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Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Week 4 - Man of Law's Tale, and surrounding material

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We have a digression between the Cook's tale and the Man of Law's tale, following which there is a digression into Chaucer's oeuvre. The Man of Law then tells a tale which is a great departure from the preceding tales in tone and content (although it may be fair to note that sexuality, either love or lust, is a feature of all the tales to date).

Would it be fair to classify this work as an example of Christian allegory? If not, how would you classify it?


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I thought the digression was interesting for two reasons. First, it seems like a case of Chaucer (the author) using his characters (the Man of Laws)to comment on Chaucer in a favorable light. This struck me as a rather modern and sophisticated narrative technique. I wonder if he had his tongue in his cheek as he did it.

More substantively, much of the digression is a meditation on Time and our inability to control our fate in history. I think the themes of time and fate are also very present in the tale itself.


message 3: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments I like this tale. The double mother-in-law from Hell is interesting. Why the doubling, I wonder?


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Seems like doubling is the whole structure of the story, no?

By the way, for the Shakespeare file: how about Marina in Pericles and Perdita in The Winters Tale as younger versions of Constnace?


message 5: by Michael (new)

Michael Staten (mstatenstuffandthings) | 67 comments I can't say I like this one very much. It felt like the doubling was unnecessary, except that it gave a chance to promote war against Islam and have a child with a Christian father.


I want to give it another chance, so, rather than just forgetting about it and moving on I plan to take another look at the digression, see if I can't make it work as an allegory as Eman suggests, and refresh my memory on Perdita (I never did read Pericles though).


message 6: by Everyman (last edited Jan 31, 2011 10:12AM) (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I was revisiting the Man of Law's tale last night, and was struck by several things. One was the emphasis on astrology. Chaucer seems to have been at the least interested in / informed about astrology, and perhaps close to obsessed with it. He brings astrology into the book in the first few lines of the General Prologue, talking about the Ram having run half his course. Then still in the prologue we have the physician who would treat his patients by studying astrological signs. Nicholas in the Miller's tale is an astrologer (though it doesn't warn him not to stick his bum out a window!)

And now, in the Man of Law's tale, we get perhaps the strongest (so far) reference to astrology when Chaucer blames the
firste moevyng crueel firmanent,
With thy diurnal sweigh, that crowdest ay
And hurlest al from Est til Occident
That naturelly wolde holde another way,

primal-moving, cruel Firmament,
With thy diurnal pressure, that doth sway
Which otherwise would hold another way,


for sending Constance away at a time when the astrological signs portended disaster:

Thy crowdyng set the hevene in swich array
At the bigynnyng of this fiers viage,
That crueel Mars hath slayn this mariage.

Thy pressure set the heavens in such array,
At the beginning of this wild voyage,
That cruel Mars hath murdered this marriage.


Does Chaucer really believe this? Did he really believe, when he wrote

Imprudent Emperour of Rome, allas!
Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?

that a philosopher who knew his astrology could have prevented this fate? Was Chaucer reflecting an belief broadly held in his time?


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments We've talked before about Chaucer's adoption of much of Boethius's philosophy; this comes totally clear when he writes

But al to deere they boghte it er they ryse!
O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour
To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse!
The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
Wo occupieth the fyn of oure galdnesse!
Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse,
Upon thy galde day have in thy minde
The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.

But all too dear they've bought it, ere they rise.
O sudden woe! that ever will succeed
On worldly bliss, infused with bitterness;
That ends the joy of earthly toil, indeed;
Woe holds at last the place of our gladness.
Hear, now, this counsel for your certainness:
The unknown harm and woe that come behind.


This is pure Boethius.


message 8: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 47 comments The plot of “The Man of Law’s Tale” twists and turns in complexity but it’s probably what makes the tale interesting and held my attention. I was thrown off by naming the king of Northumberland who is fighting the Scots “Alla”. It just sounds too much like "Allah". And why doesn’t Constance go home to her father when she is brought back to Rome?


message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4616 comments Everyman wrote: "I was revisiting the Man of Law's tale last night, and was struck by several things. One was the emphasis on astrology. Chaucer seems to have been at the least interested in / informed about astr..."

Nice point. I'd like to tie it in with something else I've been pondering, because it occurs to me that there might be a parallel.

The host introduces the tale by pointing out the sun:

Our host saw that the bright sun had traversed
A quarter part -- plus half an hour or so --
of the arc it runs from sunrise to sunset


This serves two purposes, I think. The surface one is to urge the pilgrims to get on with their stories, because time is wasting away. More subtly, it points out the directional aspect of the ecliptic (east and west). This may be important, because the "double" nature of the story is one of east versus west.

At least part of this tale is about Christian salvation. The Man of Law shows how the East cannot be converted to Christianity, while the West can. Christ protects and provides for Constance on her journeys and she seems to be able to convert people by virtue of her presence alone. It doesn't entirely work with the Syrians, but it does with the Britons.

But at the end, King Alla is snatched up by God and the lawyer reminds us that life is fleeting --

No earthly joy will last; time will not stay,
But changes like the tide; night follows day.


And he finally ends with an acknowledgment that Jesus Christ has the power to send
Joy after grief, so guide us in His grace...


To me this seems a return to the host's introduction -- time is growing short -- but now the time is not only growing short for tale-telling, but also for human lives and the opportunity they have for salvation. After the story of Constance and her "mission" to convert the heathens, it reads like an admonition of sorts.


message 10: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4616 comments Does anyone have any thoughts about the prologue and epilogue of this tale? They seem to be almost completely unrelated to the content of the tale. Are they meant only to be bridges between tales?


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "Does anyone have any thoughts about the prologue and epilogue of this tale? They seem to be almost completely unrelated to the content of the tale. Are they meant only to be bridges between tales?"

I think they're more than bridges. They are that. But they also provide some transition so we don't go straight from tale to tale but keep alive the frame story of the pilgrimage, which otherwise might get lost in what would amount simply to a short story omnibus.

And this prologue, in particular, seems to give him a chance to push is Boethius principles -- even the poorest will dance at Christmas.


message 12: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4616 comments Galicius wrote: "The plot of “The Man of Law’s Tale” twists and turns in complexity but it’s probably what makes the tale interesting and held my attention. I was thrown off by naming the king of Northumberland wh..."

Evidently there actually was a King Alla:

I must here relate a story which shows Gregory's deep desire for the salvation of our nation. We are told that one day some merchants who had recently arrived in Rome displayed their many wares in the crowded market-place. Among other merchandise Gregory saw some boys exposed for sale. These had fair complexions, fine-cut features, and fair hair. Looking at them with interest, he enquired what country and race they came from. 'They come from Britain,' he was told, 'where all the people have this appearance.' He then asked whether the people were Christians, or

whether they were still ignorant heathens. 'They are pagans,' he was informed. 'Alas!' said Gregory with a heartfelt sigh: 'how sad that such handsome folk are still in the grasp of the Author of darkness, and that faces of such beauty conceal minds ignorant of God's grace! What is the name of this race?' 'They are called Angles,' he was told. 'That is appropriate,' he said, 'for they have angelic faces, and it is right that they should become fellow-heirs with the angels in heaven. And what is the name of their Province?' 'Deira,' was the answer. 'Good. They shall indeed be de ira saved from wrath and called to the mercy of Christ. And what is the name of their king?' he asked. 'Aella', he was told. 'Then must Alleluia be sung to the praise of God our Creator in their land,' said Gregory, making play on the name.


http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source...


message 13: by Michael (new)

Michael Staten (mstatenstuffandthings) | 67 comments Thanks Thomas for your observations in message 9 - East vs. West, salvation, missions, and the transience of the day/life are all good points.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "Does anyone have any thoughts about the prologue and epilogue of this tale? They seem to be almost completely unrelated to the content of the tale. Are they meant only to be bridges between tales?"

Not the prologue specifically, but the notes to one of my copies say that the Introduction to the tale describing the sorrows of poverty "along with other moralizing interludes in the tale" were translated from a work, "On the Contempt of the World," by Pope Innocent.

Whether his works had made it to England, or whether Chaucer came across them when he was in Italy, isn't noted.

But I find it interesting that Chaucer should have decided to put this material in the Man of Law's tale rather than in that of one of the religious figures.


message 15: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 01, 2011 02:32AM) (new)

MadgeUK Galicius wrote: "The plot of “The Man of Law’s Tale” twists and turns in complexity but it’s probably what makes the tale interesting and held my attention. I was thrown off by naming the king of Northumberland wh..."

There was a 7thC King AElla of Northumbria. Sometimes written Alla, sometimes Ella. Not much is known about him except that he was a pagan with a heathen army which attacked the Christian kings of Northumbria. I haven't read the Man of Law's tale yet so do not know if this is relevant to it.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm being really shallow with this one. I enjoyed the symmetry of the story: Constance's journeys that echo each other, the two evil mothers in law, the first marriage for her outer beauty, the second for her inner grace (or so we're told ;-)). Of course there was an obvious message too. The convenient, meaningless conversion of the Sultan who is attracted only by worldly appeal results in death. Alla's conversion is more heartfelt and he gains a wife and son, i.e. the furtherance of life.

This reads like an enjoyable fairy tale. Smooth, classic with a little moral tucked in. Definitely a change from the earthy humor of the last 3. Much more polished. Just what you'd expect from a lawyer.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments A bit of an aside: another example of why I'm not enamored of Ackroyd's retelling. In this tale, where Chaucer talks about how god was protecting Constance, he writes "How was it that the giant Goliath was slain by the young and untested David?...His strength was derived from the grace of Christ." Huh? David and Goliath were Old Testament, long before Christ. Did Chaucer really say this?

Of course, Chaucer didn't. Chaucer wrote "Well may men see, it n’as but Godd’s grace." It was Ackroyd who put the historically inaccurate Christ in there.

Bah.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Kate Mc. wrote: "I'm being really shallow with this one.

Not shallow. You're right about the doubling throughout. And I agree, it's a very pleasant tale, and quite a contrast from the previous few tales. Which shows Chaucer's breadth of abilities.

Constance -- what a perfect name for her. Very Pilgrim's Progress!


message 19: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Chaucer did indeed write a poem, the Legend of Good Women, containing stories of many, but not all, of the women listed by the Man of Law. The poem, according to several commentators, appears incomplete; perhaps he intended to finish it by adding in the women listed by the Man of Law.

Chaucer did not need to live by his pen, so he didn't have a financial need to finish works for publication, particularly as at the time there wasn't really such a thing as publication. But several commentators suggest that he was somewhat of a literary dilettante, starting works and getting well into them, but at some point getting bored with them and leaving them unfinished.

Another thing while I'm on the MoL catalog of Chaucer's work: I have read commentators who suggest that this was inserted as a sort of squib or advertisement for his other works, to encourage people who enjoyed the MoL tale to go and look for his other writings. It would help explain what that rather strange self-mockery is doing there.


message 20: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Most of the women's stories mentioned in the Introduction to the MoL's tale come from Ovid's Heroides, "fictitious letters, written by mythological women to the famous lovers who have abandoned them." I found this site which discusses and has translations of some of the letters. The author notes that he offers them, done in his spare moments, because "there is no public-domain text of the Heroides currently available on the WWW."

I have browsed them, and find them quite delightful. No wonder Chaucer fed off of them. If you have a few spare minutes (after of course reading the relevant Tales for next week's discussion!) you might peer into them.


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Another aside: did you notice that the Man of Law ends his introduction, after all that time about Chaucer, with this:
To Muses that men clepe Pirides
Metamorphosios wot what I mean;
But natheless, I reck not a bean
Though I come after him with hawbake.
I speak in prose, and let him rhyms make.

But of course he doesn't speak in prose, but in rhyme.

Was this a joke on Chaucer's part? Did he intend to write the tale in prose and forget to change the Introduction when he actually wrote it in verse? Did he write the Introduction and the Tale at different times and forget what he had said? I expect that there have been several PhD theses written on what this all means!


message 22: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK Everyman wrote: "Chaucer did indeed write a poem, the Legend of Good Women, containing stories of many, but not all, of the women listed by the Man of Law. The poem, according to several commentators, appears inco..."

Thanks for those useful insights Everyman.


message 23: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4616 comments Everyman wrote: "Was this a joke on Chaucer's part? Did he intend to write the tale in prose and forget to change the Introduction when he actually wrote it in verse? Did he write the Introduction and the Tale at different times and forget what he had said?
"


I find the introduction, the prologue and the epilogue very odd, especially the epilogue with it's cursing transition to the sea-captain. I appreciate your earlier comments, btw. But I walk away from this one thinking that the surrounding material has no intrinsic relation to the tale itself -- the intro, prologue and epilogue could be altered slightly and shifted about to serve another tale's purposes just as well.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "But I walk away from this one thinking that the surrounding material has no intrinsic relation to the tale itself -- the intro, prologue and epilogue could be altered slightly and shifted about to serve another tale's purposes just as well.
"


I don't disagree. But I think this may be true of some of the other surrounding material, also.

And of course we should ask whether there is any significance to the Man of Law commenting on Chancer's work. That clearly implies that he has read or heard recited other of Chaucer's work.

How many of the other pilgrims would have been likely to have the time and interest to read or listen to C's somewhat lengthy poems? The religious should have been involved with sacred, not secular, texts, and and if they did run across these somewhat bawdy at times poems, would they admit it so publicly? The working people - the sailor, cook, miller, etc. -- were unlikely to have the time or resources to read or hear Chaucer recited. The Knight was off fighting. So the MoL seems the most appropriate pilgrim we could expect to know about and be able to comment on Chaucer's previous work.

So while it may not have to do with the MoL's tale, I think it is perhaps relevant to the MoL himself.


message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments And to add to my former comment, doesn't it tell us something about the Man of Law that he indeed had read or heard these works and remembered them well enough to become a critic of them?


message 26: by 1.1 (new)

1.1 | 17 comments If, as Everyman suggested earlier, Chaucer was somewhat of a dilettante, then it makes sense that now and then he scrawled a quick prologue with the intent to better it at a later date, which may explain the oddness of the pro/epilogue. Then again, the Tales are unfinished anyway, so I guess my hypothesis is a bit ubiquitous and weak - it works for any other Canterbury Tales-related oddities or exemptions though...

Fairly good tale, though. I got some 'Odyssey' vibes from it (when Constance was set adrift) and for some reason it reminded me of parts of Spencer's Faerie Queene (east vs. west, infidels)

Speaking of The Winter's Tale (as someone did earlier in the thread) the reunion between Alla and Constance reminded me strongly of Leontes' reunion with Hermione.


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments 1.1 wrote: "Fairly good tale, though. I got some 'Odyssey' vibes from it (when Constance was set adrift) "

Nice catch. Elements of a reverse Odyssey, isn't it? Not exact, of course, thee are major differences, but overall she leaves her intended husband and sails off, subject to the vagaries of the seas, winds up in a foreign country where she spends years with a husband, sails off from there, is rescued by friendly folks, and is eventually reunited with her husband. I had missed all that, but once you mention it, I can see the echoes, though distorted. (Can you distort an echo?)


message 28: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK This little piece argues that 'at the heart of the tale is the belief in providence in the face of the extraordinary vicissitudes that can occur in the life of an individual...The doctrine of providence is not a philosophy of happy endings but has to supply an answer to the misfortunes and evils of life on earth.'

http://res.oxfordjournals.org/content...

Here is a piece containng various analyses of The Man of Law which may throw some light on it:-

http://faculty.goucher.edu/eng330/cha...


message 29: by 1.1 (new)

1.1 | 17 comments Thanks for the material, Madge. Again, your powers of contextual research remind me of my lack of thoroughness and the deplorable nature of "New Criticism"... but that is something for next year. I only had time to look through the first essay but already I feel I have a better understanding of the Man of Law as a teller and of the timbre of his story as well... his Latin interjections were my only hint, before.

Everyman, the more I read the more I find those distorted echoes you speak of, and I think an echo can definitely be distorted, especially if it is literary in nature and no sound-wave physics is involved (though I think those echoes can distort as well)!


message 30: by Sasha (new)

Sasha Everyman wrote: "I was revisiting the Man of Law's tale last night, and was struck by several things. One was the emphasis on astrology. Chaucer seems to have been at the least interested in / informed about astr..."

I suppose people in the olden days (as I used to say as a child) were dependant on the sun, moon and stars in many different respects, for example to measure time, distance and place. And the planets would have been used for direction as well. We don't use the sun and moon as useful tools as much as we once did. In The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, the author states that physicians used astrology extensively in treatments, vis, 'do not bleed so-and-so unless Venus is in the seventh house' etc. However surgeons didn't, because as he points out, if a man presents with an arrow sticking out of his face, you don't need to consult the lunar calendar to know how to fix him, are you?

I get an Odyssey vibe from this tale as well. It is certainly on a grander scale than the previous two and contains the first solid references to faith. I wonder if Constance was sanctified for her ordeal? :)

I agree with Kate Mc, the tale is polished and probably reflects the higher education of the Man of Law.


message 31: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sasha wrote: "I agree with Kate Mc, the tale is polished and probably reflects the higher education of the Man of Law. "

I also agree. It seems to me that Chaucer, so far at least, has done a good job matching up the character of the tales with the tellers. The Knight tells a tale of chivalry and a chaste maiden. The lower status, presumably less educated pilgrims, the Reeve, Cook, and Miller, tell more bawdy and less polished tales. The Shipman, who as a ship captain is a bit higher status, tells also a slightly off-color tale, but in his case somewhat higher class than those of the Miller and Reeve, befitting his higher status. The Man of Law, as Kate and you note, tells a more polished tale, as befits an educated man. The Prioress tells a tale of faith and belief.

Which makes it particularly fascinating that Chaucer puts himself in the mix telling tales that hardly fit with the persona of a highly educated and literate member of the court.


message 32: by Sasha (new)

Sasha Chaucer was certainly versatile, which is refreshing. I don't think the Tales would have held their appeal if they were all fabliux. As I read on, I come to each tale with great curiosity.


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sasha wrote: "Chaucer was certainly versatile, which is refreshing. I don't think the Tales would have held their appeal if they were all fabliux. As I read on, I come to each tale with great curiosity."

I agree. There is a variety here which leads the reader on to wonder what Chaucer has in mind next.

I started to wrote "what new thing..." but realized that that was incorrect. Virtually nothing in Chaucer is new -- like Shakespeare, he was an inveterate borrower from the works of others. This was, in fact, the accepted and approved norm of English literature for several centuries. They didn't expect new works, as we do today from our novelists, but they admired authors who could take ancient (or sometimes not so ancient) works and present them in a new and improved way.


message 34: by Sasha (new)

Sasha Maybe that's why I generally don't like modern literature? Movie makers love remakes, but 90% of the time they are inferior to the original.


message 35: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments I'm running a little behind on some of these stories.

Anyway, I liked this mother-in-law from hell story. It seems the idea of pretty young women winning souls to Christ through their good looks (and virtue) were popular in those days.

There is a lot of unintentional humor to add to the intentional in these stories.


They went to bed , as reason was and right,
For wives, albeit very holy things,
Are bound to suffer patiently at night
Such necessary pleasures as the king's,
Or others who have wedded them with rings.
Her Holiness - well she must do without it,
Just for a little, and thats all about it.



message 36: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Chaucer had a very realistic view of sex and marital relations, didn't he?


message 37: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 250 comments Everyman wrote: "Chaucer had a very realistic view of sex and marital relations, didn't he?"

Actually, I'd prefer to believe my wife doesn't 'suffer patiently at night', but one is never absolutely sure, right?


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments LOL!

But you are perhaps kinder and more considerate than men of Chaucer's time were. You probably view your wife as a person, not a possession.


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