Librarius Homepage
© Librarius
All rights reserved.

From The Canterbury Tales:
The Manciple's Tale
Modern english adjacent to middle english

About The Canterbury Tales:
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

About The Manciple's Prologue and Tale:
In the prologue to The Manciple's Tale, the Host addresses the Cook for telling the next tale, but the Cook is pale and sleepy because he has drunk far too much wine. The Manciple excuses the Cook and makes jokes about his drunkenness. The Cook furiously tries to respond but is not able to speak and falls from his horse. The other pilgrims help him to get up and climb on his horse. The Cook, still angry about the jokes of the Manciple, receives some wine from the Manciple, which considerably improves his mood. Bacchus, god of wine, is blessed for turning wrath into love. The Manciple is asked to tell the next tale.

The Manciple's Tale is about Phoebus, who is the god of poetry and the paragon of every musician. Phoebus is also a well-skilled archer. He has two living things in his house. The first is a snow-white crow that is able to imitate the speech of any person. The crow is also able to sing even better than a nightingale (lines 130-138). The second is a wife whom he loved more than his life (lines 139-140). But Phoebus is a jealous person and constantly fears that his wife will commit adultary. The crow is literally kept in a cage, the wife is symbolically kept in a cage. Note that the wife has no name. Neither has the crow. The crow and the wife are possessions, things.

Of course Phoebus is deceived by his wife. We may assume that she must be totally bored and neglected by Phoebus, in all respects. During his absence, Phoebus' wife invites her lover, who is of low class (to make things worse), and has sex in the marital bed. The crow watches the scene, holding his speech. When Phoebus enters his house, the crow sings "Cokkow! Cokkow! Cokkow!" (line 243), which is a reference to "Cuckold! Cuckold! Cuckold!" (a cuckold is the husband of an adulteress). The crow describes what he has seen during Phoebus' absence. Phoebus freaks out completely. First he shoots his wife with bow and arrow (lines 264-265). Next he destroys all his musical instruments and his bow and arrows (lines 268-269). Then his rage turns against the crow who is called a traitor and accused of lying. Phoebus turns the poor crow's white feathers into black, removes the crow's ability to sing and speak and throws him out of the house. From that day, all crows are black and unable to sing like some other birds.

Why did Phoebus' wife not carry the cage with the crow to another room before her lover entered the house? Apparently Phoebus' wife did not know about the crow's ability to perceive and bear witness. Plausibility is a modern thing and of no importance to old stories.

What is the morality of the story? Readers can argue in several directions. "Time your silence and time your speech" is one direction. This is merely somekind of reproach to the crow, who has snitched about the adultary. Subsequently "don't be a snitch or your feathers will be pulled out" is another interpretation. "Adultary is a nasty thing, but think twice before you destroy your possessions, including your wife" is also a point of view. Note that "time your silence and your speech" or "know when to open or close your mouth" is a recurrent theme in the The Canterbury Tales. See for instance The Nun's Priest's Tale. Well, these are all very wise thoughts, aren't they? No, they are not. They are merely aphorisms, the kind of wisdom you can find on a tile hanging on the wall of a toilet room.

So Phoebus is not so godly after all. He is or he turns into a narrow-minded jealous human being and murderer. Or are gods narrow-minded and jealosu too? What exactly is "godly"? Never mind, Phoebus is a fictitious character and has no true nature. However, he enrages and behaves like a stamping toddler throwing a tantrum. A person who is bored and neglected by his/her spouse tends to drift away in the direction of adultary (put this on a tile and hang it in your toilet). Phoebus' nameless wife was completely bored and neglected by her husband. No wander that she had drifted into adultary. To avoid adultary, do not bore or neglect your spouse. Your spouse is not a thing. Listen to your spouse, be understanding (or pretend to be) and bring your spouse to an orgasm as often as necessary for a good relationship (put this on a tile too and hang it next to the other tile in your toilet room). This is not intelligent wisdom. It is only common sense.

About viewing this part:
This part of Librarius provides middle english and modern english in two adjacent text columns and is best to be viewed full screen. The frame borders are drag-and-drop adjustable to fit the reader's personal convenience. Recommended screen resolution: 1280 x 1024.