WHITECROW BORDERLAND

Chapter 10: Chaucer, Via Cessionis, and the Canon's Yeoman's Tale.

Via cessionis, as the best and most pragmatic solution to the Great Schism, wherein the popes of both rival obediences would resign simultaneously to make way for a third person to take their place, was never an idea homegrown on English soil. Chaucer makes this point clear in two ways. In the Prologue to the Clerk's Tale he refers to John of Legnano, an Italian lawyer, who was an ardent supporter of Urban VI as the single true pope of the Roman church. That single-minded commitment to the Roman obedience was a fair reflection of English foreign policy through the 1390's. At the same time, however, it was equally clear that England could not legitimately hope to force the resignation of Benedict XIII from the Avignon obedience without a total military victory over France, a hope that had proven unfounded for the long duration of the Hundred Years' War. In that sense, at least, England was forced to accept the via cessionis which was essentially a foreign idea, since it was the position advocated by the French lawyer (University of Orléans) and cleric (Patriarch of Alexandria), Simon de Cramaud.

Chaucer's second way of pointing to the foreign nature of the solution is exemplified by the fact that he gives its articulation and advocacy over completely to the Canon's Yeoman. In other words, Chaucer brings the idea into the context of his pilgrimage from the outside, from the margins of legitimate society, since the Yeoman who voices the solution is not a member of the original company, has no knowledge of previous speech performances, does not know Harry Bailly's formula of "moost solas" and "beste sentence," has sworn no oath to the other travelers to accept Harry's governance, and only enters the scene at the last minute, so to speak. His alien character is so pronounced, in fact, that early critics of the Tale have seen his presence on the road as an afterthought, while several others even doubt that Chaucer wrote the Tale himself. The view being expressed here is that Chaucer planned the Yeoman's performance from the beginning of his work and seals it into place as a major climax to the development of his theme in the tale-structure of the literary production. Since that theme is largely concerned with the terms of schismatic heresy and with how best to resolve the Schism, it becomes clear that the Yeoman cannot be an afterthought in the frame of Chaucer's design.

The narrator creates an impression of urgency when he tells us that the Canon has ridden "moore than trot or paas;/ [and has] ye priked lyk as he were wood" (VIII.575-576) to overtake the pilgrimage. His sudden, and completely unanticipated, appearance among the pilgrims has helped to create the sense that he has arrived as late in the journey's day as he has in Chaucer's mind. In one very important sense, however, this circumstance accords perfectly with the terms Chaucer establishes for his pilgrimage in the opening lines of the General Prologue. He says there, as everyone knows, "Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote/ The droghte of March hath perced to the roote . . . Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages" (I.1-2, 12) and, as an example of that longing, Chaucer creates a man who, when he sees the pilgrims riding out from their overnight lodgings, tells his "lord" and "sovereyn" (the Canon) that "to ryden with [them] is ful fayn/ For [your] desport" (VIII.590-591). It might be better, then, to argue that the Yeoman is the living embodiment of Chaucer's opening passage than to suggest he is an alien force riding up on the company from the outside. As already noted, Chaucer's tendency to a thorough double-voiced discourse in Canterbury surfaces in this passage in the apparent contradiction of the Yeoman and his Canon being both alien and domestic at the same time. Chaucer also tells us in the General Prologue that a journey to Canterbury will bring the pilgrims together with the "hooly blisful martir," St. Thomas à Becket, "That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke" (I.17-18). We learn in the course of the Yeoman's revelations that he is precisely the kind of person who needs the assistance of a "hooly blisful martir" because he suffers from both physical and spiritual "disese." The urgency of the arrival, and the expectation that the Canon will be the primary focus of the ensuing action, since the narrator (Chaucer) directs our attention to the Yeoman's Canon initially, generates a critical problem of sorts because we are never really given much of an explanation for why the Canon himself has sought out the company of a passing pilgrimage.

The Canon "gan to crye" by way of justifying himself, as he rides up to the company:


"God save," quod he, "this joly compaignye!

Faste have I priked," quod he, "for youre sake,

By cause that I wolde yow atake,

To ryden in this myrie compaignye." (VIII.583-586)


We hear virtually nothing else from the man himself, since Harry Bailly immediately begins to question, not the Canon, but his Yeoman. The Canon's claim, however, that he has ridden "lyk as he were wood," as the narrator puts it, to overtake the company "for youre sake," which follows his blessing of "God save . . . this joly compaignye!" may be meant to imply that his presence really does offer some hope of salvation to the members of the pilgrimage. That hope, however, if it ever really exists at all, is swiftly torn away as the Yeoman begins to explain who he and his master are.

The Yeoman's initial responses to Harry's questions turn out in retrospect to be wonderfully ironic. The irony emerges gradually in our perception as we learn more and more about the Yeoman's life-experiences with the Canon. Harry first wants to know if the Canon can "telle a myrie tale or tweye" (VIII.597). The Yeoman responds by assuring the Host that his Canon "kan of murthe and eek of jolitee/ Nat but ynough" (VIII.600-601), which is a statement so ambiguous in its negative, but apparent, affirmation of what Harry wants to hear that it probably implies the Canon has no sense of humor whatsoever. That view is later confirmed when the Canon speaks a second, and final, time in an attempt to quell his loquacious servant before he rides off again, leaving his apprentice behind:


"Hoold thou thy pees and speke ne wordes mo,

For if thou do, thou shalt it deere abeye.

Thou sclaundrest me heere in this compaignye,

And eek discoverest that thou sholdest hyde." (VIII.693-696)


The Canon's threat is meant to demonstrate just how little "murthe" and "jolitee" he possesses; indeed, he has "nat but ynough" of either quality to manage one "myrie" tale, much less two. The Yeoman, however, makes up for his master's deficiencies in speaking well or pleasantly.

Before the Canon's departure, and in answer to Harry's first question, the Yeoman confesses that his Canon "hast take on hym many a greet emprise" (VIII.606). We learn later that no part of the "greet emprise" the Canon has taken up worked out very successfully and, in like manner, we also learn that


"As hoomly as he rit amonges yow,

If ye hym knewe, it wolde be for youre prow.

Ye wolde nat forgoon his aqueyntaunce

For muchel good, I dar leye in balaunce

Al that I han in my possessioun

He is a man of heigh discressioun;

I warne yow wel, he is a passyng man." (VIII.608-614)


This passage, if read straightforwardly, states that knowing the Canon will bring advantage and profit ("prow") to a person, that, if you do not forego his acquaintance, you will gain "muchel good," and that he is an outstanding and excellent ("passyng") man. A problem with taking this statement in that way, however, surfaces in the Yeoman's assertion that he will wager ("leye in balaunce") everything he has in his possession to support his claim that the Canon is "of heigh discressioun." What we learn later, of course, is that the Yeoman has nothing in his possession to wager. His work with the Canon has so consumed his "estaat" that he now stands deeply in debt and will never in his lifetime be able to pay back what he owes (VIII.732-736). And finally, one must ask why he needs to "warne" us that his Canon is a "passyng" man. The answer, as we see, is that he does not mean the Canon is excellent or outstanding, but that he is a transitory, or inconstant, force in human society. He is a vagabond. He is, after all, gone again from the pilgrims after speaking only eight lines and we are not in his actual company long enough to become acquainted with him at all. This is much to our benefit, of course, because those who do not forego his acquaintance pay dearly for the privilege, as the Yeoman has already done.

After such high praise, all of which turns out to mean the opposite of what it seems, Harry asks the Yeoman if his master is a clerk, since he wears clothes that suggest he might be a religious. The Yeoman says: "Nay, he is gretter than a clerk, ywis" (VIII.617). He goes on to explain that "my lord kan swich subtilitee" (VIII.620),


"That al this ground on which we been ridyng

Til that we come to Canterbury toun,

He koude al clene turnen up-so-doun,

And pave it al of silver and of gold." (VIII.623-626)


Reading these lines as a simple reference to the Canon's alchemy, specifically to his ability to transmute base material into silver or gold, surely misses the point of the Yeoman's reference to the holy city of Jerusalem that the Parson later invokes in the same essential context of the pilgrimage to Canterbury. In the first place, turning the road "up-so-doun" implies that heaven, which is up, will be brought down to earth and earth, which is down, will be carried up to heaven. The road to "Canterbury toun" paved "al of silver and of gold" could be located nowhere else except in the holy city of "Jerusalem celestial" (X.51), as the Parson refers to it. Hence, the Yeoman claims his Canon can take the pilgrims "up-so-doun" from earth to the holy city they are seeking.

Harry Bailly disperses the force of that assertion with a brilliant piece of skeptical practicality when he says:


This thyng is wonder marveillous to me,

Syn that thy lord is of so heigh prudence,

By cause of which men sholde hym reverence,

That of his worshipe rekketh he so lite.

His overslope nys nat worth a myte,

As in effect, to hym, so moot I go,

It is al baudy and totore also.

Why is thy lord so sluttissh, I yow preye,

And is of power bettre clooth to beye,

If that his dede accorde with thy speche?

Telle me that, and that I thee biseche. (VIII.629-639)


The point of Harry's objection to the claim is both material and spiritual simultaneously. From a purely material point of view, if the Canon can pave any road with silver and gold, he ought to be able to afford better clothes. Harry's language, however, which is clearly given to him by Chaucer alone, suggests a completely different perception of what this passage actually says because it includes "wonder marveillous," "heigh prudence," "reverence," "worshipe," "I yow preye," and finally "I yow biseche." All these words and phrases turn on purely religious ground and should have little, or nothing, to do with how well, or how badly, the Canon is dressed.

That initial reaction, however, is turned completely on its head when one considers the word of the Parson concerning the outward signs of superbia, or perhaps, in this case, the utter absence of any outward or physical sign of pride in the Canon at all. The Parson says, for instance, that


Now been ther two maners of Pride: that oon of hem is withinne the herte of man, and that oother is withoute. . . . But natheles that oon of thise speces of Pride is signe of that oother, right as the gaye leefsel atte a taverne is signe of the wyn that is in the celer. And this is in many thynges: as in speche and contenaunce, and in outrageous array of clothyng. (X.408-411)


The Parson goes on for a number of lines describing the kinds of clothing that are offensive as the outward signs of a person's inner pride. He condemns both "to muche superfluite" and "to descordinat scantnesse" in clothing (X.415). The Canon cannot actually be included in either category in terms of what Harry says but to be "sluttissh" in his dress suggests that the Canon is not consistently arrayed in accordance with his apparent station in life. To be poor, and poorly dressed, may not impress Harry, especially for a person who can pave roads with gold, but that disapproval does not condemn the Canon in the sense that his outward array is a sign of his inner pride. More to the issue, perhaps, is the fact that Harry has noticed an important incongruity, even a strange sense of the bizarre, in the way the Canon appears before the pilgrims. A cleric, even one who is "gretter than a clerk," ought to display an outward appearance more in accord with his station in life than the Yeoman's Canon does. This may be even more pronounced at the end of the fourteenth century than at other times because so many clerics were actively engaged in accumulating wealth from their religious duties. The Yeoman's explanation of the apparent poverty of his master intensifies the incongruity when he gives as the reason for his "sluttissh" dress the fact that "whan a man hath over-greet a wit,/ Ful oft hym happeth to mysusen it" (VIII.648-649). Such answers beg more questions than they answer. After the Canon departs "for verray sorwe and shame" (VIII.702), we discover that he is an alchemist and one who has spent too many years in pursuit of the elusive rewards of that "slidynge science" (VIII.732), which makes men barren of all good, of all material possessions.

Putting aside the issue of the true nature of the Yeoman's Canon for the moment, one must acknowledge the fact that major critical problems with the Yeoman's Prologue and Tale have arisen over the years. Charles Muscatine, for instance, has authored what seems to be an overly materialistic interpretation of alchemy as a fraudulent science which was seen through by every educated member of Chaucer's social milieu. What may be more moderate and reasonable views, like those of Joseph Grennen and Bruce L. Grenberg, who acknowledge the fact that alchemy developed a serious concern for spiritual matters, along with its quasi-scientific materialism, have surfaced more recently. Most perceptions of the speech performance, however, have always tended to cluster around the issue of how many Canons Chaucer meant for his Yeoman to describe in the course of his Tale. This issue has a direct bearing on how the "Canon" is perceived. If there is only one Canon, as some critics have argued, one must explain away the following passage in which the Yeoman clearly identifies a distinction between his Canon and the one who appears in pars secunda:


This chanon was my lord, ye wolden weene?

Sire hoost, in feith, and by the hevenes queene,

It was another chanoun, and nat hee,

That kan an hundred foold moore subtiltee. (VIII.1088-1091)


An important point to note here is that the second Canon effects a hundred times more "subtiltee" than his own master can manage and, in this statement, the Yeoman explicitly denies that the man he is about to describe is, or can be said to be, his own Canon. The statement is unequivocal and contains no ambiguity. We must, therefore, accept the fact that there are two different Canons in the Tale and deal with that difference. He says about the second Canon that


He hath bitrayed folkes many tyme;

Of his falsnesse it dulleth me to ryme.

Evere whan that I speke of his falshede,

For shame of hym my chekes waxen rede,

Algates they bigynnen for to glowe,

For reednesse have I noon, right wel I knowe,

In my visage; for fumes diverse

Of metals, whiche ye han herd me reherce

Consumed and wasted han my reednesse.

Now taak heede of this chanons cursednesse! (VIII.1092-1101)


There are two important points to take and hold in mind here. The first is the direct assertion that the second Canon has betrayed many innocent and gullible people. The Yeoman's Tale (pars secunda) shows us precisely how the false Canon accomplishes that betrayal through trickery. The second point concerns the fact that the Yeoman has had his "reednesse" both "[c]onsumed and wasted" by "fumes diverse/ Of metals." It is important to note here that the Yeoman attributes the loss of his "reednesse" to the cause of heating metals and not at all to the trickery or duplicity of his own Canon.

In the service of his own Canon, furthermore, the Yeoman tells us that he has lost all his worldly possessions and his "colour [which] was bothe fressh and reed" (VIII.727) in the time he has worked to learn "oure elvysshe craft" (VIII.751). He notes how


That slidynge science hath me maad so bare

That I have no good, wher that evere I fare;

And yet I am endetted so therby

Of gold that I have borwed, trewely,

That whil I lyve I shal it quite nevere.

Lat every man be war by me for evere!

What maner man that casteth hym therto,

If he continue, I holde his thrift ydo.

For so help me God, therby shal he nat wynne,

But empte his purs and make his wittes thynne.

And whan he thurgh his madnesse and folye

Hath lost his owene good thurgh jupartye,

Thanne he exciteth oother folk therto,

To lesen hir good as he hymself hath do. (VIII.732-745)


Careful analysis of this passage reveals a profound difference between what he says about the false Canon in pars secunda and what he says here, not about his own Canon, but about himself and his involvement with the "elvysshe craft" and the "slidynge science" of alchemy. He says he has lost his own good "thurgh jupartye," by taking risks, which implies that he is the one to blame for his impoverished estate. He does not blame his Canon; he does not even mention his Canon. He takes full responsibility for his loss and sets himself up as an example for other people to follow if they wish to avoid the condition to which he has fallen.

One cannot emphasize strongly enough the distinction here between one Canon and the other. The Yeoman attributes his condition to the "madnesse and folye" he has pursued in taking the risks that have rendered him impoverished. He never says or implies that his Canon coerced him into following that path. He does say, just as clearly, that the second Canon, through his trickery and falsehood, has betrayed people "many tyme" into giving up their possessions for the hope of eventual gain. In all fairness, however, one must also say that the final resolution of pursuing alchemy, regardless of which Canon an adept chooses to follow, in all probability will lead to the same inevitable result. In terms of his loss of "colour," its decline from a healthy "reednesse" (VIII.1100) to a "leden hewe" (VIII.728), we can read the suggestion of a loss of physical health itself. At the same time, this transformation can also be linked alchemically to a decline in worldly possessions, or to spiritual qualities, because red was the alchemical color of gold. As such it represented the highest, best, most pure of all the metals. A "leden hewe," on the other hand, refers to lead, which is the lowest, worst, and most impure of all substances. Hence, the Yeoman's fall from a red to a "leden hewe" means that he has declined from a high estate (gold) to the lowest estate possible in a symbolic and spiritual sense (lead).

The issue of estate is significant in this context because of a statement the Parson makes about the nature and necessity of high and low degree in fourteenth century church doctrine with regard to the interaction between civil and religious authority. Since the primary direction of these comments seeks to establish a clear connection between the two Canons in the Tale and the two popes in the Great Schism, it is only appropriate that the Parson's statement is specifically concerned with papal authority. He says that


The Pope calleth hymself servant of the servantz of God; but for as muche as the estaat of hooly chirche ne myght nat han be, ne the commune profit myghte nat han be kept, ne pees and rest in erthe, but if God hadde ordeyned that som men hadde hyer degree and som men lower, therfore was sovereyntee ordeyned, to kepe and mayntene and deffenden hire underlynges or hire subgetz in resoun, as ferforth it is lith in hire power, and nat to destroyen hem ne confounde. Wherfore I seye that thilke lordes that been lyk wolves, that devouren the possessiouns or the catel of povre folk wrongfully, withouten mercy or mesure, they shal receyven by the same mesure that they han mesured to povre folk the mercy of Jhesu Crist, but if it be amended. (X.772-775)


Since the Parson shifts emphasis here from the pope's service to "hooly chirche" and to the "commune profit" of the realm, and focuses his attention on the "lordes that been lyk wolves" and who labor to "devouren the possessiouns or catel of povre folk wrongfully," it seems only logical to apply this assessment of papal duty to the fate of the Yeoman through his association with the Canon. Clearly the Parson is concerned here with the activities of papal authority that tend to impoverish people who are "underlynges" to the naturally "ordeyned" rule of sovereignty that papal authority represents in the world. The Yeoman is only one example of how an "underlynge" is subjected to a failure of that power to keep and maintain and defend his estate from the ravishment of those who wield that power over him. Whether his servant blames him or not, the Canon is clearly guilty of failing to protect the Yeoman's meager estate from destruction. His actions, in fact, as an alchemist have simply been the direct cause of the destruction of the Yeoman's estate.

The relationship, then, between the pope and the members of "hooly chirche" over whom he rules, and between the Canon and his servant, the Yeoman, is essentially the same. The Canon clearly fails to execute his duty to his servant, a duty which is ordained by God by virtue of there being high and low degree among men and women, since the Yeoman has been impoverished, albeit by his own choice and free will, through his association with the alchemist. Of all the statements that could have been made about the pope, whether derived from a source or not, it seems too much a coincidence that the one Chaucer chose to insert in the Parson's Tale, and this is his only direct reference to the pope in the Parson's discourse, concerns a "lord" of the church who wastes his servant's possessions wrongfully when he also exemplifies precisely that same condition of fact in his Canon's Yeoman's Tale. To argue or to assume there is no connection between one thing and the other would be unreasonable. The point here is that Chaucer means for us to see the Yeoman's Canon in exactly the same light that we would use to examine one, or both, of the schismatic heretics occupying papal estate at the end of the fourteenth century.

Howard Kaminsky, in his assessment of the condition of the church during the Great Schism, comments on the position and role played by canons regular in the administration of ecclesiastical affairs. He notes that


Each diocesan church was treated as a corporation in the legal sense, with the bishop as head and the canons as members; and on this basis the lawyers discussed such practical problems as how decisions for the whole were to be made by bishop and canons together, just how and to what effect the bishop represented his church, and how the often-conflicting interests within the church were to be resolved. (7)


In a very real and practical sense, of course, the Parson addresses precisely this issue by reminding his audience, and one can see Chaucer's hand in this as he also says the same thing to his audience, that neither king nor pope, neither bishop nor canon, has the power or the right to exercise an absolutist or tyrannical dominance over his subjects because that will likely result in profound damage to the "commune profit" of the realm which, in the specific case of the Canon in Chaucer's story, must be taken to refer to the well-being of his Yeoman. In pars secunda, however, Chaucer clearly generalizes the harm generated by the false canon because he is gulling a parish priest serving a flock of believers and the damage he inflicts through his "falshede" and trickery extends well beyond any solitary victim.

Kaminsky continues his analysis of the relationship between bishop and canons by noting that


The key concept was the welfare of the church-corporation, its "status" or estate, which represented not only the corporation's proper functioning and the stability of its property, power, and revenues, but also its structures of order and regulation that served these things. The church's estate was its supreme interest--its "public utility" or "common good"--to which the individual interests or "private utility" of both head and members had to be subordinate as the part to the whole. (7)


Here it is important to note that Kaminsky's "common good" is the same as Chaucer's (Parson's) "commune profit." The Parson, of course, addresses this same issue clearly when he notes that the duty and obligation of the person of "hyer degree" must keep and defend the one of lower status, since that is necessary to the "commune profit" of both realm and church. The "structures of order and regulation" Kaminsky mentions are precisely identical to the ones the Parson identifies as being "ordeyned" by God in the creation of the "sovereyntee" of the higher estate over the lower estate. Hence, the Canon is ordained by God to have sovereignty over his Yeoman but, when he fails to keep and defend the Yeoman's well-being, he places the church and all its members in jeopardy. That is exactly what the schismatic popes were doing and Chaucer simply substitutes canon for pope in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale in order to show us an example of the decline of public order that resulted from the Schism. The fact that the Yeoman's Canon is both apostate and vagabundus, as Edgar H. Duncan points out, exemplifies the decline of order and stability which came about through the disunity of the church. The idea that a pope could be either apostate or vagabundus is possible only in the context of the Schism.

In terms of the evolution of the legalistic rights associated with papal power from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, which were rights that became ever more and more a matter of property and revenue as time passed, as Kaminsky notes, a transformation occurred holding that "the papal status or estate, unlike the vicariate of Christ, could be possessed de facto by someone who may not have possessed it de jure and so would not have been the true pope" (10). Kaminsky goes on to point out that the very issue of the justice associated with the legal rights to papal authority was expressed and argued in the "first letter of the University of Oxford to the king of England [in] 1396" (10 N32) and there is every reason to believe that Geoffrey Chaucer was aware of Oxford's position, as noted in the discussion of the Clerk's Tale. Kaminsky, as already noted, and it certainly bears repeating here, argues that


This legal style of thought made it possible to conceive of a divided papacy, for while there could not be two vicars of Christ, two heads of Christ's body, there could quite well be two or even more men who each possessed papal estate, in the sense of actually wielding papal powers, exacting revenues, and enjoying obedience. Simon de Cramaud worked routinely with this sense of "papacy" as material and hence divisible. (10)


Chaucer's way of expressing this issue, where there is such a clear and necessary division between material and spiritual concerns inside the appearance of papal prerogatives, is both simplistic and profound. He makes the two Canons alchemists. He makes them men who pursue gold where the precious metal itself is simultaneously a most valuable commodity, from a materialistic point of view, while also a symbolic expression, in alchemical traditions, of the highest estate of spiritual purity that any man or woman can hope to achieve. When the Second Nun tells us that St. Cecile does not sweat in her flaming bath, we are informed that she has reached the highest state of purity one can achieve--she is golden. Chaucer's Canon-alchemists, for every reason imaginable, are a perfect artistic expression of the problems generated by the schismatic heresy of the fourteenth century. Chaucer did not just know the terms of that heresy; rather, he lived and breathed those terms during the final twenty-two years of his life. When Chaucer died, he probably believed he would be condemned to eternal hell, not because of anything he had ever done, but because the schismatic church could no longer be counted on to mediate God's grace and mercy to fallen man.

Chaucer's motivation in writing the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, especially in its orientation toward an ideological horizon dominated by the issues of schismatic heresy, is made obvious in the Yeoman's address to canons regular:


But worshipful chanons religious,

Ne demeth nat that I sclaundre youre hous,

Although that my tale of a chanoun bee.

Of every ordre som shrewe is, pardee,

And God forbede that al a compaignye

Sholde rewe o singuleer mannes folye.

To sclaundre yow is no thyng myn entente,

But to correcten that is mys I mente.

This tale was not oonly toold for yow,

But eek for othere mo; ye woot wel how

That among Cristes apostelles twelve

Ther nas no traytour but Judas hymselve.

Thanne why sholde al the remenant have a blame

That giltlees were? By yow I seye the same,

Save oonly this, if ye wol harkne me:

If any Judas in youre covent be,

Remoeveth hym bitymes, I yow rede,

If shame or los may causen any drede. (VIII.992-1009)


This statement can, of course, be read at many levels within the hierarchy of the church's structural reality and the Yeoman himself invites us to do precisely that when he notes that his tale is told not only for canons "[b]ut eek for othere mo." At that point he reminds us of the fact that many religious orders are based on, and symbolically connected to, the twelve apostles. We must remind ourselves here of the Summoner's wheel, the essential tale-structure form of Canterbury itself, with its two halves of twelve stories each, the fact that Urban and Clement were elected by a college of cardinals consisting of 23 members with the pope (popes) being number 24, and so on. The meaning here is hardly obscure: if your order has a Judas in it, and every order has a "shrewe" inside, then you should "[r]emoeveth hym bitymes," because if you fail to do so your entire house will suffer the calamity of "o singuleer mannes folye." Clearly this statement can apply to a simple parish convent as well as to a college of cardinals. In the context of the Great Schism the house is the church itself and the "traytour" is the pope.

In the opening lines of pars secunda, just before his address to the canons religious, the Yeoman describes the character of the false canon in terms that clearly link him with the devil. He says first that there is a canon of religion in the world ("Amonges us") who "wolde infecte al a toun" (VIII.973) with "His sleightes and his infinite falsnesse" (VIII.976). So insidious is the Canon's character that no one could write all his duplicity if he were to live a "thousand yeer" (VIII.978). He continues by noting that


In al this world of falshede nis his peer,

For in his terms he wol hym so wynde,

And speke his wordes in so sly a kynde,

Whanne he commune shal with any wight,

That he wol make hym doten anonright,

But it a feend be, as hymselven is. (VIII.979-984)


Simon de Cramaud, in his De substraccione obediencie, according to Kaminsky's translation, notes that "[e]ven a true and undoubted pope is not to be obeyed but rather resisted if he does anything that notoriously scandalizes the church or works to the peril and subversion of souls" (181). Here the serpentine "termes he wol hym so wynde" creates precisely the kind of doubt ("wol make hym doten anonright") that causes a "subversion of souls." An important point to emphasize here is the fact that the false Canon, in gulling a single priest, cannot possibly be said to "infecte al a toun" with a population equivalent to the combined number of souls in "Nynyvee,/ Rome, Alisaundre, Troye, and othere three" (VIII.974-975). One can say instead that the point the Yeoman makes suggests the problem extends into a regional configuration of the kind one would expect to see in a divided obedience between and among all the states of Christian Europe.

This same impression is reinforced, if not confirmed, in the words the Yeoman says next:


Ful many a man hath he bigiled er this,

And wole, if that he lyve may a while;

And yet men ride and goon ful many a mile

Hym for to seke and have his aqueyntaunce,

Noght knowynge of his false governaunce. (VIII.985-989)


The inclusion of the ideas that the "feendly" Canon may be mortal ("if that he lyve may a while") and is guilty of "false governaunce" cuts across the grain of his identity as Satan, on the one hand, and begs the question of whom or what he governs, on the other, because the devil is virtually immortal and there is no direct evidence in the text of pars secunda that the false alchemist, if read true to type, actually governs anything except the practice of his own duplicity. The impression these lines generate in the context of schismatic heresy is that the false Canon must be in a position of power in order for him to practice a "false governaunce." Reading him as one of the schismatic popes turns both statements into information that is vital to understanding Chaucer's meaning in the Canon's Yeoman's Tale. Making this assertion seems valid by virtue of the fact that so many other references to the Schism have been encountered in the tales that precede the Yeoman's. Anyone following the path of Chaucer's articulation of the effects of schismatic heresy in fourteenth century life as he develops them in Canterbury falls naturally into recognizing Chaucer's intent to extend that perception in the Yeoman's speech performance.

Simon de Cramaud, to return to an earlier point, charges that the schismatic popes (at the time Benedict XIII in Avignon and Boniface IX in Rome) preferred to "keep the church lacerated and truncated . . . rather than see it whole under the other; [and that] thereby they not only scandalize the church but utterly destroy it" (Kaminsky, 182). As noted earlier, Simon's treatise on the subtraction of obedience was sent to Richard II in 1397 in an effort to enlist his support for the via cessiones against the Roman side of the papal dispute. The Yeoman's statement that men "goon ful many a mile" to make the acquaintance of the false canon and do not know "of his false governaunce" suggests as much a portrait of a schismatic pope as it does a cheating alchemist. That Chaucer, through his Yeoman, advocates the removal of the treacherous Canon from his "covent," if he is a traitor like Judas, clearly implies that the issue Chaucer is addressing has a much wider scope than a simple difficulty generated by "o singuleer mannes folye," even if a single pope is able for many reasons to subvert and "utterly destroy" the church. The extreme hyperbole of the Yeoman's denunciation of the false canon can be understood more in a reasonable frame of reference when one is willing to accept the notion he is condemning a schismatic pope and not just an itinerant alchemist. The broad scope of the issue of schismatic heresy overshadows the minimalistic interpretations of the false Canon's role in the story that have always been favored by Chaucerian evaluation.

One of the crucial issues of interpretive methodology that arises here concerns the dispute over whether one should read Chaucer's work from a dramatic or from a thematic point of view. William E. Rogers, in a recent evaluation of structure in the Canterbury Tales, has drawn a sharp distinction between dramatic and thematic interpretations of Chaucer's work. The difference he perceives between the two types of evaluation generally rests upon how the individual critic takes the meaning and existence of the narrator in each part of the literary production. In Canterbury, of course, one must also consider how the narrators of each part (Knight, Squire, Monk, Nun's Priest, Physician, Manciple, etc.) fit into the overall scheme of the work as a whole. In dramatic readings, according to Rogers, the individual pilgrim-narrator is the only voice apparent in the utterance precisely because the dramatic artist consciously chooses to exclude himself and his voice from the speech performance. This point of view clearly creates a problem for the position being argued here. Hence, in the case before us, we must argue that the Canon's Yeoman, a man who has spent the last seven years of his life so utterly committed to the practice of learning to multiply that he has neither seen nor contemplated anything else, has somehow become an expert, not only on schismatic heresy, but also on the complex issue of the solution to the papal controversy favored by Charles VI and Simon de Cramaud in France and Richard II and John of Gaunt in England. He did this, as well, while living the life of an outlaw in the "suburbes of a toun" hidden in the midst of the Blean Forest. No one is going to win that argument.

On the other side of the issue are the critics who pursue Chaucer's work from a thematic point of view. According to Rogers, finding a theme in Canterbury as a whole, or even in one of its separate parts, necessitates a radical reduction in the number of narrative voices from 23, if Harry Bailly is excluded (24 if he is not), to the single voice of Chaucer as the maker of the whole enterprise. Robert M. Jordan takes this position by advocating a predominantly rhetorical analysis of Chaucer's diversity of narrative voices, flattening every voice to Chaucer's singular point of view. Rogers puts it this way: "If we are interested primarily in the play of Chaucer's mind . . . then we need only one narrator--and we are reading the work thematically, as a structure of thought in some mind" (19). The point to emphasize here is that Rogers is essentially correct in asserting that, from a thematic point of view, "we need only one narrator." The problem, however, with that statement is the incontestable fact that Chaucer did not give us a single narrator--he gave us 23 and Harry Bailly to act as governor among them. To argue that Chaucer saddled himself with a formal structure that precludes the possibility of developing a theme, simply because he chose a path of double-voiced discourse when he made his articulation of thematic concerns multivocal, is an act which imposes a restriction on Chaucer's poetic imagination that is illegitimate precisely because it concerns, not the creation of a literary production, but only the interpretation of the finished product. To say that Chaucer cannot do what he so obviously did makes no sense at all. Rogers clearly acknowledges this shortcoming in his argument when he insists that "[t]he tales can be read either way" (21).

The point being taken here, however, is that the Canterbury Tales must be read, not either one way or the other, but both ways simultaneously. In other words, we must read the tales the way Chaucer wrote them and not in some fashion that is bound to favor our preconceived notions of what they mean or do not mean. Discussion of this issue has been delayed until now, even though it has loomed over this study from the very beginning, because the Canon's Yeoman's Tale provides the clearest example of Chaucer's poetic methodology in the course of Canterbury's development. The Canon's Yeoman shows us what he knows, what he has lived, what he has seen; in short, he shows us the potentially deceptive practice of one honest and one dishonest man who have come to pursue a spiritual activity through purely materialistic means. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue that the Yeoman equates the practice of alchemy with the schismatic heresy of the fourteenth century church, even if it can also be said that many members of the ecclesiastical estate were pursuing a spiritual calling through purely materialistic means and that some of them were honest and some were not. The fact that the Yeoman's master is a Canon, and that the false alchemist is also in holy orders, may cause him to wonder whether or not the Great Schism has caused a climate of disbelief in society that gives rise to the kind of abuse the two Canons pursue, but nowhere in the text does he, or Chaucer, ever actually say that.

Chaucer, on the other hand, but only by virtue of the fact that he has placed the Canon's Yeoman's Tale near the end of the second part of the sequence of stories in the work as a whole, and placed it in direct juxtaposition to the Second Nun's Tale and the Manciple's Tale, tells us that we must read the story the Yeoman recites on the wider ground of Chaucer's ideological horizon which also includes everything coming before and everything coming after the Yeoman's speech performance. The fact that Chaucer shows us how the church accumulated its materialistic possessions, in the final two stanzas of the Second Nun's Tale, when St. Cecile persists in life for an extra four and one-half days only in order to donate her house to Urban, literally forces us to consider that issue when we read the Yeoman's story. The Yeoman does not manipulate his position, except through the illusion of his choice to join the other pilgrims, into the progress of the journey toward Canterbury; Chaucer does that. Chaucer arranges everything in its artistic sequence and makes it possible for us to see beyond the monologic level of a diatribe against false alchemists, and fraudulent alchemy, into the world of papal politics that so dominated and characterized the concerns of both England and France during the entire period in which he composed the Canterbury Tales. The Canon's Yeoman did not arrive on the scene of the pilgrimage on the spur of some moment in Chaucer's creative process simply because Chaucer had nine years of schismatic heresy under his belt, so to speak, in which to decide precisely where, and under what conditions, the man would make his entry into the structure of the Tales.

Only a few relatively simplistic observations are necessary for us to follow Chaucer down the road to papal schism that the Yeoman creates, albeit inadvertently, in his story of the two Canons. The Yeoman tells us, for instance, that his Canon has a reputation among men for being able to "doon craftily" (VIII.903), which may mean he performs his office well or that he does it with too much cleverness. He modifies that assessment of public perception through his own personal experience:


Algate I woot wel he hath swich a name;

And yet ful ofte he renneth in a blame.

And wite ye how? Ful ofte it happeth so

The pot tobreketh, and farewel, al is go! (VIII.903-907)


The Yeoman's account of the exploding alembic contradicts the impression people have of his Canon's ability to "doon craftily" and suggests his reputation for competence is completely undeserved, since such accidents tend to happen "ful ofte." After such explosions, the Canon's assistants routinely argue among themselves over who should be blamed for the disaster. The Canon, just as routinely, notes that the pot was probably cracked (VIII.939), reminds them there is work to do and little time or reason for attempting to assess blame: "As usage is," he says, "lat swepe the floor" (VIII.936). The Yeoman then describes that process with some meticulous detail:


The mullok on an heep ysweped was,

And on the floor ycast a canevas,

And al this mullok in a syve ythrowe,

And sifted, and ypiked many a throwe. (VIII.938-941)


Another member of the staff, standing nearby, observes that "somwhat of oure metal/ Yet is ther heere, though that we han nat al" (VIII.942-943). That part of the metal which is missing from the heap of trash can be accounted for in one of two ways. On the one hand, the missing parts may be those elements of the alembic's content that flew off through the roof and walls of the house and disappeared into the ground (VIII.912) because of the great force of the explosion. At the same time, it might also be true that the missing parts of the experiment may be those components of the recipe that combined with one another to create the philosopher's stone, since one should assume that there would be less of the original ingredients in the residue if some of them became the stone during the process.

The Yeoman's meticulous account of an affair so obvious as cleaning up the mess after an explosion, coupled with the fact that reference is made to missing metals, where all the post-explosion energy of the crew is directed at recovering the valuable parts of the experiment which remain, in the "mullok," and "As usage is," suggest a routine more concerned with the material good of the enterprise than with the possible production of spiritual power associated with the elixir and the stone in "genuine" spiritual alchemy. The man who refers to the missing metal says:


We moste putte oure good in aventure.

A marchant, pardee, may nat ay endure,

Trusteth me wel, in his prosperitee.

Somtyme his good is drowned in the see,

And somtyme comth it sauf unto the londe. (VIII.946-950)


In terms of our collective experience with merchants in the Canterbury Tales, it would be difficult to argue that any spiritual concern can be concealed in this statement. Since the Canon oversees the process of cleaning the laboratory and is centered entirely on the next time they heat the alembic, giving no thought to what has just occurred, it seems possible to argue he does not recognize the possibility that the actual stone has been created out of the exploding alembic. C. G. Jung, as noted earlier, demonstrates how the tradition of spiritual alchemy always held that the newly created stone could only be found on the dung-hill or in the trash-heap. The Canon's assistants, who gather up the heap of "mullok," sift it out "many a throwe" but only in search of the missing material good they have lost. No one pays any attention to what they might have gained. Neither they nor their Canon looks for, or ever finds, the stone that may also be concealed in the trash. In short, the Canon's flaw is that he does not know how to recognize the stone; he does not know where to look for it.

Chaucer creates a corollary to this circumstance that functions as foreground to the Yeoman's Canon in the Pardoner's Tale. Boniface IX, as already noted, issued a condemnation of pardoners who collected alms and converted that money to their own use in 1390. Chaucer's Pardoner is clearly implicated in that abuse by his own admission. At the same time, of course, it is also true that Boniface IX issued a bull of indulgence to the Pardoner of Rouncivale and gave it to him in person, according to the Pardoner at least:


I have relikes and pardoun in my male,

As faire as any man in Engelond,

Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond. (VI.920-922)


What this implies is that Boniface IX cannot recognize the embodiment of the abuse he has condemned when it stands before him seeking papal approval for the tools of cupidity the Pardoner seeks. Like the Yeoman's Canon, who cannot find the stone in the "mullok," Boniface IX is not qualified in a spiritual sense to lead the Roman obedience. He should, therefore, resign. If he fails or refuses to do that, the "chanons religious" should expel him from their "covent."

Chaucer's work against the second Canon, Benedict XIII, is even more obvious in its direct simplicity. In the first place, he is a "feend," even the devil himself perhaps. Characterizing the pope of the opposite obedience as a devil during the Schism was hardly unusual. It was a commonplace. Even more significant, however, are the terms of the Yeoman's denunciation of the false Canon's activities in pars secunda. The priest who is gulled in the second half of the Yeoman's performance is an "annueleer" (VIII.1012), "a chantry priest, who sings masses for the dead." Chaucer's depiction of the second Canon's victim raises several significant questions that have gone largely unexplored. In the Summoner's Tale, for instance, we see the friar of that tale traveling from door to door collecting donations in exchange for the promise that he and his "covent"-mates will pray for the salvation of the gift-givers. After collecting money and goods from his victims, the friar wrote their names on his writing tablets


And whan that he was out at dore, anon

He planed awey the names everichon

That he biforn had writen in his tables;

He served hem with nyfles and with fables. (III.1757-1760)


Chaucer does not say that the "annueleer" performs a similar practice, taking money for masses he never sings, but he does undercut his appearance of virtue, honesty, and innocence in the Tale.

The point to recognize here is the fact that the false Canon, after demonstrating through his trickery that he can produce silver from base materials (mercury), offers to sell a false recipe, purported to accomplish the same feat, to the "annueleer" for the considerable sum of forty pounds. In a symbolic sense this transaction can be read as a priest of "hyer degree" (Canon) selling a benefit to one of lower status ("annueleer"). If the false Canon is perceived as one of the schismatic popes (Benedict XIII), the implication of the transaction extends directly into the arena of the abuse of simony, since the fake recipe, read from the point of view of spiritual alchemy, actually suggests that the "annueleer" is purchasing a cure for souls (turning a polluted and sinful body into a golden soul through the alchemical "mass" performed in the alembic), which gains for him, through his investment, the property and revenue rights of a benefice. In other words, on a symbolic level, the purchase of the recipe for the cure of souls signifies the fact that Benedict XIII, because he was perceived as the antipope by the Roman obedience, by Chaucer, John of Gaunt, and Richard II, committed the sin and abuse of simony every time he appointed anyone at all to a benefice in the Avignon obedience precisely because he was not the true pope but an impostor. The same thing can be said from the point of view of the other side as well, since the same condemnation also applies to Boniface IX in Rome.

The crime of simony, like every other sin in Christendom, is discussed in considerable detail by the Parson. If juxtaposition of topics means anything in the Parson's Tale, one can note that his description of simony is separated from his comments on the pope, which were mentioned earlier in this chapter, by his comments relating to "deceite bitwixe marchant and marchant" (X.776). This may suggests a reason why the Yeoman's companion and fellow laborer compares the loss of metals after the explosion to the "aventure" of merchants. The connection in the Parson's mind between pope, merchants, and simony is rational, if somewhat odd, by virtue of his notion that "Espiritueel marchandise is proprely symonye, that is ententif desir to byen thyng espiritueel; that is, thyng that aperteneth to the seinturaire of God and to cure of the soule" (X.780). People who sell the merchandise associated with the "cure of the soule," like the fake recipe in the hands of the false Canon and antipope of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale, commit "the gretteste synne that may be, after the synne of Lucifer and Antecrist" (X.788).

Bruce A. Rosenberg, for reasons only slightly different than the ones being put here, associates the false Canon with the antichrist. He notes that the "greedy priest represents the Church," which implies a slightly wider frame for his symbolic connections than the one taken here, and argues that the "threadbare canon is Satan or one of his devils--an alchemist, who has no place in Christian society" (579-580). He goes on to assert that the "canon is the spirit of the antichrist stalking fourteenth century England" (580). Rosenberg's reasons for making this connection concern the fact that the false Canon, even both of the Canons together, since he sees no real distinction between them (577), subverts the meaning of the lapis-Christus formula in spiritual alchemy and hence becomes a symbol of the antichrist. The view taken here is that the Parson's perception of simony, as a sin nearly as great as the ones committed by Satan and the antichrist, implicates the false Canon in the sin of buying and selling benefices, and the property and revenue rights that accompany them, which activity more properly belongs to the pope as head of the church than it does, or would, belong to the antichrist, unless he were also the pope. The Parson's objection to simony is significant as well because of what he says it accomplishes in the general area of Christian belief among church members--his detail can be said to reflect the effects the false Canon creates:


For by this synne God forleseth the chirche and the soule that he boghte with his precious blood, by hem that yeven chirches to hem that been nat digne. For they putten in theves that stelen the soules of Jhesu Crist and destroyen his partimonye. By swiche undigne preestes and curates han lewed men the lasse reverence of the sacramentz of hooly chirche, and swiche yeveres of chirches putten out the children of Crist and putten into the chirche the develes owene sone. (X.789-791)


During the period of the Great Schism, nearly an entire generation of "undigne" priests and curates were appointed to positions of power in the church by the schismatic popes in both obediences. The concern expressed here that "lewed men" would abandon all reverence for the "sacramentz of hooly chirche" is an issue Chaucer pursues from the beginning of Canterbury to its end, as we have seen in his stories touching the subject of the decline in the state of the sacrament of marriage.

The fear expressed by the Parson is nowhere more obvious than in Chaucer's depiction of individuals who have taken holy orders in the progress of his, and their, pilgrimage toward Canterbury. The Monk, Friar, Summoner, Pardoner, Prioress, Second Nun, and Nun's Priest, among the pilgrims proper, along with the monk in the Shipman's Tale and the two Canons in the Yeoman's story, all point to a systemic decline in the dignity of those individuals who have been drawn into the service of the church at the end of the fourteenth century. The absence of respect for the sacraments of "hooly chirche" is also clearly expressed in the stories told by "lewed men" among the pilgrims--Miller, Reeve, Cook, Manciple, Shipman, and so on--all show marriage so heavily conflicted by adultery that one wonders how it can be referred to as a sacrament of "hooly chirche" at all. Even among those of "hyer degree," like the Merchant, Franklin, Wife of Bath, Physician, and Man of Law, marriage, and related family matters, suffer, in one way or another, as a sacramental standard every time they are engaged. To argue that Chaucer condemns marriage as a failed institution--an argument that could be made on the basis of his examples--tends to overshadow what may be his actual concern: the decline of sacramental validity in a church disunited, and rendered essentially headless, by profound Schism.

That Chaucer intends for us to read the Canon's Yeoman's Tale as an argument in favor of via cessionis as the best way to resolve the Great Schism can be seen clearly in the conclusion he fashions for the Tale. Several critics, who do not read the Tale this way, have taken exception to Chaucer's method of ending the Yeoman's performance based on the perception that it does not accord well artistically with everything that has gone before. Britton J. Harwood argues that the conclusion has an inappropriate tone because Chaucer fails to establish a proper groundwork for articulating it. Britton also asserts that the "tale as ideological project splits secunda off from prima by acting to substitute the second for the first part" (345). Albert E. Hartung takes a more direct approach to this same issue by suggesting that Chaucer intended to cancel prima pars completely and replace it with pars secunda in order to illustrate more clearly Hartung's idea that "all alchemical claims are likely to be fraudulent" (123). He argues, of course, that this idea is also Chaucer's purpose in telling the story of the false Canon.

In the conclusion to his Tale, however, the Yeoman, quoting Plato, argues that the philosopher's stone cannot be revealed to anyone by spoken word or in writing because


unto Crist it is so lief and deere

That he wol nat that it discovered bee,

But where it liketh to his deitee

Men for t'enspire, and eek for to deffende

Whom that hym liketh; (VIII.1467-1471)


In other words, the stone and its power to affect a "cure of the soule" can only be revealed or given to those people who God chooses to inspire and defend in the knowledge of that power. The Yeoman advises his audience to give up the quest for the stone, since only God can decide who shall have it, and that to persist in the search will turn one into God's "adversarie,"

As for to werken any thyng in contrarie

Of his wil, certes, never shal he thryve,

Though that he multiplie terme of his lyve. (VIII.1476-1479)

Howard Kaminsky cites a canon law, "Si duo forte contra fas" (79. di., c. 8), upon which Simon de Cramaud depended for his arguments against the schismatic popes, which says that


If two men shall have been ordained [pope], perhaps irregularly, by the rashness of contending parties, we permit neither of those to be priest [i. e., pope]. But we deem that only he should remain in the apostolic see whom the divine judgement and the consent of the whole body shall have elected, by a new ordination, from among the clergy. (Kaminsky, 185-186)


The problem for the fourteenth century church was that both popes had been elected by the same college of cardinals and, as Kaminsky notes, "there could indeed be no greater disaster for the church than the termination of the true line of succession to Peter by means of a coerced abdication on the part of the true pope and a subsequent new election by pseudo-cardinals" (184). This is true because such an action would perpetuate a false papacy in the holy see forever.

This is precisely the problem Chaucer addresses by advocating the forced removal of a "canon religious" from a "covent" if he proves to be a Judas. That he places his statement clearly between prima pars and pars secunda implies he is pointing at both Canons simultaneously. Like a diptych, with the two sides facing each other, the Canon's Yeoman's Tale is folded along the hinge of his statement condemning the false member of the corporate body of the church. The differences between one Canon and the other are accounted for in the perception nearly everyone shared that the two schismatic popes both needed to be replaced, even if only one of them was the impostor. The Yeoman's Canon, like Urban VI and Boniface IX from the point of view of the Avignon obedience, is inept and continually plagued by ineffective decisions and judgments that makes him incapable of being the true pope. Many people in the opposite obedience considered the Roman line to be antipopes. The second Canon, like Clement VII and Benedict XIII, from the point of view of Chaucer's standpoint in the Urbanist obedience, is the antipope, even the antichrist, because he does not possess the right to appoint the occupants of benefices and so sells fake recipes for the cure of souls to gullible and avaricious priests for his own material gain. Chaucer, through the Yeoman, damns the one as the "feend" and argues that the other be driven out of the company, "for verray sowre and shame," before both together completely destroy "hooly chirche." The method Chaucer advocates, while waiting for "divine judgement," which has not manifested itself in the twenty-two years prior to his death, is via cessionis, the same formula advanced by Charles VI and Simon de Cramaud in France and by Richard II and John of Gaunt in England. Chaucer's solution to the greatest controversy of his age is wholly orthodox and artistically profound. His poem is perfectly balanced to reflect the positions separating the two contending parties, favoring the Urbanist point of view; his point is beautifully articulated; his conclusion, "as for the beste, lete it goon" (VIII.1475), cannot be more aptly put.


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