion and defends the Manciple from the Host's suggestion that the Manciple is a thief.
Joseph, Gerhard. "The Gifts of Nature, Fortune, and Grace in the Physician's, Pardoner's, and Parson's Tales." 9 (1975): 237-45.
The Host's reference to the "gifts of Fortune and Nature" links what seem to be the two sections of Group VI (237). The medieval mind believed that though Nature gave physical and mental abilities, Fortune determined circumstances. Virginia's tragedy, therefore, results from her natural gifts. Virginia's response to the announcement that she must die demonstrates the gift of grace. Comparison between the Pardoner's Tale and the Physician's Tale indicates the importance of grace.
Khinoy, Stephan A. "Inside Chaucer's Pardoner?" 6 (1972): 255-67.
Readers may explore the Pardoner as a problem of language use and its power. By accepting Harry Bailly's proposal to tell tales as a way to pass the time while travelling, the clergy accepted a proposal which, by its nature, required them to participate in lies. Thus, when the Nun's Priest tells his tale, he requests that the pilgrims find the nut and leave the chaff as a justification for telling a tale at all. The Pardoner, however, does not fit in with the clerical tale-tellers. Instead, he presents "art for art's sake" (258). He reverses the relationship between prologue and tale in that his immoral prologue imposes on his moral sermon in order to make the pilgrims the inversion itself. The way the Pardoner tells his tale causes his audience to pay more attention to the outside (chaff) of the tale than the inside (nut). Thus, the Pardoner takes a position opposite that of Reason with regard to language. Reason asserts that divine will names things. The Pardoner suggests that names are merely human convention. Though the external appearance of the old man is uninviting, Chaucer uses him to suggest that meaning and value are not imposed, but intrinsic.
Leitch, L. M. "Sentence and Solaas: The Function of the Host in the Canterbury Tales." 17 (1982): 5-20.
In nearly all of the tales, the pilgrims demonstrate audience awareness. Time is the most restrictive element in tale-telling, forcing the pilgrims to shorten or speed up the tales they tell in order to please the other pilgrims, their audience. The Host's idea of a good tale is a tale of joy and mirth, and other pilgrims subscribe to his point of view. The tale-tellers must take their desire into account. In the end the desire for mirth is replaced by a desire for teaching and instruction, and the Parson replaces the Host as leader. Ultimately, the best tale is the story of the pilgrimage itself.
Middleton, Anne. "The Physician's Tale and Love's Martyrs: 'Ensamples mo than ten' in the Canterbury Tales." 8 (1973): 9-32.
The Physician's Tale seems to fall between the saints' legends and the tales of love's martyrs. Chaucer changes his sources to shift emphasis from Appius and Virginius to Virginia, thus making her a secular saint. To the Host, Virginia's death demonstrates injustice and questions the relationship between earthly rewards and good behavior. The changes in the tale's construction demand that readers consider Appius' fate and Virginius' behavior, in light of the injustice done to Virginia. The Host's comments draw attention to the contrast between classical and Christian virtues, making the inconsistency between Virginia's virtuous acts and her passive sacrifice the focus of the tale. The digressions on child-rearing are out of place, contrasting passive children with Virginia's activity. Virginius behaves as a judge or deity, not a father, drawing more attention to Virginia as passive victim and dramatizing the contest between natural affection and obedience to authority. The Physician's portrayal of the Jepthah story, however, demonstrates his ignorance of the exegetical treatment of this story. The Man of Law's Tale demonstrates that Chaucer often roughens the surface of an exemplum to suggest that readers explore it more deeply. Virginia, then, becomes a type of Job. Like the Legend of Good Women, the Physician's Tale shows Chaucer's command of narrative techniques, particularly the ability to deal with "shocking" subjects, but as the prologue to Legend suggests, Chaucer's contemporaries venerated him for the more limited skills of "an Ovidian court poet" (30). Readers are not meant to take conclusions from the tale to the "outside" world, but to play with the assumptions governing the world within the fictional construct of the tale.
Myers, D. E. "Focus and 'Moralite' in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 7 (1973): 210-20.
Three hierarchies overlap in the Nun's Priest's Tale. These create three different versions of the tale, "the fable version, the Nun's Priest's version, and Harry Bailly's version" (211). The fable version contains two morals which focus attention only on Chanticleer, thus suggesting that they are marginal to the tale as a whole. Such narrow focus points to the second version of the tale. Rhetoric is central to the Nun's Priest's version of the tale, since it focuses attention on Chanticleer as ruler. Because Chanticleer's story is that of a secular ruler, readers recognize that the Nun's Priest has directed his tale at the Knight. Examination of all of the Canterbury Tales shows that the Host's version addresses the workings of Providence and Fortune. Thus, readers can see the workings of Fortune on each of the three estates. The Nun's Priest, however, does not understand Fortune or Providence. He blames Destiny and Pertelote equally, a logical impossibility. The Host adds another level to the tale by allegorically associating Chanticleer with the Nun's Priest. Thus, the tale becomes a comment on prelates in general and the Nun's Priest in particular. The Nun's Priest's Tale, therefore, turns on its teller.
Olmert, Michael. "The Parson's Ludic Formula for Winning on the Road [To Canterbury]." 20 (1985): 158-68.
The Parson's Tale can be considered in terms of the game of the Christian life. In telling his tale, the Parson gives the rules for winning. The standards the Parson espouses seem completely to oppose the way most people think about life. Unlike the Host, who promises the earthly reward of a free meal at the end of the pilgrimage, the Parson promises a heavenly banquet to those who listen to and do what he says.
Olson, Glending. "Chaucer's Monk: The Rochester Connection." 21 (1986): 246-56.
The Host chooses the Monk to speak when the pilgrimage reaches Rochester because the Rochester cathedral housed a monastic order, and Thomas Brinton, the bishop of Rochester, inveighed against monastic corruption. During Chaucer's time, one wall of the cathedral was painted with a picture of Fortune and her wheel, a picture that connects the Monk more closely with Rochester. The association of the Monk with the Rochester cathedral demonstrates a greater connection between geography and the pilgrimage than previous criticism has suggested, and it also indicates that Chaucer carefully incorporates historical details.
Page, Barbara. "Concerning the Host." 4 (1969): 1-13.
The Host, though he appears sporadically throughout the tales, is fully characterized. He adds a tale to the "marriage group" and gives a speech on Boethian destiny, helping to carry these subjects through the tales. Harry Bailey's jollity points to his characterization as a medieval proud man. Chaucer also depicts the Host as a man whose wife dominates him, and when he contributes a tale, he tells of marriage in a highly autobiographical way. Like the Wife of Bath's Prologue, Harry Bailey's response to Custance undercuts his front of gaiety and further links him to the "marriage group." He is also characterized by his relationship to time. He measures time for the pilgrims and cuts off the Parson as soon as the Parson's Tale becomes too boring. The Host's "philosophy" shows that he spends little time in "high seriousness" or "consistent thought" (10). Chaucer also uses Harry Bailey as a way to depict the free, merchant class. All of these elements mix together, the Host appears as a complex character who is variously a comic figure, a representative of a class, and a framing device.
Robertson, D. W., Jr. "The Physician's Comic Tale." 23 (1988): 129-39.
Chaucer carefully alters his sources to create comedy, but these changes also incorporate legal abuses that tell more about the Physician. By having Virginius go home and talk to Virginia before decapitating her, the Physician draws attention to a "love more necessary than justice" (133). The criminal activity the Physician describes deals with maintenance laws and "champarty," which reveals him to be a kind of false physician, and the Host's response to him indicates the Host's confusion with regard to the Physician's nature.
Ryan, Lawrence V. "The Canon's Yeoman's Desperate Confession." 8 (1974): 297-310.
Medieval Christians viewed confession as a way to blind Satan and escape temptation. By using the Host as a confessor, the Yeoman may get away from the "feendly" tie to the Canon. The Yeoman responds to the Host's questions, however, by reciting the tenets of alchemy, not Christianity. He does not take the blame for his behavior but shifts the responsibility for his sin onto the Canon. His doing so suggests that the Yeoman is not entirely sincere in his confession. The Yeoman depicts the Canon in a demonic way, and the Yeoman's description of the Canon's tricks associates fire and blindness, thus strengthening the Canon's demonic character. The tale of the duped priest, then, seems to be the Yeoman's own story. By the time the Yeoman reaches the pilgrims, he has spent so much time in alchemy that he can scarcely give it up. He tries to save himself by warning the others, but he is too afraid fully to admit his fault, a mark of Sloth. The Yeoman's choice of the Host as his confessor further emphasizes his spiritual poverty, since he chooses a tavern-keeper, not a priest.
Scheps, Walter. "'Up roos oure hoost, and was oure aller cok': Harry Bailly's Tale-Telling Competition." 10 (1975): 113-28.
Though the Host's responses to some of the tales are not recorded in the Canterbury Tales and he never clearly indicates which tale he most enjoys, readers can determine which tale the Host finds to be best. The Host's opinions would be determined by his personality; Chaucer portrays the Host as manly, happy, and unafraid to speak. The criteria for good tales are "sentence and solaas" (117). Certain tales can be eliminated because they put the Host's authority at risk in some way or they are interrupted, and he rejects other tales for a number of other reasons. Ultimately, readers can assume that the Nun's Priest's Tale wins the contest.
Schneider, Paul Stephen. "'Taillynge ynough': The Function of Money in the Shipman's Tale." 11 (1977): 201-09.
The satire in the Shipman's Tale focuses on the merchant. The Host's interpretation of the tale to mean that audience members must guard wives and money from monks clearly focuses the tale's meaning. Since the merchant must provide for his wife, his refusal to pay for her wants gives her both motive and means to commit adultery with Don John. Chaucer uses money to distort the courtly love between the merchant's wife and Don John. Money also functions as a corruptive force in other relationships in the tale. Finally, Chaucer connects money and Fortune: both are forces of good and of evil in the tale.
Strohm, Paul A. "The Allegory of the Tale of Melibee." 2 (1967): 32-42.
The Tale of Melibee is more than a set of proverbs; it is a moral allegory in which Sophie, Melibee's daughter, represents his soul and the five wounds she receives represent the five senses by which temptation has entered. Though many critics follow the Host in taking the tale merely as a set of proverbs, Chaucer demonstrates his interest in the allegory by naming Melibee's soul "Sophie."