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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Physician'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 Physician's Tale:
The Physician's Tale has no prologue and has only 286 verse lines. The story is straightforward. A knight called Virginius has a wife and a beautiful virtuous fourteen-year-old daughter called Virginia. Virginia is a paragon of beauty and virtueness. The narrator addresses his audience to teach children (daughters in particular) to be virtuous.

One day, a false judge named Appius sees Virginia and decides he will have her regardless the cost. Appius finds an accomplice named Claudius, who fabricates a story that Virginius holds a female servant that is owned by Claudius and Virginius pretends that this female servant is his daughter. Of course Appius does not listen to Virginius's defense after he has been summoned to hear the charge and orders that Virginia is taken from her father. Virginius returns home. Now what to do? Virginius tells his daughter about the options, which are death on one hand and shame on the other hand. He decides to kill her and after some deliberation and contemplation Virginia consents and thanks God that she will die as a virgin (lines 248-249). Virginius takes his sword, chops off his daughter's head and brings it to the judge (line 256).

Judge Appius tries to get Virginius hanged but suddenly a thousand people knew about the iniquity (how they knew is not elaborated, plausibility is challenged here) and turn against Appius. He is imprisoned and kills himself in jail (line 269). Accomplice Claudius is sentenced to hang but due to Virginius' forgiveness the hanging is replaced by exile (line 273). Apparently there are other accomplices, but they are all neatly hanged. End of story.

The plot of the Physician's Tale is quite unsatisfactory. Its only purpose seems to pass through a simple and dull moral warning: forsake your sin before sin forsakes you. This is the last line of The Physician's Tale. Did the Physician really think he might win the prize with this bloody and gruesome story that really lacks plausibility? For instance, why did Virginius not take more effort to plead his case in court or hide his daughter or go to another country far away from the false judge? There were a lot more options than only death and shame. Chopping off your daughter's head is not very knightly. It is hard to find any nobility in the choice of Virginius. But after all, what is nobility exactly? Is preserving your daughter's virginity by killing her a noble deed? Interesting question, for medieval people. Chaucer did not address people who live at the end of the twentieth century. Therefore we will not answer this question. Killing your own daughter to preserve her virginity is called murder and is a hideous thing. Medieval people thought differently.

About viewing this part:
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