WHITECROW BORDERLAND

Chapter 7: Chaucer's "Historial Thynge Notable": Elements of Schismatic Heresy in the Performances of the Physician, Pardoner, and Shipman.

When Chaucer has his Physician refer to the story of Virginia as an "historial thyng notable" (VI.156), just after he introduces by name the false and corrupt "juge" Apius, some sense of temporal dislocation may well strike the modern audience's perception of value as that concept resonates through the Doctor's discourse. One ought to ask immediately why such a story is historically notable. The question matters because so many of Chaucer's readers and editors over the years have found the Tale notable only in its failure to exhibit any redeeming artistic value whatsoever. Nevill Coghill, for instance, notes that it is the "faultiest" story in the collection--"in spite of much line-to-line brilliance in the writing"--and "even when it is considered in isolation, simply as a story, it has crushing demerits" (126). The reasons Coghill gives for this assessment are suggestive. He says that "a story that extols the protective murder of a young girl by her father, to save her from violation, is a horrifying piece of sentimental savagery; had the murder been done in the heat of the moment, it might be endurable" (126-127). Coghill's comments here are suggestive because Chaucer's alterations to his source material deliberately creates its "sentimental savagery," since the murder of Virginia in the original version (Livy's) was committed in the "heat of the moment," whereas Chaucer makes it the result of a contemplative act on the part of her father. We can, of course, simply assume a lapse in Chaucer's artistic ability here and never look for a motive underlying the changes he made to the source. That approach, however, does suggest that contemporary critics are more sensitive to what constitutes horror in human society than fourteenth century poets were.

In order to reach a full appreciation of Chaucer's work in the Physician's Tale, it is necessary to note that he appropriates an idea from the Man of Law's Tale and brings it forward as a supplement to the Physician's speech performance, using it to define the philosophical parameters of his story of Virginia. When Custance responds to her father's decision to send her to Syria to marry the Sowdan, she says that "Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,/ And to been under mannes governance" (II.286-287). The Sowdanesse plucks that same concept out of Custance's mouth and uses it as the foundation of her argument against Christian law, expanding its application to include both men and women as long as they are infidels, when she says to her council that they must resist the spread of Christianity:


What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe

But thraldom to oure bodies and penance,

And afterward in helle to be drawe? (II.337-339)


What is so remarkably striking about the transformation of that statement is its obvious connection to Bakhtin's concept of how the word of the other is transformed by its reinscription from Custance's relatively innocent Christian perception into the Sowdenesse's menacingly destructive Islamic version of the same thing. Custance does not mention the concept of physical slavery ("thraldom to oure bodies") that becomes so important to the Islamic version of the sentiment as the Sowdenesse rejects the possibility of the spread of the "newe lawe."

Chaucer's use of source material often follows a similar pattern of subtle alteration and we need to take note of the fact that these two statements are not exactly identical. In fact, the profound difference between one and the other begs an equally profound question: what precisely is it about Christianity's distinction from Islam that makes the Sowdanesse claim that Christian law will bind Islamic people to a thralldom to their bodies (and penance) which they do not already have and suffer from? One can understand how betraying Mohammed will condemn Islamic people to hell if they convert to Christianity, from their perspective at least. What is considerably less clear is why the Sowdanesse argues that Christian law will convert them to a slavery to their bodies if they accept Christianity. Christ's law, after all, is supposed to be just as otherworldly in its orientation as Islamic belief claims to be. Both are concerned primarily with the beatific afterlife and how one must behave to have any hope of achieving it. The Sowdanesse's addition of only three words ("to oure bodies") curiously amplifies and transforms Custance's earlier complaint to her father, where she is responding to being sent away to the land of the infidels, into a statement that seems "nowadays" to be slightly off the mark of how Christianity is generally perceived.

Even a cursory reading of the Parson's Tale, however, greatly clarifies the issue. The Parson argues that Adam's sin was essentially one of concupiscence brought about by Eve's "delit of the flessh," when she saw the forbidden fruit. He says:


the feend tempted Eve--that is to seyn, the flessh--and the flessh hadde delit in the beautee of the fruyt defended, yet certes, til that resoun--that is to seyn, Adam--consented to the etynge of the fruyt, yet stood he in th'estaat of innocence. Of thilke Adam tooke we thilke synne original, for of hym flesshly descended be we alle, and engendred of vile and corrupt mateere. (X.331-332)


He goes on to suggest that as soon as the soul enters the body it comes into contact with the flesh and is corrupted by original sin (X.333). There is a rather inevitable tendency in this view to equate sex with sin, since human beings are conceived sexually and that act brings the soul into contact with the body in every newly "engendred" person. In a rather lengthy passage outlining venial sin (X.371-380), the Parson lists the following offenses:


every tyme that a man eteth or drynketh moore than suffiseth to the sustenaunce of his body. . . . whan he is in heele of body and wol nat faste whan other folk faste. . . whan he slepeth moore than nedeth, or whan he cometh by thilke enchesoun to late to chirche, or to othere werks of charitee . . . whan he useth his wyf withouten soveregn desir of engendrure to the honour of God or for the entente to yelde to his wyf the dette of his body . . . [then] thise thynges, and mo withoute nombre, been synnes, as seith Seint Augustyn. (X.372-380)


Since most of the sins he lists are concerned either directly or indirectly with overt physical activity, the fact that Christians are enslaved by their bodies by faith is indisputable. He even suggests that to be ill is better than to be well when he notes that "the flessh is a ful greet enemy to the soule, and therfore, the moore that the body is hool, the moore we be in peril to falle" (X.457). The cure for every sin, of course, is penance.

The fact that Chaucer pulls the notion that Christianity creates a physical slavery among its adherents forward into the world of the Physician's Tale is precisely the proper artistic thing to do for any number of compelling reasons. Both stories sport a veneer of setting in ancient Rome. Both, however, can be shown to possess as much concern for Chaucer's contemporary milieu as they do for the foreign and alien past. The first section of the Man of Law's Tale, as already noted, points toward the disaster of the Nicopolis crusade which was raised as a joint venture of militant Christianity against the spread of Islam into the Balkan peninsula in the later half of the fourteenth century, a joint venture because it involved knights loyal to both the Avignon and Roman obediences of the Great Schism, which did not end until nearly twenty years after the crusade in 1417. One can say, then, that the crusade was sent "from Rome" just as Custance was. The result in both cases was the nearly total annihilation of Christians by the infidels. Both stories also concern Christian virgins who are oppressed by "mannes governance": Custance by her father; Virginia by Apius first, and then by her father, Virginius, afterwards. It is also true, of course, that both women suffer in their bodies as much as they do in any other way. Custance is condemned twice to floating aimlessly on the ocean and Virginia losses her head. In short, there are significant parallels between the two stories.

That Chaucer assigns the story of Virginia to a fourteenth century Physician can perhaps only be understood and fully appreciated in light of the idea that Christianity converts, or condemns, women to a thralldom to their bodies and penance. The Physician, as his portrait in the General Prologue makes clear, is primarily concerned with material reality ("he lovede gold in special"--I.444) and because of his profession is given to the treatment of a person's physical ailments in a context (pilgrimage) that may more properly demand attention to the spiritual needs of his community. If one perceives his audience of fellow pilgrims as patients, a reading of the story suggested afterward by Harry Bailly's response to the speech performance, it is clear that the Physician's words have failed to cure anyone of a spiritual "disese." The Parson's notion that a healthy body is a danger to the life of the soul (X.457) may also implicate the Physician in a kind of inescapable sin by virtue of his profession. The notion that Christians are forced by their faith to become slaves to their bodies, where spiritual concerns are a predominant aspect of the official discourse of the church, entailing an obvious contradiction, if not outright hypocrisy, which has always colored the concerns of the official doctrine of the ecclesiastical estate, comes clearly into focus in the Physician's performance because he is a materialist who has been given, or foolishly takes upon himself, the impossible task of addressing the spiritual needs of Harry Bailly's flock. Chaucer plays him off against the unspoken existence in everyone's mind of the ideal of absolute perfection in that role which the church has always attributed to Christ as the Great Physician. The Savior, whose exalted role as "man-God" saves the world of sinners by his sacrifice on the Cross, is both man's best and only hope for the cure of souls. Giving that function over to the Physician of the General Prologue constitutes an inescapably obvious parody which the speech performance actualizes in a complex series of alterations to the source. The changes Chaucer makes in Livy, Jean de Meun, and Gower, if he actually knew all three versions, determine the development of characterization and event along the lines of his conscious purpose to create a parody of "mannes governance" of every woman's "thraldom to [their] bodies and penance" that both Custance and the Sowdanesse mention in the Man of Law's Tale.

Some critics of the Physician's Tale have objected to Chaucer's addition of the long digression on "governance" to his sources (VI.72-102), claiming in general that it detracts from the swift execution of the moral sentence required by an exemplum. Careful analysis of the passage, however, in light of what has already been said about the relationship between "mannes governance" and Christianity's enforcement of a law that makes women thralls to their bodies and penance, reveals that those objections run largely against the intentions of Chaucer's design in pairing the Physician and the Pardoner together in Fragment VI of the Ellesmere sequence. The Physician says:


And ye maistresses, in youre olde lyf,

That lordes doghtres han in governaunce,

Ne taketh of my wordes no displesaunce.

Thenketh that ye been set in governynges

Of lordes doghtres oonly for two thynges:

Outher for ye han kept youre honestee,

Or elles ye han falle in freletee,

And knowen well ynough the olde daunce,

And han forsaken fully swich meschaunce

For everemo; therfore, for Cristes sake,

To teche hem vertu looke that ye ne slake. (VI.72-82)


The first three lines here need to be read as mockery unless one can believe that a man who tells the story of a father who cuts off his daughter's head to preserve her virginity actually cares if he offends an apostrophized governess or two. The Physician surely does not believe he will offend anyone by saying they have kept their honesty. He must, therefore, mean to imply that the other reason is the one that has brought them to the occupation of being governesses and explains why they are so well-equipped to perform that service to the lords. They know the "olde daunce" (sexual intercourse) and may, or may not, have managed to forsake it for "everemo," as he implies they must do if they are going to be able effectively to "teche hem vertu." And finally, what precisely is it they must "ne slake?" Does he mean teaching "vertu"; or avoiding the "olde daunce?"

Chaucer probably clarifies that point in his depiction of the Physician's character when he has him speak directly to fathers and mothers in closing the digression. He says that if they exhibit "necligence in chastisynge" to the extent that their children perish ("perisse"), the parents themselves "shul it deere abeye" (VI.98-100). The one thing Virginius can never be faulted for is showing any reluctance to chastise Virginia, since he cuts off her head simply because she has inspired a corrupt judge to lust after her excessive physical beauty, if Harry Bailly is to be taken seriously, or because of her excessive virtue, if the Physician has read his own sentence correctly. One can argue that both qualities are the de facto causes of her murder. The point to be taken here, whatever the cause might be for Virginia's death, is that the Physician's Tale severely undercuts and calls into question the validity of the idea that Christian law should be read in such a way as to force women especially, and everyone else in general, to become thralls to their bodies and penance "under mannes governance." That is what happens to Virginia and no one has ever argued that she deserves the fate she receives.

One obvious intention of approaching Chaucer's Physician in this way is to suggest that he plays the deliberate role of the fool in telling the story of Virginia's murder. That reading may seem contradictory in one sense because there is nothing parodically humorous about a father who cuts off his daughter's head in order to present it to the corrupt judge who threatens to rob her of her virginity. In comments M. M. Bakhtin makes about the role of the rogue, the clown, and the fool in medieval literature (DI, 158-167), he suggests that, while the characterization of the three forms may differ slightly in actual application, the author's objective in having them in place never varies. That purpose is to unmask the hypocrisy or duplicity of the official word of a society's dominant discourse. While it might also be true that the Physician does not play a traditional role as a fool, Harry Bailly's ridicule of his speech performance, especially in the Host's deliberate use and misuse of medical jargon (VI.304-307), referring to his self-diagnosed heart-attack ("cardynacle"--VI.311-312), for instance, and in his jest about having "oure lady Seinte Marie" (VI.308) bless the Physician's "urynals," the Doctor is exposed as a man too foolish to be trusted in his attempt to create or project the proper curative or moral atmosphere necessary to sustain the telling of a serious tale of moralitas. The connection this has to Chaucer's motivation in placing the Physician's Tale at the beginning of part two of the Canterbury pilgrimage, as the first story in the final twelve tales yet to be told, is purely a structural decision on the one hand but is a decision that speaks directly to the development of his theme in the tale-structure of the work as a whole on the other. Implying that the Physician ought to be read as a type of the "Great Physician," but one who is clearly inept and medically suspect, since he fails to provide any sense of cure to his patients, constitutes a vital ground upon which Chaucer builds a parodic interplay against the dominant discourse of the church in spiritual matters where they intersect with the notion that Christian believers are traditionally seen and described as becoming thralls to their bodies and penance. This plays out against "mannes governance," of course, since the church's ruling hierarchy is essentially masculine.

Another way to approach this same issue is through Chaucer's use of pagan myth to suggest the Physician's connection to the Great Healer of Christian faith. He does this initially by referring to Esculapius in his portrait of the Physician in the General Prologue (I.429) as being one of the Doctor's medical authorities. Balancing Esculapius against Christ simply juxtaposes the great healer of the ancient and pagan world against the Great Physician of the contemporary Christian milieu of Chaucer's era. Chaucer approaches the subject of Esculapius's birth in the Manciple's Tale but does not include every detail about the affair in his redaction of Ovid's story. In the Metamorphoses, Ovid relates the fact of Coronis's infidelity, which is communicated to Phebus by the white raven, as the Manciple says. In the Manciple's Tale, however, mention of the unnatural birth of Esculapius is not included in the story. Esculapius was torn from his dead mother's womb by Phebus after the god killed her and was given into the care of the Centaur Chiron, who taught him the arts of medicine. Being a demi-god, Esculapius is immortal and hence cannot die. As the fates would have it, however, Esculapius gains the power to raise the dead from the realm of Hades, an act which angers the god of the underworld, and Esculapius is killed by a lightening bolt from Jove. Later, Esculapius is restored to life; that is, he is resurrected from the dead.

The most obvious connection this material from Ovid's story has to Fragment VI and Chaucer's concern there with physical and spiritual healing concerns the identity of the old man who leads the three revelers to "Deeth" in the Pardoner's Tale. One can say, in fact, that Esculapius acts as a bridge between the two narrators in the Fragment. A close reading of the old man's characterization and interaction with the three revelers reveals a series of parallels with the mythic figure of Esculapius that makes Chaucer's intention to identify him as such apparent. The Greek form of the name (Asclepius) itself means "unceasingly gentle" and Chaucer marks that aspect of his character immediately upon his appearance in the Tale when the Pardoner describes how he greets the revelers: "This olde man ful mekely hem grette" (VI.719). The rioters respond to his greeting by calling him a "carl, with sory grace" and ask impertinent questions, completely ignoring throughout the encounter even the most minimal demands of courtesy and gentillesse. The old man refuses to be provoked by their unrelenting rudeness and threats of physical violence, taking his leave of them 53 lines later by commending them to the safety of God's grace: "God save yow, that boght agayn mankynde,/ And yow amende!" (VI.766-767). One aspect of a sense of schismatic heresy that can be gotten from the scene concerns the fact that the old man's blessing and God's grace do not save the three revelers. The blessing of a "Great Physician," pagan though he may be, and their refusal to "amende," mark them for the same kind of spiritual death everyone else in the century faced because of the Schism.

The Latin form of the name, which seems more likely to contain a knowledge Chaucer would have known, means "that which hangs from the esculent oak" (Graves, 176), where Chaucer's spelling of the name ("Esculapius") is wholly consistent with the "edible" signature of the tree. This reading of the Latin plays well into the subject of the Pardoner's concerns with gluttony. The reference, of course, is to mistletoe, which, if consumed in too great a quantity, can be poisonously fatal. Robert Graves notes that the parasitic plant


was regarded as the oak-tree's genitals, and when the Druids ritually lopped it with a golden-sickle, they were performing a symbolic emasculation. The viscous juice of its berries passed for oak-sperm, a liquid of great regenerative virtue. Sir James Frazer has pointed out in his Golden Bough that Aeneas visited the Underworld with mistletoe in his hand, and thus held the power of returning at will to the upper air. (176)


The fact that the old man points the revelers specifically to an oak tree ("Se ye that ook?"--VI.765), telling them that he has recently left death there himself ("For in that grove I lafte him"--VI.761), where they find instead "Wel ny an eighte busshels" (VI.771) of gold florins and suspend their search for "Deeth" (VI.772), suggests strongly enough that Chaucer may well be drawing here on his own natural knowledge of native English myth and legend as a way of supplementing his Latin source to identify the character of the old man as Esculapius. That the Pardoner does not "wynne" the pilgrims' gold at the end of the Tale also suggests he is cut off, even emasculated, in his desire to enrich himself. The fact that Harry Bailly threatens to castrate him functions as a further sign of his failure to win the pilgrims' gold and also points compellingly to this reading of the Pardoner's story. It does not overburden one's sense of logic to equate the gold florins with the golden bough of the mistletoe in light of the Pardoner's avaricious interest in money, as he "quytes" the Physician, who shares the same overblown concern for gold, when that is conjoined with all the other parallels this interpretation suggests. Once again it seems imperative to note the significance of the reference to the "Great Physician" that both stories draw to our attention. The failure to cure body or soul in Fragment VI stems from the condition of schismatic heresy in the church.

The Pardoner's sexual deformity, if it actually exists, can be read quite comfortably in the context of the "symbolic emasculation" associated with Druidic legend. The "stile" (VI.712), where the revelers encounter the old man, suggests the existence of a barrier between one world and another--or the next--that must be crossed in order to reach the killing ground in the sacred grove of trees where the murders actually take place. Graves also notes that in sacred rituals "the blood of the sacrificed oak-king, or of his child surrogate, is likely to have been dispensed, as well as mistletoe juice" (177). The fact that the youngest rioter, chosen through the drawing of lots, is killed by his knife-wielding companions when he returns from the town, while they both die from ingesting the poison he left for them in the wine, is consistent with the terms of the ritual sacrifice associated with the oak-hero. Gluttons, in this case, overindulging in the sacred juice of the mistletoe/wine, die. That Chaucer's Pardoner draws this element of his story from pagan myth and legend, the very ones that Christianity struggled so long to overcome and supplant in native England, can come as no surprise to anyone, since that is perfectly consistent with his very nature. He does promise, with his bulls of indulgence, a way out of the underworld (purgatory) to anyone foolish enough to invest in his style of "grace." The fact that he exchanges that passage for gold also binds his actions, in another comic-ironic twist, to the golden bough of classical myth. The fact that Chaucer does not mention the birth of Esculapius in the Manciple's version of the story serves to double the sense of how lost and forlorn ordinary Christians were during the Schism, since the "Great Physician" was never born at all in the story that concludes the fabula told before the Parson begins his sermon.

To return to the question of whether the Physician is deliberately cast in a parodic role and takes on the character of the rogue or the fool consciously in his speech performance, or whether he is merely inept as a story-teller and makes a fool of himself because he does not know better than to take on a theme beyond his own verbal and intellectual expertise, is one that cannot be answered on the basis of Harry Bailly's response to Virginia's fate. As we have already seen, Harry's perception of Chaucer's intent, and it is Chaucer who determines the Physician's role in the context, cannot be trusted to tell us anything about the motivations of his creator. Chaucer's intent, whether the Physician is consciously engaged in achieving it with his maker or not, is to expose the hypocrisy and falsehood that underlies the dominant discourse of the church, especially with respect to the fact or impression that Christians must become thralls to their bodies in the practice of their faith. Bakhtin argues that the rogue and the fool have the right "to be 'other' in this world" because the normal categories of life are ill-suited to them (DI, 159). The Physician has read numerous (15) medical authorities, according to the General Prologue (I.429-435), most of which were probably as obscure to Chaucer's audience as they are to us, whereas "His studie was but litel on the Bible" (I.438), a line that has attracted considerable critical attention in proving one thing or another about the Physician's character. What seems obvious about the juxtaposition is that, in an age dominated by scriptural reality, as the Parson's Tale makes clear, the Physician has chosen for himself another path, one that denies the "normal" categories of biblical study in favor of more arcane and mysterious pursuits that most people do not comprehend. Bakhtin also argues that rogues and fools "see the underside and falseness of every situation" and act in response to that duplicity (DI, 159). In the case of the Physician, of course, he exposes the falseness and duplicity of Apius's court but, at the same time, because Chaucer manipulates the source material made available to his narrator, the Doctor also calls into question the response of Virginius to the court's corruption by having him carefully and deliberately contemplate, and then perform, a brutal and savage murder against his own innocent daughter. That act cannot be more perfectly described than as one which demonstrates how Christian law, pursuant to virginity especially, makes women thralls to their bodies and penance under "mannes governance."

Coming to terms with this issue in Chaucer's work carries us forward again, without any noticeable discontinuity, to the Pardoner's Tale in Fragment VI. Early critical opinion occasionally refers to Chaucer's Pardoner as a rogue, but without ever developing or pursuing that idea in terms that might bring us to a clearer understanding of Chaucer's intent in his depiction of the man. As already noted, M. M. Bakhtin has provided a useful assessment of the figure of the rogue in his relationship to parodic forms that speaks well and consistently to the issues raised by Chaucer's Pardoner. A significant advantage in Bakhtin's assessment is the fact that he relates it specifically to medieval contexts.

Before turning directly to that assessment, however, it is necessary to take note of the fact that Chaucer's depiction of the Pardoner cannot be characterized as a straightforward presentation of a unidimensional figure. One can argue that Chaucer starts him out as a rogue but changes him into a fool, which is not at all the same thing, when he gives him up at the end of the Tale to trying to sell his indulgences to the pilgrims. In short, "the simpleminded incomprehension of the fool," as Bakhtin puts it (DI, 162), asserts itself in the Pardoner's attempt to sell the power of his relics and indulgences to people who have already heard him admit their authenticity might be questionable. He simply misjudges his audience and his own power to persuade them to his point of view. He must believe at the end of his performance that he has gulled his audience into accepting his promise of pardon in the afterlife. He does not anticipate the possibility that anyone, especially his primary target--Harry Bailly--will stand up with principle between him and the gratification of his desire. His failure to recognize himself as others see him does tend to stamp him clearly as a fool.

Bakhtin characterizes the figure of the rogue under three broad and general categories of place, identity, and behavior. He notes, for instance, that rogues "carry with them into literature first a vital connection with the theatrical trappings of the public square, with the mask of the public spectacle; they are connected with that highly specific, extremely important area of the square where the common people congregate" (DI, 159). This statement reflects several obvious facts about the Pardoner. He makes it clear that his usual audience is composed of "lewed peple." He goes where he finds them; in church preferably because the pulpit from which he preaches acts as the "mask of the public spectacle" behind which the duplicity of his own performance is concealed. Since his performance is sanctioned by the church, his duplicity becomes the duplicity of the official word. The pulpit reinforces the validity of the seals and signs affixed to his bulls of indulgence. The act we are allowed to witness takes place as a theatrical performance of the road. It is carnivalesque to say the least. His insistence on stopping at the "alestake" so he can "drynke and eten of a cake" (VI.321-322) draws the ultimate theatrical performance of the medieval church into his parodic play because it reflects the Passion of Christ in the mass.

In discussing the identity of the rogue, Bakhtin notes that "[t]heir very appearance, everything they do and say, cannot be understood in a direct and unmediated way but must be grasped metaphorically . . . one cannot take them literally, because they are not what they seem" (DI, 159). With respect to the Pardoner, of course, this evaluation is virtually self-evident. In the General Prologue, Chaucer uses three different metaphorical figures to present various aspects of his character: "Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare" (I.684); "A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot" (I.688); and, "I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare" (I.691). Each of these figures has received its share of critical attention and are put forward here only to emphasize the metaphorical aspects of Chaucer's depiction. The most significant point might be that the Pardoner is metaphorically presented from the inside out, since the glaring eyes are visible to anyone, the voice reflects an interior quality perceived externally, while the reference to the horse, if it has anything to do with his sexual being, is external but concealed beneath his clothes. In the Prologue, the Pardoner identifies himself metaphorically as a bird, "As dooth a dowve sittynge on a berne" (VI.397), when he preaches in church, and later as a serpent, "Thus spitte I out my venym under hewe/ Of hoolynesse" (VI.421-422). The figure of the "dowve" is used by Chaucer to cast a shadow of piety across his speech performance, since the biblical dove metaphorically suggests the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven during Christ's baptism. The fact that it ends up on the roof of a barn in Chaucer's redaction points more than just a subtle finger at his parodic intent.

Given so many metaphorical dodges, it becomes nearly impossible to say who or what the Pardoner actually is; or perhaps more properly in the spirit of Bakhtin's analysis of the rogue, one must recognize the fact that under the various masks of hare, goat, horse, bird, serpent, and savior, there is little or no identity under the Pardoner's metaphorical masks at all. He is so covered over with metaphorical skin that he ceases to exist as anything recognizable as human. Bakhtin states that the rogues' existence "is a reflection of some other's mode of being--and then, not a direct reflection. They are life's maskers; their being coincides with their role, and outside this role they simply do not exist" (DI, 159). In elaborating this final point, Bakhtin argues that "they can exploit any position they choose, but only as a mask" (DI, 159). The rogue's entire purpose "consists in externalizing things" but he is never able to bring out his own character, since he has nothing of his own but is only able to produce "a reflected, alien being" (DI, 160).

Bakhtin also argues that the origin of the rogue and the fool is tied directly to medieval life and literature. He suggests that during the Middle Ages the "feudal structure" of society pervaded all areas of human life with a "vulgar conventionality" that prevented the expression of natural human needs and desires. An example of what Bakhtin is referring to here might be the fact that the Pardoner preaches against gluttony, where eating and drinking, and sexual expression too if lechery is included under the heading of gluttony, are not only natural human instincts impossible to repress but are also, in the case of the first two, absolutely necessary to sustaining life. While excessive eating and drinking may be the actual object of condemning gluttony, where any pleasure at all derived from sex is prohibited, the fact remains that attempts to repress what every person experiences as necessary to life, and hearing those things routinely condemned from the pulpit, can only result in a sense that hypocrisy and falsehood must lie somewhere under the surface of every official speech act pronounced by a representative of the clergy. The Parson's sermon makes this point perfectly obvious, since everything he condemns, and everything the Sowdanesse objects to, comes back to rest on the condemnation of the physical body. This again is precisely the concept that the notion of Christians becoming slaves to their bodies represents in Chaucer's examination of both physical acts of curing and spiritual acts of absolving sins through penance.

The Pardoner clearly focuses on physical activity considered by the church to be sinful and Bakhtin argues that hypocrisy and falsehood did indeed "saturate all human relationships" during the Middle Ages and that, as a result,


healthy 'natural' functions of human nature are fulfilled, so to speak, only in ways that are contraband and savage, because the reigning ideology will not sanction them. This introduces falsehood and duplicity into all human life. All ideological forms, that is, institutions, become hypocritical and false, while real life, denied any ideological directives, becomes crude and bestial. (DI, 162)


In response to the hypocrisy of the official, direct word, and in forms that are meant to mock and undermine its authority, Bakhtin sees both the rogue and the fool as emergent forces in society directed against the official position of the dominant discourse: "[o]pposed to convention and functioning as a force for exposing it, we have the level-headed, cheery and clever wit of the rogue (in the form of a villain . . . a young itinerant cleric, a tramp belonging to no class), . . . and the simpleminded incomprehension of the fool" (DI, 162). The Pardoner's performance exposes, through his failure to collect alms from the pilgrims, the fact that the church, at Becket's shrine, will certainly not fail to "fleece" the pilgrims when they arrive at their destination but will collect as much money from them as it possibly can. Chaucer's parody is meant to place one act beside the other where one cannot help but look beneath the exposed skin of the official, direct word which lives its full and glorious life "under hewe/ Of hoolynesse" at Canterbury. This is not to say that Chaucer necessarily condemns such practices out of hand but, in the age of Schism, where the issue of simony and ecclesiastical avarice have become so public in debate, as Kaminsky suggests, and are seen as causes in themselves for the profound disunity of the church, one must credit Chaucer with bringing those issues to the attention of his audience in the full force of his articulation of them. The fact that Chaucer depicts the Pardoner as a schismatic heretic in the General Prologue suggests his target for parody is the state of the church itself and not some general and non-specific concern for abuse in ecclesiastical circles. That Canterbury itself might be a target of Chaucer's parody is a possibility that cannot be overlooked.

The argument, then, that brings both Tales of Fragment VI together in a single purpose can be found in the fact that the story of Virginia, in its capacity as an "hisrorial thynge notable," is a fictional account of the circumstances that led to the election of Urban VI on April 8, 1378, where the Pardoner's performance is meant to demonstrate the social, political, and ecclesiastical consequences of schismatic heresy in society at large. Reading the Physician's Tale in this context demands recognition of several relatively apparent facts. Chaucer's alteration of his source material, as several critics have noticed, foregrounds the character and fate of Virginia as a central focus of attention, where previous versions of the story concentrated on the political implications of corrupt civil justice in Roman courts of law. That could also be a concern of Chaucer's, since both civil and ecclesiastical justice in England at the end of the fourteenth century were not paragons of virtuous activity. Chaucer's redaction of the story, however, tends to de-emphasize that aspect of the Tale in favor of a more predominant concern for the state and nature of Virginia's virginal and virtuous character. Going outside Canterbury, as R. Howard Block has attempted to do, for an explanation of Chaucer's possible motives in foregrounding virginity oppressed by "mannes governance," which in this case is more properly called lechery, is actually unnecessary, since the Parson, in two separate passages, provides us with a reasonable cause for Chaucer's decision.

In his discussion of remedies to lechery, the Parson argues that "chastitee" is one available recourse to the avoidance of sin:


The thridde manere of chastitee is virginitee, and it bihoveth that she be hooly in herte and clene of body. Thanne is she spouse of Jhesu Crist, and she is the lyf of angeles. She is the preisynge of this world, and she is as thise martirs in egalitee; she hath in hire that tonge may nat telle ne herte thynke. (X.948-949)


The Physician characterizes Virginia in terms that seem perfectly consistent with the Parson's description of the "spouse to Jhesu Crist" when he says


For in hir lyvyng maydens myghten rede,

As in a book, every good word or dede

That longeth to a mayden virtuous,

She was so prudent and so bountevous.

For which the fame out sprong on every syde,

Bothe of hir beautee and hir bountee wyde,

That thurgh that land they preised hire echone

That loved vertu, save Envye allone, (VI.105-114)


One hesitates to belabor the obvious here but Virginia does seem to be very much the same thing that the Parson's description of the perfect virgin embodies. She is herself best read like a book by other people because in her is everything that "tonge may nat telle ne herte thynke." With the impulse to occupatio aside, the Physician here implies that Virginia's virtue is so complete and absolute that words cannot do justice to her nature--just seeing her is like reading it in a book. The Parson's virgin is the glory ("preisynge") of this world and everyone in Virginia's land, except "Envye allone," who loves virtue, praises her. And, clearly, lechery literally raises her "in egalitee" to the level of the other martyrs when her father cuts off her head to preserve her virginity from being despoiled by Apius's lust. Virginia does not just embody the Parson's word; she enacts it.

That Virginia is also the "spouse of Jhesu Crist" cannot be overlooked or ignored in the wider context of fourteenth century ideological history. In describing his first remedy against lechery, the Parson explains the church's official position with regard to "chastitee in mariage" (X.915). He says:


This is verray mariage, that was establissed by God, er that synne bigan, whan natureel lawe was in his right poynt in paradys; and it was ordeyned that o man sholde have but o womman, and o womman have but o man as seith Seint Augustyn, by many resouns.

First, for mariage is figured betwixe Crist and hooly chirche. And that oother is for a man is heved of a womman; algate, by ordenaunce it sholde be so. For if a womman hadde mo men than oon, thanne sholde she have moo hevedes than oon, and that were an horrible thyng biforn God; and eek a womman ne myghte nat plese to many folk at oones. And also ther ne sholde nevere be pees ne feste amonges hem, for everich wolde axen his owene thyng. (X.920-922)


The true bride of Christ, as the Parson points out, is "hooly chirche" and that inescapable union between the savior and the virgin is the model that underlies all human marriage relationships. A pertinent question here is why Chaucer elected to suppress the existence of Virginia's fiancee, Icilius, from the other versions of the story he may have known. As the bride of Christ, as a symbol of "hooly chirche," Virginia cannot be betrothed to any human being. She must be completely unattached, free of involvement with the human world, so that there will be no impediment to her elevation as the bride of the "Great Physician," who hovers over the story, as its de facto "narrator," until the sword of the Father relieves her of her head ("heved"). This happens because the Roman mob in 1378 threatened to kill the college of cardinals if they failed to elect an Italian (Bartolomeo Prignano) to replace Gregory XI. In September of that same year, after deposing Urban VI on August 9th, they replaced him with Robert of Geneva (Clement VII) and thereby rendered "hooly chirche" headless because no woman can have "moo hevedes than oon" and no church can survive with more than one pope.

After the church is "beheaded" in the Physician's Tale, Chaucer gives us a "gentil Pardoner/ Of Rouncivale . . . That streight was comen fro the court of Rome" (I.669-671) and we are allowed to witness in every way possible precisely what the schismatic heresy of the fourteenth century gave to each and everyone of its varied citizens--all of whom accompany Chaucer on his pilgrimage. That Chaucer means for us to read the Pardoner in that way is inescapable because his form of abuse, converting alms collections to his own avaricious use, is precisely the one that Boniface IX condemned in 1390, just before or just after he gave the Pardoner his indulgence. He springs into view like a tree--complete down to his very root--"Radix malorum est Cupiditas!"--and he grows out of the ground of the Schism.

What remains to be seen in this context is how Chaucer linked his Physician and Pardoner to the Shipman's Tale and the rest of Fragment VII in the Ellesmere sequence. That connection rests on the end of Fragment VI, specifically Harry Bailly's threat to castrate the Pardoner, and the first line of the Shipman's speech performance: "A marchant whilom dwelled at Seint-Denys" (VII.1). Some of the questions that can be answered by recognizing Chaucer's intention to link Fragments VI and VII definitively in a straightforward and unequivocal sequence speak to concerns about the state of his work when he died and whether or not Canterbury is whole or fragmentary, revised or unfinished. Was the Shipman's Tale, at some point in the development of the literary production, assigned to the Wife of Bath? Are the apparent feminine references in lines 11-19 of the Shipman's story an indication that, after Chaucer switched narrators for the Tale, he failed to revise his work? Answering these two questions with ideas that differ from conventional critical wisdom necessitates a reasonable response based on evidence gathered from Chaucer's text in a best case scenario but, failing that, one must offer a reasonable explanation based on the fourteenth century sociohistorical milieu that affected Chaucer's work as he developed the Canterbury Tales as a whole. Qualifying a projection of evidence in this way does not mean that there is none to support the position but does suggest that both approaches are necessary to make the argument convincing.

C. David Benson, in his recent assessment of Chaucer's use of a "dramatic principle" in the Canterbury Tales, cites discussion of the Shipman's Tale as an example of a connection between a narrator and a tale where "the two have nothing in common" (12). He goes on to assert that the observation of inappropriateness between the two is a "flagrant example" because of "the obvious disjunction between the rough, murderous Shipman of the General Prologue and the cool, sophisticated art of the Shipman's Tale" (12). This issue can be blunted by simply observing that the pilgrims are not credited with creating the stories they tell as literary artists in their own right but are simply repeating stories they happen to know and remember. In referring to critical traditions relating to the Tale, Benson notes that one group of "dramatic interpreters" sees harmony between narrator and tale because the Shipman might harbor hostility toward merchants (12). Others argue that it was originally intended for the Wife of Bath because she is the only female member of the company likely to tell such a story. This assumption, as already noted, is based on the apparent references to a feminine identity for the narrator at the beginning of the Tale and, according to Benson, the argument supporting that view is "inherently weak" (12). Frederick Tupper is one critic opposed to the notion that the story was ever intended for the Wife of Bath or for any other female narrator. That same assumption will be stressed here.

The idea that Harry Bailly's threat to castrate the Pardoner both determines and anticipates Chaucer's decision to forego a compositional link between Fragments VI and VII in the Ellesmere sequence is based on the assumption that virtually any member of Chaucer's original audience would have recognized the connection between that threat and the reference to "Seint-Denys" that follows it in the first line of the Shipman's Tale. The fact that a central figure in the plot of the fabliau is a monk "at Seint-Denys," if not one also attached by holy vow to the abbey there as well (though that assertion is made somewhat ambiguous by the evidence of the text itself), does make it clear that Chaucer means for us to associate the exploits of daun John with the well-known and widely disseminated events in the life of another monk connected to that abbey. The man in question, of course, even if he is never directly named by Chaucer, is Peter Abelard. Since Abelard took his vows at "Seint-Denys," after he was castrated by assailants hired by Heloise's uncle, it requires only a simple and straightforward leap to connect the threat of castration at the end of Fragment VI to the first line of the Shipman's Tale to begin Fragment VII. The connection is so obvious and immediately recognizable, at least to a member of Chaucer's original audience, that no one needed to be told who and precisely what Chaucer meant by the juxtaposition.

That the Shipman might be the proper kind of man to epitomize an assailant capable of committing an actual castration comes complete with the fact that he carries a concealed knife under his arm (I.392-393) and his verbal taunting of the Pardoner in his use of feminine, even wifely, references (VII.11-19) can be read as a kind of verbal castration directed toward his lack of manliness and toward his obvious homosexual association with the Summoner. Reading those lines in this context is made inevitable by virtue of the fact that the Pardoner, when he interrupts the Wife of Bath's Prologue to compliment her ability as a preacher, also claims he had been contemplating marriage (III.165-168). The Shipman takes the opportunity to embarrass him further by suggesting how unclear it is whether, in such a marriage, he would be the husband or the wife. Harry's threat to castrate him prompts the Shipman to respond in kind, an act perfectly consistent within the limits of Chaucer's depiction of the seaman. The metaphor of the "tonne" (III.170ff), which the Wife fabricates in her response to the Pardoner's comment about his fictitious marriage, that he will "drynken of another tonne,/ Er that I go," and shall "savoure wors than ale" (III.170-171) from her story, also points to the Shipman because of his habit "Ful many a draughte of wyn . . . ydrawe/ Fro Burdeux-ward, whil that the chapman sleep" (I.396-397). The narrator comments that this sign of his behavior demonstrates "Of nyce conscience took he no keep" (I.398). One fact these comments establish is that a definitive connection exists between the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner-Shipman transition between Fragment VI and VII, a fact which has drawn many critics to assume the Shipman's Tale once belonged to the Wife of Bath, when in fact it may be more reasonable to assume that Chaucer is simply linking one thing to the other in the normal course of his poetic practice.

Clearly, however, other explanations about the nature of those connections exist naturally in Chaucer's text. The idea that the Shipman is taunting the Pardoner about his claim to be considering marriage, in the context of Harry Bailly's threat to castrate him, which points to Peter Abelard as a monk of the abbey at "Seint-Denys," is a more reasonable, and much more fruitful, line of inquiry than arguing how Chaucer changed his mind and switched narrators without bothering to revise the feminine references out of the Shipman's Tale. All the latter argument demonstrates about Chaucer's poetic vision is that he was incompetent. It not only tells us nothing about his perceptions of fourteenth century social reality; it also obscures our ability to comprehend the heart of his Canterbury project by deflecting our attention away from the actual matters at hand at a point in the unfolding narrative where he has invested a considerable effort to constitute his thematic meaning.

Connecting Chaucer's Shipman's Tale to the life and times of Peter Abelard, who died in 1142, requires the simple recognition that his artistic intent in the use of the fabliau tradition is predominantly parodic. In other words, the love between Abelard and Heloise formulates the ideal against which the affair between the latter-day monk of "Seint-Denys," daun John, and the merchant's wife is played out. Donald R. Howard, in his discussion of Chaucer's fictional techniques, has laid a groundwork for making this essential observation. He notes, for instance, that many of Chaucer's religious pilgrims "exemplify obsolescent styles of life based on obsolescent ideas and practices" (98). He also argues that all "reveal what was throughout the Middle Ages the fundamental flaw in the practice of the religious life, that its values and ideals were contaminated by secular--and chiefly aristocratic" styles of life (98). This fact is nowhere more obvious than in the issues raised by the Great Schism. Howard asserts that "The Canterbury Tales gives us a picture of a disordered Christian society in a state of obsolescence, decline, and uncertainty; we do not know where it is headed" (115). One can argue that pilgrimage, as a way of solving the issues of the disunity in the church, is wholly inadequate in its form as Chaucer creates it to address those problems. As a consequence, the pilgrims, and Chaucer himself as a poet, never reach the desired goal of Canterbury and the holy city of Jerusalem. Specifically about the Shipman's Tale, Howard claims it "is downright immoral; in it the most sacred relationships of medieval society (the monk's vows, marriage, brotherhood) are purposefully violated, and the one character who is not a scoundrel, the merchant, is himself venal, stuffy, and credulous--a gull" (54).

If one accepts Howard's view of Chaucer's work in general, and his perception of the Shipman's Tale specifically, it becomes a relatively simple matter to understand how Chaucer's oblique reference to Abelard, who died two hundred years before Chaucer's birth, becomes a fertile ground upon which to build a definitive expression of the decline of religious principles at the end of the fourteenth century, especially so in the context of the Great Schism. One must also recognize, of course, that Abelard may not have been the most compellingly saintlike man Chaucer could have chosen as a model upon which to construct his pair of parodic mimes. Abelard was under threat of examination for heresy when he died. He also seduced Heloise while functioning as her tutor and was thought, by her uncle, to have abandoned her in a convent when he grew tired of her affections. That belief prompted the assault which resulted in his castration.

Peter Dronke, in his assessment of the authenticity of the Abelard-Heloise correspondence, a copy of which belonged to Petrarch (55-58), notes that the story of the "two lovers had become a romantic legend" as early as the beginning of the thirteenth century (23). He also discusses the fact that Jean de Meun began a translation of the letters and mentions Heloise several times in the Roman de la Rose (55-56), all of which indicates that Chaucer probably knew the details of the story by the time he began working on the Canterbury Tales. Chaucer's use of the "romantic legend," which can be called, with certain qualifications, an ideal form of Christian marriage, plays parodically against the total absence of any ideal sentiments in the tale of daun John and the merchant's wife, whose relationship in the Shipman's Tale, apart from its adulterous, and even incestuous, character, is little more than simple prostitution. Chaucer's interest in the marriage of Abelard and Heloise, which was clandestine, turns out to be a complex structural element in the development of his theme in the tale-structure of Canterbury as a whole.

As already noted, for instance, in the Clerk's Prologue, Chaucer refers to John of Legnano who was best known in Europe and in England for his strident defense of Urban VI as the legitimate pope of the Roman church. Urban so appreciated Legnano's support that he offered to elevate the lawyer to his college of cardinals. Tradition has it that Legnano refused the offer because his wife would not agree to enter holy orders herself, which was required by the church of any layman's spouse when he (or she) took the vows of holy office. With regard to Heloise, who was secretly married to Abelard before he became a monk, there is considerable evidence in her letters that she did not want to take holy orders and only married him reluctantly because she believed he was destined to enter the service of God. Dronke notes that "Heloise obeyed Abelard spontaneously, however unwilling she was to become a nun" (20). The point here, of course, is that the Clerk's Tale, one source of which may be Petrarch, has as its primary theme the subject of a wife's obedience to her husband's will and, in the case of Walter and Grisilda, obedience to that will no matter how unreasonable it may become. This concept does not disappear from Chaucer's work after the Clerk tells his story, since the poet returns to it parodically in his depiction of the sexual union between daun John and the merchant's wife in the Shipman's Tale. Her disobedience to her husband's will, in the form of her adultery with the monk "at Seint-Denys," reverses the balance of power in fourteenth century male-female relationships where the issue of sovereignty is concerned. William F. Woods argues that "the wife assumes the governance of the merchant's house, and of herself, insofar as she is considered part of his domain" and she "does this by admitting the monk as a substitute master of the house" (144). Woods also notes that the wife retains her sovereignty over her husband after he returns and the monk departs (144).

From a structural point of view, the transition from a state of thralldom to her husband at the beginning of the story, which is perfectly consistent with Grisilda's state of being in the Clerk's Tale, to one of mastery over him at the end, where the issue is essentially carnal in the Shipman's version of things, we find an additional transformation back to a purely spiritual state of affairs in the Second Nun's Tale to begin Fragment VIII. In other words, the Shipman's Tale functions as a bridge in the issue of whether a husband or a wife has mastery in marriage: we see Walter dominant over Grisilda in the Clerk's vision of marriage; find a transformation of that formula as the wife takes control of her husband in the Shipman's Tale; and finally, come to see St. Cecile dominant over Valerian in the Second Nun's Tale. St. Cecile, after all, with the assistance of her angel of death, completely dominates Valerian precisely at the point of living asexually with her husband in a chaste marriage. As the dominant partner shifts, we move from sex for the sake of procreation to the glory of God, to sex for delight in a state that falls to adultery, incest, and prostitution, and, finally, to no sex at all. The transformation of the concepts expressed by the Clerk, of a husband's right to demand total obedience from his wife, begins to shift in the Shipman's Tale, as exemplified in the merchant's wife, and reaches its full realization in Cecile's assertion that an angel of death will slay Valerian "with the dede" if he so much as touches her in "vileynye."

The point of Chaucer's parody, which clearly revolves around the concept of a Christian's thralldom to his or her body and penance, first encountered in the Man of Law's Tale, depends upon the concept of "chastitee in mariage," which is described by the Parson. Where Abelard and Heloise are concerned, who did produce a child named Astrolabe as a sexually active couple, before Abelard entered holy orders and before Heloise became a reluctant nun, the issue was taken out of their hands, so to speak, by the fact that Abelard was castrated by Heloise's uncle. With respect to Cecile and Valerian, the same issue was removed from their direct control by virtue of the existence of Cecile's angel of death. One can argue here, and probably should, that Chaucer's deepest perception of the issues swirling around Abelard-Heloise, monk-merchant's wife, and Cecile-Valerian are essentially parodic and preeminently meant to be taken as a joke. In terms of the way parody works to undermine and question the official word of the dominant discourse, Chaucer's design in having Harry Bailly threaten to castrate the Pardoner initiates this complex of comparison, contrast, and mockery of the all too serious concerns he expresses in the Parson's sermon. This seems to be the best, most productive way to read Chaucer's purpose.

Another important direction Chaucer's discourse takes here concerns the fact that two instances of moral condemnation directed at Abelard over his affair with, and marriage to, Heloise survive from the time after news of his castration reached the public square. Peter Dronke compares those responses to the kind of discourse common in fabliaux. One of Abelard's enemies, his former teacher Roscelin, who some credit with the invention of nominalism, wrote a letter to Abelard soon after his castration in which he makes out that Heloise is actually a prostitute supported by the money Abelard makes through his "false and unauthorized teaching" (Dronke, 27). Roscelin, according to Dronke, says:


You don't even send the money to your whore, to pay for your debauchery, you still take it to her yourself. While you could enjoy her, you paid in advance; now you sin even more, rewarding her for the past debauches rather than buying future pleasures. (27)


Dronke characterizes this passage from Roscelin's letter as being in a vein of "viciousness that is hardly matched even in fabliaux" (27). The point here is that Chaucer may have drawn some of the inspiration for his parody of Abelard and Heloise from the invective directed at the two lovers by Abelard's enemies. There is no evidence, however, that Roscelin's letter to Abelard ever came to Chaucer's attention but one can assume, perhaps, that such vicious attacks circulated as part of the legend itself during Chaucer's lifetime. The fact that prostitution becomes an issue in the Shipman's Tale came to Chaucer from some source or another and reaches back to the Cook's Tale for its structural integrity in the work as a whole. The aptness of Dronke's observation about the fabliau characteristics of the attacks against Abelard's reputation is also worth noting, since Chaucer may have transformed the perception of prostitution in the relationship into an actual example of the genre. If nothing else, the connections to the legend of Abelard and Heloise that seem such an integral part of Chaucer's Shipman's Tale provide it with a wider frame of reference than most scholars have so far found for it.

Placing the Tale in a wider frame of reference, Richard K. Emmerson and Ronald B. Herzman argue that the scene in the garden where the monk and the wife swear oaths to each other is a parodic inversion of the Easter-morning encounter between Mary Magdalen and Christ in which He warns her not to touch Him ("Noli me tagere") because He has not ascended yet to his Father. Chaucer's monk instead "caughte hire by the flankes/ And hire embraceth hard, and kisse hire ofte" (VII.202-203). Emmerson and Herzman argue that the Shipman's discourse shows us how "the love of money has replaced the love of God and the 'privetee' of adultery has replaced the joyous proclamation of charity" that followed the Easter-morning encounter in the biblical garden (167). The scene of oath swearing in the garden, which was meant to conceal rather than reveal the truth, plays into the heart of the problem of abuses in the fourteenth century church, especially where money is exchanged for benefits that are freely given through the church's mediation of God's grace. The abuse and sin of simony, as always, comes to the surface in Chaucer's parodies of biblical messages. One cannot overlook the fact too that the reference anticipates the real saint's legend in the Second Nun's Tale which has other thematic connections to the Shipman's story. How much more terrible is it that we all see so clearly the decline of the fourteenth century church reflected in the behavior of the very people who were attempting to reform it and, in the process, see them use money so freely to purchase adultery and incest along the way?

The fact that no one is punished in true fabliau fashion in the Shipman's Tale, even the husband is unaware of his wife's infidelity, suggests that Chaucer sees through the hypocrisy of the notion that every Christian must be made a thrall to his or her body and suffer the consequent penance associated with the sin of physical life. A major part of the problem exemplified by the Great Schism, and here expressed so completely by Geoffrey Chaucer, is that too much of the penance paid for bodily sin becomes an object of greed and avarice in the benefice because it is reduced, not to a spiritual correction, but to financial gain, to money in exchange for salvation (Pardoner's Tale). The formula Chaucer expounds in the Shipman's Tale is that money for sex equals more money for being absolved of the sin of having it in the first place. His motivation for putting it where he does, at the beginning of Fragment VII, immediately after the Physician and Pardoner clarify the issue, is to anticipate the peace negotiations between England and France (Tale of Melibee) and the solution to the Great Schism which is to follow after the peace is achieved (Second Nun's Tale and the Canon's Yeoman's Tale), as we shall see.


References:


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