l.1-40: The link between The Physician's Tale and The Pardoner's Prologue

Synopsis of the first Link l.1-40

There is a long speech by the Host, responding to the previous tale told by the Physician and commissioning the next tale. Then there are two short speeches by the Pardoner, where he asks for a drink, interrupted by an outcry from the respectable pilgrims begging that nothing improper should be told.

The Link introduces certain themes

The frame story of the pilgrims riding and chatting cleverly provides a built-in audience for - as well as fictional story-tellers of – The Canterbury Tales. Often, pilgrims' reactions to the previous tale are surprising as well as idiosyncratic. 

The Host's first reaction to The Physician's Tale is an outcry, waking up Chaucer's audience in alert surprise: what is he so upset by? Chaucer puts the following responses into his mouth:

  • That the tale illustrates the disgraceful effects of dishonest judges
  • That the heroine's own attractiveness is to blame for her death. This is highly misogynist and patriarchal. The Host does not blame either the false judge who tried to procure the girl as a slave and sex slave, or her father who killed her
  • He develops out of this the philosophical observation that people often suffer from the effects of two forces, Fortune and Nature.

These elements in the Link:

  • Form a bridge between two tales
  • Offer amusing wayside drama and edgy exchanges
  • Foreground some themes and some contrasts: an obvious one is ‘seriousness versus fun' as contrasting modes for stories

The gentils' demand for something respectable arouses the reader to ask whether what follows fulfils that command. The Pardoner's pause for an ale before he begins introduces the theme of drink which will reappear in his text.

Commentary on the first Link l.1-40

l. 1 as he were wood: as if he were mad

l. 2 Harrow: alas! God help me!
        By nailes and by blood: by the nails that pinned Christ to the cross and by the blood that he shed in dying. Swearing by Christ's body and crucifixion was regarded as an attack on Christ himself, a re-crucifying of him. Such swearing was a sign of vulgarity:

  • These words portray the Host as vulgar, loud and aggressive, especially when roused
  • Thematically they prefigure the theme of oaths and blasphemy that will be a truly serious, religious subject in The Pardoner's Tale
  • This outburst and the way in which the tragic, harrowing tale upsets the highly masculine Host also prefigures his similar emotional outburst at the end of the text
  • Chaucer is painting the Host as quite a complex personality. This was not a common literary effect at the period but is something more often found in the nineteenth-century novel than in a medieval text.

l. 3 cherl…Justice: the previous tale had two villains, a low-born fellow (churl)  and a judge

l. 6 Algate: all the same, any way
        Sely: blessed, innocent (changed since Chaucer's time – silly now means ‘foolish')

l. 7 Deere: dear, expensive
        bought she: she paid a heavy price for

l. 8 al day: always

l. 9 yiftes: gifts:

  • Gifts of Nature are the advantages a person is born with
  • gifts of Fortune are advantages that come to them by chance – for example, from their station in life
  • The Host is holding forth in an opinionated but not very profound way.

l. 12 han: have, receive

l. 13 maister: normal polite address to a man who, like the Physician, would have a university Master's degree:

  • The Host, acting like a compère, compliments the Physician, calling down blessings on his medical equipment! The style is exuberant, filled with enjoyably technical and strange words for it
  • Chaucer makes a clever switch to the next tale and teller with a reference to good strong ale. Drunkenness thereafter becomes a recurrent subject. 

l. 15 it is no fors: it doesn't matter

l. 16 thy: See Literary context > Chaucer's English > Personal pronouns

  • The Host generally uses the ‘familiar' second-person singular personal pronouns (thou, thee, thine, thy) to pilgrims to whom he feel socially superior to equal to
  • He uses the ‘polite' equivalents (ye, you, your) to people he feels are socially superior to him
  • This distinction was normal at the time. It is perhaps surprising he does not address the doctor as ‘ye'.

        cors: body. Often used in idioms like this: it was more polite to say ‘God save your noble body' rather than just ‘God save you'

l.17 eek: also
        urinals: urine-sample test tubes. Examining urine samples was a basic step in medical diagnosis in the Middle Ages (as familiar as using a thermometer today)
        YpocrasJurdones: another type of glass bottle used by doctors

l.18 ypocras: a drink based on red wine mulled with spices, and sugar or honey. Used as a pleasant drink, especially after dinner, but also believed to warm up the body in accordance with the medieval theory of the four humours, named after Hippocrates, Ancient Greek writer on medicine, first century BC
        galiones: medicines (perhaps named after Galen, a famous Greek doctor and writer on medicine, 129BC – 199AD)

l.19 boyste: box or small box-shaped container (here full of medicine)
        letuarie: medicine

l.21 So moot I theen: ‘as I may flourish': roughly, ‘I really mean what I say!'
        propre: fine-looking 

l.22 Prelat: senior churchman, a bishop or higher
        Seint Ronyan: an unknown saint; possibly a mispronounced name by the Host. The word sounds like ‘rognon', French for ‘kidney', and perhaps—in a medical context that makes it sound particularly bizarre—that's why the Host seems suddenly aware that people think he has used the wrong word. 

l.23 terme: correct terminology

l.25   cardynacle: cardiacle: a contemporary medical term for a heart attack (has the Host again got the word slightly wrong?)

l.26 Corpus: short for ‘corpus Christi', the body of Christ, and, therefore, a rough, ignorant term for God
        triacle: a medicine

l.28,31  myrie, myrthe: ‘pleasant', ‘entertainment. Neither word has quite the rollicking association they have today
        Anon: meant ‘straightaway' at this period

l.29 this mayde: the slain virgin who was the tragic heroine of The Physician's Tale.

l.30 beel amy: in previous centuries this had been an upper-class term of address (‘fair friend') but was now used more widely lower down the social scale too. Often used when — like an inn-keeper often has to do — the speaker is trying to control a potentially difficult person or customer and keep him peaceable and sweet. ‘My dear chap', ‘my friend' would be modern equivalents

l.31 japes: a word that could mean ‘amusements' but could also mean ‘tricks'. The first sense is what the Pardoner intends; the latter sense fits the actual moral level of both the Pardoner and what he reveals to us

l.33 alestake: ‘ale pole', literally: a pole outside a door with a bunch of foliage attached to it, which was the sign of an alehouse

l.35 gentiles: see gentiles

l.36 ribaudye: bad behaviour and the sort of talk that goes with it. ‘Don't tell us about anything improper' is what the gentils say. ‘Ribaudye' did not have the narrow association with lewd, sexual, talk that ‘ribaldry' has today, though it could include that kind of improper talk

l.38 som wit: ‘something clever'. Wit meant intellect at this period

l.40 honest: ‘honourable', ‘respectable', rather than its modern meaning

Reading the text

Chaucer creates impressions of characters – your task is to work out how he does so. How does he introduce themes? As you examine the text, look at what the writer is doing, not simply at the character.


Investigating l. 1-40 – The Host

  • In lines 1-40 would you say that the Host is:
    • Shy or confident?
    • Cautious and restrained, or open and noisy?
    • Bossy? Egocentric?
    • Educated? Vulgar?
    • Sure of himself and his opinions or uncertain?
    • Are there any ways in which the Host's speech mannerisms are recognisably like those that might characterise the landlord of a successful hotel or pub today, someone used to interacting with the public and getting them to do what he wants them to do?
    • Try to identify examples
  • What is the effect of the following features of the writing?
    • Insertion of ‘I' statements when not needed (e.g. l. 8, 11, 13, 15)
    • Swearing by Christ's body: very coarse (l. 2, 28)
    • Exclamations (l. 2, 6, 7, etc.)
    • Mispronounced words
    • Giving people orders
  • What other features in the writing convey the Host's character?

Investigating l. 1-40 – The Pardoner

  • List the themes and patterns that Chaucer, after just a few words, has already suggested in connection with the Pardoner 
  • Does the Pardoner come across as willing to be guided or as being likely to resist control?
    • Is your initial impression of him straightforward?
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