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From The Man of Law's Introduction, lines 1-38:
The Host asks the Lawyer to tell a tale
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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Man of Law's Introduction
lines 39-98: The Lawyer reflects on Chaucer's writing


       "Hooste," quod he, "Depardieux ich assente,
40To breke forward is nat myn entente.
Biheste is dette, and I wole holde fayn
Al my biheste, I kan no bettre sayn.
For swich lawe as a man yeveth another wight,
He sholde hymselven usen it by right;
45Thus wole oure text, but nathelees certeyn
I kan right now no thrifty tale seyn;
That Chaucer, thogh he kan but lewedly
On metres and on rymyng craftily,
Hath seyd hem in swich Englissh as he kan,
50Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man.
And if he have noght seyd hem, leve brother,
In o book, he hath seyd hem in another.
For he hath toold of loveris up and doun
Mo than Ovide made of mencioun,
55In hise Episteles that been ful olde;
What sholde I tellen hem, syn they ben tolde?
       In youthe he made of Ceys and Alcione,
And sitthen hath he spoken of everichone
Thise noble wyves and thise loveris eke.
60Whoso that wole his large volume seke
Cleped the Seintes Legende of Cupide,
Ther may he seen the large woundes wyde
Of Lucresse, and of Babilan Tesbee,
The swerd of Dido for the false Enee,
65The tree of Phillis for hir Demophon,
The pleinte of Dianire and Hermyon,
Of Adriane and of Isiphilee,
The bareyne yle stondynge in the see,
The dreynte Leandre for his Erro,
70The teeris of Eleyne, and eek the wo
Of Brixseyde, and of the, Ladomea,
The crueltee of the, queene Medea,
Thy litel children hangyng by the hals
For thy Jason, that was in love so fals.
75O Ypermystra, Penolopee, Alceste,
Youre wyfhede he comendeth with the beste!
       "Mine host," said he, "by the gods, I consent;
40To break a promise is not my intent.
A promise is a debt, and by my fay
I keep all mine; I can no better say.
For such law as man gives to other wight,
He should himself submit to it, by right;
45Thus says our text; nevertheless, 'tis true
I can relate no useful tale to you,
But Chaucer, though he speaks but vulgarly
In metre and in rhyming dextrously,
Has told them in such English as he can,
50In former years, as knows full many a man.
For if he has not told them, my dear brother,
In one book, why he's done so in another.
For he has told of lovers, up and down,
More than old Ovid mentions, of renown,
55In his Epistles, that are now so old.
Why should I then re-tell what has been told?
       In youth he told of Ceyx and Alcyon,
And has since then spoken of everyone-
Of noble wives and lovers did he speak.
60And whoso will that weighty volume seek
Called Legend of Good Women, need not chide;
There may be ever seen the large wounds wide
Of Lucrece, Babylonian Thisbe;
Dido's for false Aeneas when fled he;
65Demophoon and Phyllis and her tree;
The plaint of Deianira and Hermione;
Of Ariadne and Hypsipyle;
The barren island standing in the sea;
The drowned Leander and his fair Hero;
70The tears of Helen and the bitter woe
Of Briseis and that of Laodomea;
The cruelty of that fair Queen Medea,
Her little children hanging by the neck
When all her love for Jason came to wreck!
75O Hypermnestra, Penelope, Alcestis,
Your wifehood does he honour, since it best is!
       But certeinly no word ne writeth he
Of thilke wikke ensample of Canacee,
That loved hir owene brother synfully; -
80Of swiche cursed stories I sey fy!-
Or ellis of Tyro Appollonius,
How that the cursed kyng Antiochus
Birafte his doghter of hir maydenhede,
That is so horrible a tale for to rede,
85Whan he hir threw upon the pavement.
And therfore he, of ful avysement,
Nolde nevere write, in none of his sermouns,
Of swiche unkynde abhomynaciouns;
Ne I wol noon reherce, if that I may.
       But certainly no word has written he
Of that so wicked woman, Canace,
Who loved her own blood brother sinfully.
80Of suchlike cursed tales, I say 'Let be!'
Nor yet of Tyrian Apollonius;
Nor how the wicked King Antiochus
Bereft his daughter of her maidenhead
Which is so horrible a tale to read,
85When down he flung her on the paving stones
And therefore he, advisedly, truth owns,
Would never write, in one of his creations,
Of such unnatural abominations.
And I'll refuse to tell them, if I may.
90        But of my tale how shall I doon this day?
Me were looth be likned, doutelees,
To Muses that men clepe Pierides -
Methamorphosios woot what I mene -
But nathelees, I recche noght a bene
95Though I come after hym with hawebake,
I speke in prose, and lat him rymes make."
And with that word he, with a sobre cheere,
Bigan his tale, as ye shal after heere.
90        But for my tale, what shall I do this day?
Any comparison would me displease
To Muses whom men call Pierides
The Metamorphoses show what I mean
Nevertheless, I do not care a bean
95Though I come after him with my plain fare.
I'll stick to prose. Let him his rhymes prepare."
And thereupon, with sober face and cheer,
He told his tale, as you shall read it here.




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From The Man of Law's Prologue, lines 99-133:
About the hateful state of poverty
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