Sunday, December 12, 2010

Required Work: The Canterbury Tales Part II

Well, I managed to at least finish the last four stories of The Canterbury Tales that are required for the M.A. exam. One fun thing I realized about the edition I am using is that it does not include the Parson’s Tale, and after managing to print off a Modern English version of it from, I realized why. The tale is incredibly long and not really a tale. Fortunately, the exam only requires that the Prologue be read. I will discuss it later, after I first talk about the Clerk’s Prologue and Tale, the Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale, and the Nun’s Priest’s Prologue and Tale.

Clerk’s Prologue and Tale

The Clerk tells the tale of Griselda, a young wife whose new husband puts her through bizarre and brutal circumstances in order to test her loyalty. The torture she undergoes recalls the Biblical book of Job. The Clerk is portrayed as a diligent and well learned scholar, but the moral of his story is unclear and may have been left open-ended by Chaucer on purpose. On the one hand, he advises women to ignore Griselda’s passive acceptance of her husband’s cruelty. But on the other hand, he encourages everyone to face adversity with her same amount of fortitude.

Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

Descriptions of the Pardoner as well as certain clues in his tale suggest that although he is a man of religion, he suffers extreme spiritual as well as sexual poverty. He admits to abusing authority and selling fake relics to make money. He tells a folk-tale of Oriental origin that has many versions. It involves three drunken and debauched men who attempt to find Death, but because of their own greed and subsequent plots to kill each other, they find Death by actually dying themselves. Despite the sins of the Pardoner, his teaching is ultimately pretty good.

Nun’s Priest’s Prologue and Tale

The prologue to this tale links it with the preceding Monk’s Tale about criminals and fallen heroes that is interrupted by the Knight. Because the Monk refuses to alter his story, the Host allows the Nun’s Priest to tell a new one. The new story actually follows a similar theme, but is more of a parody and has a happy ending. He tells the story of a rooster who is captured by a fox due to his own pride. However, the rooster manages to escape the fox because he manages to play on the fox’s pride. The story ends with the moral to be careful regarding reckless decisions and of those who flatter you.

Parson’s Prologue

The Host asks the Parson for a fable, a form that achieved success with the Nun’s Priest. However, the Parson refuses and instead condemns fable stories as folly and decides to therefore tell an improving tale in prose since he can neither rhyme nor alliterate. The tale that follows is the longest of all of the stories by the Pilgrim’s, and is really more of a treatise on virtuous living. It is not clear to the reader why Chaucer would choose to end The Canterbury Tales in this way, but the Parson does appear to be a positive character, and the general theme surrounding him is that we all need to help others to achieve salvation.

So there it is, one more monster has been slain. I hope (and “hope” is the operative word here) that I will have finished Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde by next week. I figured that if I have to choose one optional work from the Pre-1500 period then it might as well be one by an author that already has a required work. Plus, I was able to find it in a Modern English translation. If I don’t manage it (and this is a real possibility), then I may be exploring Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon instead.

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