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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Canon's Yeoman'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 Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale:
Chaucer introduces two new characters, a Canon and his servant, a Yeoman. Both characters are freshly introduced, which means that they are not described in the General Prologue or elsewhere in The Canterbury Tales. The two catch up with the pilgrims and ask the Host to permit them to join the company. The Host asks the Yeoman about the narrating qualities of his master. The Yeoman says his master is a skillful alchemist who knows how to turn base metal into precious metal. Actually the Canon is able to pave the road to Canterbury with silver and gold, says the Yeoman (lines 71-73). The Host remarks that they are both poorly dressed. In return the Yeoman explains that all they do is borrow money or gold and create illusions. Gold is never created or multiplied. Their business is all false (line 125). The Canon is not amused by the revelation of his Yeoman and attempts to silence the Yeoman (lines 140-143). However the Yeoman continues and therefore the Canon gives his horse the spurs and leaves the company leaving his Yeoman too (line 149). The Yeoman decides to tell a tale about the trickery of canons.

The Yeoman tells the audience that he has worked for seven years with the Canon. It made him poor and anyone who practices alchemy will end up poor (line 176). What follows is an extensive description of the processes of alchemy. No profit at the end, only loss of everything that is put into it. Ultimately the Canon and the Yeoman, like all alchemists, were in search of the philosopher's stone, but they had no luck (309-319). Alchemists are liars, the Yeoman concludes at the end of the first part of his tale.

The second part of The Canon's Yeoman's Tale is about a foul canon who does all kinds of tricks to make his spectators think that he turns quicksilver into silver. It is not clear if the Yeoman speaks about his own canon, who has disappeared, or about another canon. We may assume that the Yeoman speaks about canons in general and what he tells applies to all alchemists. The Yeoman describes several instances that seem to end with with the creation of silver, but are nothing more than conjuring tricks. The aim of the false Canon is to get huge amounts of money for his supposed wisdom. He urges his audience not to tell the authorities about his craft and wisdom, because that would cause him great trouble (lines 815-821). The narator ends with the remark that the philosopher's stone is not to be found because God does not want humans to have it (lines 919-922).

Initially the Yeoman claims that his master is able to pave the road to Canterbury with silver and gold. Everything he tells about the Canon and canons in general proves the opposite. The backstreet workshop and the furnace of the Canon can be interpreted as an image of hell. The falseness and trickery of canons is somekind of devilish behaviour. There is no need to comment on this. The Yeoman more or less clearly declares that alchemists are liars that try to get money by doing false tricks. This is an important lesson for a person who lives in the middle ages, which is an era where there is a complete lack of knowledge of basic chemistry and science. The philosopher's stone is a mythical thing that is the product of wishful thinking and will never be found. Not because God wants it to remain hidden for humans, but because it does not exist.

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