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Penitential Sermons, the Manciple, and the End of The Canterbury Tales Mark Allen University ofTexas at San Antonio Ude, the gloom ofBlean forest, th, Man,;pJe threatens to abort the Canterbury pilgrimage more effectively than did even the Pardoner at his ale-stake. Where the Pardoner offered false relics-surrogates for the shrine ofBecket-the Manciple counsels silence, not only for the besotted Cook but for the other pilgrims and the reader as well. He chides the Cook into speechlessness, provoking the Cook's fall from his horse, and then he tells a tale which counsels silence in all instances: "...be war, and be noon auctour newe / Oftidynges, wheither they been false or trewe" (ManT 359 -60). 1 Such counsel to silence, Chauncey Wood has pointed out, opposes the penitential message of The Parsons Prologue and Tale.2 Indeed, silence would negate The Parsons Tale for the pilgrims, since the tale would not be told if the Parson followed the Manciple's advice. For us, the advice to be silent countermands The Canterbury Tales itself, since without the telling of the tales and the voices of the pilgrims there is no poem. Other critics besides Wood have concentrated upon the theme of speech in The Manciples Tale, most recently reading the injunction to silence as, as James Dean puts it, a stage in the "dismantling" ofthe Canterbury fiction, or, as Louise Fradenburg argues, a possibly unconscious expression by Chaucer of the anxious place of the court poet in the late fourteenth century.3 Since Chaucer does cancel some of his literary output in his Retraction soon after The Manciples Tale, we may well consider the tale to be a step in the "dismantling" process. Similarly, since the pursuit oftidings 1 All quotations ofChaucer are from F. N. Robinson, ed., The Words ofGeoffrey Chaucer, 2d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957). 2 Chauncey Wood, "Speech, the Principle of Contraries, and Chaucer's Tales of the Manciple and the Parson," Mediaevalia 6 (1980):209-27. 3 James Dean, "Dismantling the Canterbury Book," PMLA 100 (1985):746-62; Louise Fradenburg, "The Manciple's Servant Tongue: Politics and Poetry in The Canterbury Tales," ELH 52 (1985):85-118. 77 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER was a metaphor for Chaucer's idea ofpoetry as early as TheHouse ofFame,4 his rejection ofany kind oftidings through the Manciple may wellrepresent an anxious aspect ofhis attitude toward his art. Nevertheless, The Parson's Tale follows The Manciple's Tale, indicating that something besides poetry andpoetics is on Chaucer'smind, that he has a penitentialmessage to offer as well.5 Significantly, near the beginning of The Manciple's Prologue, the Host refers to the necessity of the Cook's "penaunce" (ManP 12), his telling ofa tale. The Manciple helps render the Cook incapable ofsuch penance, both by chiding him and by giving him more to drink, encouraging his stupor. He takes the Cook's place as tale-teller, but his tale is markedly unpeniten­ tial, even antipenitential: the central transformation of the tale-the change ofthe crow from white to black-ironically reverses the penitential change that the Parson describes at the end of his tale (ParsT 1076-78): ...the fruyt ofpenance...is the endelees blisse ofhevene, / ...; ther as is the sikernessefro the peyne ofhelle; ther as is the blisfulcompaignyethat rejoysen hem everemo, everich ofotheres joye; / ther as the body ofman, that whilom was foul and clerk, is moore deer than the sonne .... The crow, unlike the penitent, is changed from "deer," bright or white, to "foul and derk." He is slung "Unto the devel" (ManT 306) instead of gaining "sikernesse fro the peyne of helle." Such a reversal ironically identifies the spiritual danger to those who take literally the Manciple's counsel of silence in the same way as his chiding and drink endanger the Cook. As the Manciple encourages the Cook's fall, so his tale encourages a 4 For the basic discussion of The House ofFame as a self-conscious exploration of Chau­ cerian poetics, see]. A. W Bennett, Chaucer's "Book a/Fame": AnExpositionofthe "House of Fame" (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968). 5 My thesis assumes the Ellesmere order of The Canterbury Tales but does not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 77-96
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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