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Discussion - Canterbury Tales > Week 6 - Physician's Tale (and surrounding material)

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments This tale bothered me more than any of the others have. (Madge, if you're still with us, it seems the sort of tale you would hate.)

The tale originated (as far as I know) with Livy, but Chaucer probably knew it through one of the subsequent retellings of it. At any rate, I'm not sure what the moral we are to take from the tale is, other than that virtue is more important than life itself, and evil will eventually get punished (don't we wish this were true?) I have read several quite different views of the tale; what's yours?

And why did the physician tell this tale?

We should also probably discuss the portions of the Prologue to the Pardoner's Tale that relate to the physician here -- as well perhaps as reviewing what the General Prologue has to say about him, which is considerable.


message 2: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 09, 2011 12:24PM) (new)

MadgeUK I'm still here Everyman! :) I am reading several other things at the same time - as usual!

It is a very gory tale. Difficult to 'like'.

I find a hint of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 here, (just as Livy hinted at the Roman Revolt), especially in the storming of the courtroom. (Madge has been at the politics bottle again...:)) In Chaucer's day if a tale involved 'a thousand peple' who break into a courtroom and release the defendant, while locking up his judge and accusers it would sound alarm bells. The Peasants' Revolt of 1381, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, started in Canterbury and involved several incidents where a similar sequence of events happened for real. The mob beheaded a number of government officials and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was an unsuccessful revolt for which the peasants were harshly punished. Chaucer's pilgrims would be well aware of this.

http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/...

The revolt against Apius is similar to the Peasant’s Revolt. Both share the same disillusion for law and enforcement, both display the actions of unethical upper-class members of society imposing actions against the virtuous common, and both end with the idea that the upper-class must be watchful of their own motives: 'He bad to take hym and anhange hym faste/ But right anon a thousand peple in thraste/ To save the knight, for routhe and for pitee/ For knowen was the false iniquitee.'

The theme of revolt, coming so soon after the actuality, is one that Chaucer was careful to avoid because of his involvement with the civil service and government. The Physician was possibly chosen by Chaucer to deliver the governmental critique because he is representative of Chaucer’s upper-middle class. In Chaucer’s time, law and the fundamental balances of power were changing dramatically. The upper-middle class became recipients of the new political and economic influence and gained access to more information and began to criticise the failures of government. Chaucer possibly allows the doctor to tell the story of the 'false judge' Apius in order to critique the faults of human nature, power, and position.

I also think the tale is complicated by the Physician's unreliable narration. Chaucer seems to have created a reliably unreliable narrator in order to present the conflict of interests that are inherent in the story. The Physician serves to better humanity not for the benefit of humanity, but to further his own agenda by telling a tale that mirrors his own life. In our times we can read it as 'hard wired' altruism coming to the fore.


message 3: by Sasha (new)

Sasha Everyman wrote: "This tale bothered me more than any of the others have. (Madge, if you're still with us, it seems the sort of tale you would hate.)

The tale originated (as far as I know) with Livy, but Chauc..."


Everyman, if ever I am tempted to drop CT, your thoughtful introductory comments entice me to pick them up again. :) Thanks.


message 4: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sasha wrote: "Everyman wrote: "This tale bothered me more than any of the others have. (Madge, if you're still with us, it seems the sort of tale you would hate.)

The tale originated (as far as I know) with ..."


I'm blushing. But really, it's all the great posters, yourself definitely included, who make this site work. And, of course, the great works we are privileged to read and discuss.


message 5: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Lavoie | 33 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I'm still here Everyman! :) I am reading several other things at the same time - as usual!

It is a very gory tale. Difficult to 'like'.

I find a hint of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 here, (ju..."


Every time I see a new post from you Madge, I have to open my book and start jotting down notes in the margins. Alas, I wish the margins were bigger!

That's really fascinating, I had not been aware of the revolt, and given the political times, it really makes one look at it differently. It's not just a horrible tale about a girl who would rather die by her father's hand than be corrupted by a lustful character, but symbolic of the people and their experiences.

Also interesting that at the end of this tale justice is served even if the girl still dies, but the peasants were unsuccessful in their revolt and punished. Could he have made the tale lighter by not including the punishment? Because if the father and his supporters would have been punished in the end, where would the justice be, or the moral?


message 6: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK LOL Jennifer - I'll send you some Postits!

If Chaucer had not included the punishment, it wouldn't have been a true analogy and he could also have been seen to be on the side of the 'baddies', which, given his position at court, he could not do. The moral of those times was not to challenge the divine right of Kings, or their courts.


message 7: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 47 comments The first and perhaps the most bothersome part of the tale to me was how knight Virginius submits to the false judgment of the court. Certainly he knows that his daughter is his own. Why did he sacrifice her? Was he so respectful and fearful of authority? This decision of the father murdering his daughter because of a court decision that he knows to be false borders on “poetic justice” going topsy-turvy, though that term wasn’t used until much later (1678).


message 8: by Galicius (new)

Galicius | 47 comments MadgeUK wrote: "I'm still here Everyman! :) I am reading several other things at the same time - as usual!

It is a very gory tale. Difficult to 'like'.

I find a hint of the Peasant's Revolt of 1381 here, (ju..."



Madge your insightful comments and fascinating information, as usual, are always a pleasure to read.


message 9: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Galicius wrote: "The first and perhaps the most bothersome part of the tale to me was how knight Virginius submits to the false judgment of the court. Certainly he knows that his daughter is his own. Why did he s..."

I agree, there is a lot to be bothered by in this tale. One line spoken by Virginia is especially disturbing to me, one word in particular:

Is ther no grace, is ther no remedye? (236)

The Physician is extolled in the General Prologue as having the cure for any malady, albeit for a price. But here he tells a tale where there is no remedy but death for pure and innocent Virginia. I have to think the choice of the word remedy, coming from the physician, is intentional.

On the other hand, there is grace (Wright translates this as "pardon") for the evil Claudius. Virginius pleads to save the life of this villain who is in part responsible for this awful "remedy," but doesn't give his daughter even half a chance.

And to add the finishing touches to all this wickedness, the host takes the moral to be that Virginia "bought" her beauty at too dear a price. So basically it was all her fault anyway for being desirable to the judge.


message 10: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 11, 2011 01:15AM) (new)

MadgeUK Thankyou very much G.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "GAnd to add the finishing touches to all this wickedness, the host takes the moral to be that Virginia "bought" her beauty at too dear a price. So basically it was all her fault anyway for being desirable to the judge. "

The more things change. Aren't there people even today who blame woman who make themselves look too attractive for becoming the victims of sexual assault? Chaucer had this nailed 700 years ago.


message 12: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Lavoie | 33 comments Everyman wrote: "Thomas wrote: "GAnd to add the finishing touches to all this wickedness, the host takes the moral to be that Virginia "bought" her beauty at too dear a price. So basically it was all her fault anyw..."

Exactly. It's amazing how little things really have changed over time. In a college class my sister took, there was an article in a book she had to read about women and rape. I read it after her violent reaction, but it basically said what you did, Everyman. The gist of the article was that the men saw these women and said that the women invited it - WANTED it - by making themselves look beautiful, and if they didn't want it, then they shouldn't look the way they did. It was an infuriating article, and I wish I had been in the class when it was read. I heard it was a very tense session that day.


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I think this is one reason I love reading the classics. They aren't dead books at all -- they're living books which have so much to say about how much has changed in human life and experience -- and how much hasn't. Or modern society thinks we have figured it all out, but there were people in the past every bit as smart as we are, if not smarter, and they had more time to think about things that our fast paced lives often don't let us think about.


message 14: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4508 comments Everyman wrote: "The more things change. Aren't there people even today who blame woman who make themselves look too attractive for becoming the victims of sexual assault? Chaucer had this nailed 700 years ago.
"


It's interesting that this is the conclusion of Harry Bailey rather than the Physician. The Physician concludes with a nod to popular justice: the judge is judged, but the accomplice gets away. (I still can't figure out why that happens.)

Looking back at the tales we've read so far, I wonder if it is reasonable, or fair, to judge the teller of the tale by the tales he or she tells. What are we to think of the Physician from this tale? Or is it just a story?


message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael Staten (mstatenstuffandthings) | 67 comments Thomas wrote: "Looking back at the tales we've read so far, I wonder if it is reasonable, or fair, to judge the teller of the tale by the tales he or she tells. What are we to think of the Physician from this tale? Or is it just a story?"

I think this is a great question. It occurs to me that the physician might be telling this story as an example or metaphor for disease and his profession. The judge is a disease in the society (organism). His actions lead to the death of society's purist and most beautiful member. The revolt acts as a physician to remedy the body politic.


message 16: by Michael (new)

Michael Staten (mstatenstuffandthings) | 67 comments Jennifer wrote: "In a college class my sister took, there was an article in a book she had to read about women and rape. I read it after her violent reaction, but it basically said what you did, Everyman. The gist of the article was that the men saw these women and said that the women invited it - WANTED it - by making themselves look beautiful, and if they didn't want it, then they shouldn't look the way they did. It was an infuriating article..."


The fact this still happens today is infuriating. Isn't the extreme expression of this the burqa? I think some of the more fundamentalist, conservative, religious types in the US agree with this logic and it drives me crazy. How does a woman's dress or behavior excuse bad behavior by a man?


This tale hits home for me because of some of the things I was taught growing up (in the 80's) in the religion of my heritage. I thought I would share them so you can see how some of the ideas that so disgust us as readers of this tale are still being taught today.

One tenet of the faith is that sexual sins "are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood." This is the kind of thinking behind the expulsion of a star basketball player from his college team and possibly from the school for having sex with his girlfriend. Google "Brandon Davies" if you don't know what I'm talking about and would like to know more about the case.

Another thing I was taught as a teenager is "it is better to die in defending one's virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle." This is a famous (or infamous) quote from one of the church's leaders. While I understand they have backed off from using this quote - i don't think it is in the manuals any longer - some of the old timers will occasionally bring it into lessons for the youth.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Mike wrote: "It occurs to me that the physician might be telling this story as an example or metaphor for disease and his profession. "

Interesting perspective!


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