The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Braswell-Means, Laurel. "A New Look at an Old Patient: Chaucer's Summoner and Medieval Physiognomia." 25 (1991): 266-75.
Using medieval medical theory based on Aristotle, Galen, and Hippocrates, and medieval physiognomy, Chaucer constructs the Summoner's portrait so as to describe the Summoner's medical conditions. The Summoner is clearly unnaturally hot as both his description and his cures indicate. The combination of these two suggests that the Summoner is choleric, according to Galen and Avicenna. Chaucer sees the Summoner and the Pardoner as variations of the same humor character. The Summoner's disease is also associated with sexuality, and astrological details associate him with Mars. This combination suggests that the Summoner would experience his most difficult time of year in the spring. The Summoner's disease is incurable, except by the spiritual healing he would experience at the shrine of Thomas a Becket.
Ireland, Richard W. "Chaucer's Toxicology." 29 (1994): 74-92.
Both the Pardoner's Tale and the Parson's Tale refer to poisoning. Medieval Christians associated poison with sin as do the Book of Vices and Virtues and the Ancrene Riwle. In the Leges Henrici Primi poisoning is associated with witchcraft. In the Pardoner's Tale Chaucer connects poisoning to the devil, although the young man obtains the poison by merely visiting an apothecary. The swelling identified with poisoning is often presented as beyond the bounds of medical knowledge and is, therefore, attributable to the devil. The Parson also discusses poisoning as an abortive method. John Myrc's Instructions for Parish Priests and the Ancrene Riwle both refer to such activity as sin, again linking poisoning to the devil. Abortive activity was also considered a matter for civil court, though the general absence of such cases indicates the difficulty lawyers had with them. Chaucer uses poisoning in the Pardoner's Tale to connect true Christianity to false religion and the dangers inherent in such falsehood.
Kauffman, Corinne E. "Dame Pertelote's Parlous Parle." 4 (1969): 41-48.
Pertelote's prescription for Chanticleer actually demonstrates her lack of knowledge of herbal medicine and could possibly kill Chanticleer instead of curing him.
Kempton, Daniel. "The Physician's Tale: The Doctor of Physic's Diplomatic 'Cure.'" 19 (1984): 24-38.
The Physician's treatment of Virginia in his tale derives from his medical training. Medieval treatments concerning humors and astrological phenomenon did not cure patients in reality. Likewise, Virginia lives a wonderful, theoretical life until Apius invades it, bringing in the practical world. Once participating in the practical world, Virginia is subject to the caprice of Apius's natural desires and the bonds of law and family which, like disease in a sick patient, result in death. The Physician also draws attention to Virginius's role of guardian and his inability, and the inability of most guardians, fully to protect his charge.
Maxfield, David K. "St. Mary Rouncivale, Charing Cross: The Hospital of Chaucer's Pardoner." 28 (1993): 148-63.
Hospitals in Chaucer's time provided care primarily for the souls of the sick, though limited medical care was available. St. Mary's of Rouncivale at Charing Cross was one such hospital. Chaucer chose that hospital as the base for the Pardoner because it offered ironical prospects and it may have had a negative reputation by Chaucer's time. Though Chaucer may not have known it, most of the Pardoner's pardons were probably based on false bulls.
Voigts, Linda Ehrsam. "The Latin Verse and Middle English Prose Texts on the Sphere of Life and Death in Harley 3719." 21 (1986): 291-306.
According to medieval thinking, the universe was built on a numerical system. Understanding this system gave people the power to predict various events, including whether a person would live or die as the result of a certain illness. The Sphere of Life and Death gives the mathematical formulas and a chart to predict the outcome of a patient. Comparison to other manuscripts suggests that the Sphere of Life and Death is connected to "a fifteenth-century scientific and medical compendium of English origin" (297). The verse accompanying the Sphere also seems to have a source in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Other studies of Middle English prose neglect to mention the works which follow this tradition. The text of the Sphere of Life and Death is reprinted here.
Williams, David. "Radical Therapy in the Miller's Tale." 15 (1981): 227-35.
In the Miller's Tale Chaucer plays on two extreme medieval cures--enema and "fistula in ano" or cauterizing the anus. These two figurative cures fight the disease of ignorance both in January and in Nicholas and Absolon. Absolon's misplaced kiss is both punishment and cure for his corrupt desires. Absolon then "cures" Nicholas by realigning Nicholas's humours, asserting the rulership of Reason.