"Wel bet is roten appul out of hoord": Chaucer's Cook, commerce, and civic order

Craig E BertoletStudies in Philology. Chapel Hill:  Summer 2002.Vol. 99, Iss. 3;  pg. 229, 18 pgs






Abstract (Document Summary)

Bertolet discusses Roger of Ware, the Cook of London, in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales." Both the cook's portrait and his tale illustrate the association of commerce with civic identity and civic order that was developing in urban life during Chaucer's time.

Full Text (8063   words)

Copyright University of North Carolina Press Summer 2002

ROGER of Ware, the Cook of London, is perhaps the only pilgrim who comes on the Canterbury pilgrimage not out of a desire for travel or atonement, but because he has been hired for the trip, in this case to serve the otherwise silent Guildsmen.1 His presence then is strictly business.2 Certainly the Guildsmen hire him to enhance their own prestige by appearing on a pilgrimage with a servant. The reality of late fourteenth-century London, though, places cooks among the lowest ranks of urban society and the crafts that the Guildsmen represent not much higher.3 Given this situation, Roger's survival rests on cultivating the reputation of being a worthy practitioner of his craft. He must do good work, but he also must make certain that everyone knows that he does good work (and spreading this word himself is his strategy on the pilgrimage). However, should popular opinion be against him, his business could be ruined and himself through it. As a result, both his portrait and his tale illustrate the association of commerce with civic identity and civic order that was developing in urban life during Chaucer's time.4

To see how the medieval trader in the urban economy becomes inextricably tied to the quality of his or her work, one needs only to read the Cook's description in The General Prologue. It advertises more what he can do than what he is. The person of the Cook essentially disappears behind his wares. If Chaucer had not mentioned the weeping "mormal" on the Cook's leg, we would have no sense that this passage describes a person but rather that person's resumed

A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones

To boiRe the chiknes with the marybones,

And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale.

Wel koude he knowe a draughte of Londoun ale.

He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,

Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.

But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,

That on his shyne a mormal hadde he.

For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

(1-379-87 )6

This portrait is almost entirely focused on the food that the Cook prepares for the Guildsmen and what he can prepare for any future employer. The first few dishes (the boiled chickens, the "poudre-marchant tart and galyngale") and the sampling of London ale (or at least Southwark's brew) could be the narrator's observation of the Cook in action. The rest of the portrait (the roasting, seething, boiling, and frying, as well as the account of the "mortreux" and the pies) is information that could only have come from the Cook's own lips. For instance, we discover that he bakes pies well and is the best at making blancmange, claims that sound more like boasts than impartial observation. To give them another name, the dishes amount to advertisements intended to increase business. As such, the Cook is his trade, "mormals" and all.

The food and the sore may call to mind the sin of gluttony, and the Cook's subsequent drunkenness in the prologue to The Manciple's Tale does illustrate a propensity to immoderate consumption, especially when it causes him to fall off of his horse.7 In fact, for no other pilgrim would the "mormal" be so important a defect. True, the "mormal" does make the food, as Helen Cooper rightly observes, "nauseating for reasons to do more with hygiene than sin." No matter how good Roger of Ware may say he is as a cook, the "mormal" overshadows his otherwise glowing catalogue. It is also the only piece of the human known as Roger whom we see in The General Prologue, and it is corrupted and distasteful. Even though Roger hides behind his food, he cannot entirely conceal himself.

Before turning to Harry's opinion of the Cook's wares, I want to examine two parallels with the Cook's portrait. The first is with some of the other self-promoters in The General Prologue. The Physician, the Man of Law, and the Wife of Bath all seek to convince the narrator and anyone else on the pilgrimage of their own superiority in their profession, and as with the Cook's portrait, their portraits are part description, part advertisement. Different from those characters who have no need to market themselves, such as the Knight or the clerics, these pilgrims draw their livelihood from the goodwill and good weal of others, relying on their own reputations and appearances to garner them business and ultimately profit. Because of this need, for instance, the Man of Law "semed bisier than he was" (1.322), creating an impression that his services were greatly in demand, whether such an impression reflected truth or not. As with the Cook's catalogue of fine food, the Man of Law's "bysynesse" is purely a marketing strategy.

These pilgrims also wear fine clothing in order to validate their material success. The Man of Law has many robes (1.317), the Physician clothes of sanguine, "pers," and silk (1.439-40), and the Wife huge kerchiefs and new shoes (1.456-57). While the Guildsmen do not advertise their trades, they do advertise their success in their material possessions, such as their silver-handled daggers (1.366-67). In doing so, they essentially follow the logic of the entrepreneur, which is that if a person appears successful, he or she must be successful.9

The second parallel is with the Franklin, whose portrait comes between the aspiring Man of Law and the social-climbing Guildsmen and frames the Guildsmen with the Cook. He is the one member of this group who has an assured social status (and therefore no need to advertise) and has performed civic service as justice of the peace, auditor, sheriff, and member of parliament (1.355-60). He, too, has fine clothing, but what his portrait shares with the Cook's is a predominance of food imagery. He is "Epicurus owene Bone" (1.336) not because he is a heretic, but as his portrait will make clear, because he merely enjoys good food:10

His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon;

A bettre envyned man was nowher noon.

Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous,

Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous

It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke;

Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke,

After the sondry sesons of the yeer,

So chaunged he his mete and his soper.

Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe,

And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe.

Wo was his cook but if his sauce were

Poynaunt and sharp, and rely al his geere.


No ulcerated sore lies buried in this catalogue of food. The only hint of trouble is the Franklin's threat to his own cook should the sauces be unsuitable and the table imperfect. But this comment underscores the Franklin's hospitality, justifying his similarity to St. Julian (I.340); the Franklin's stern commands to his cook are to ensure that anyone who enters his household be treated very well.

The Franklin is not a tradesman engaged in buying and selling, as are those pilgrims who surround him in The General Prologue. Moreover, the portraits of the Franklin and the Cook illustrate the difference between the pleasure and the business of food. The Franklin enjoys both the preparation and presentation of food while the sore-ridden Cook regards food merely as a commodity. As a result, the Cook's food is good because he says it is good; the Franklin's food is good because it is.11

Later in fragment I, Harry provides an opposite reading to the Cook's glowing account of his own wares in The General Prologue. Harry may be making these comments because of the occupational antipathy that existed between innkeepers and cooks. His statements are then "corrective" advertisements to the pilgrims in the spirit of commercial competition to be set against the Cook's positive account of his wares. Harry's caveat comestor specifically questions the Cook's concern with profit and loss rather than with product quality:

"Now telle on, Roger; looke that it be good,

For many a pastee hastow laten blood,

And many a Jakke a Dovere hastow soold

That hath been twies hoot and twies coold.

Of many a pilgrym hastow Cristes curs,

For of thy percely yet they fare the wors,

That they han eten with thy stubbel goos,

For in thy shoppe is many a flye loos."


Instead of praising the fine pies and meats that appear in the General Prologue portrait, Harry condemns their sloppy preparation and the Cook's own slovenliness. For instance, rather than destroying those products which are no longer fresh, Roger retains them so as not to take the loss.12 Presumably, because Roger conceals this information from potential customers, they "fare the wors."

Surely the parsley stuffing for the Cook's "stubbel goos" would, as Harry suggests, make anyone who ate it ill. But the mention of goose meat in this account is significant in light of the 1379 Statute of the Pastelers which stipulated what could (but more importantly what could not) be included in a pasty baked in London. Under this statute no pies produced in the City could contain rabbit, goose, or "garbage" from chickens or geese. In fact, no part of a goose could be baked in a pasty." Chaucer may not have known all the details of the statute and Harry may not be implying that this meat ends up in any of the Cook's pies. But what the statute demonstrates is the guild's concern in regulating virtually all aspects of its members' business in order to prevent such charges as Harry makes or punish the offending member should they be found true. These allegations would be bad for business and reflect badly on the entire trade. Should Harry's charges be brought before the mayor or the guild, they could result in the Cook's suffering fines, public disgrace, or worse 14

In any case, Harry claims that the Cook is not fulfilling his duties to his customers, his guild, and his city. Since Harry's audience is a group of pilgrims and they are beyond the walls of London, he can suggest that his allegations were merely harmless ribbing, urging the Cook to "be nat wroth for game" (I.4354).15 However, the entire company has heard what Harry has said and any attempt to make these comments into a joke seems disingenuous. For his part, the Cook does not deny the charges. He has already proven himself a successful commercial agent anyway by selling his allegedly questionable skills to the Guildsmen.?

In response, the Cook seems to accept Harry's statements: "Thou seist ful sooth" (1.4356). But he adds a Flemish maxim, "sooth pley, quaad pley" (1.4357), glossed in The Riverside Chaucer as "a true jest is a bad jest." Citing a Flemish, rather than a Latin, proverb would be more likely for a poor uneducated London cook.17 Flemings would be familiar aliens to Londoners, but their language would not have had the prestige of Latin or French to English ears, so that the maxim would be intended to reflect more homely than learned wisdom.18 By asserting that "a true jest is a bad jest," Roger implies that if what Harry says about the Cook's wares is true, it is not really a joke. As if to underscore his assumed dismissal of Harry's comments, the Cook "tough and made cheere" (I.4363) but at once begins his tale as if the good cheer, like his pies, may conceal something more dangerous beneath. He even refers to his tale as merely a "jape," repaying Harry's "game" with a "joke." All this friendliness is overdone and merely calls attention to itself.

Roger has already needled Harry by providing his own moral to The Reeve's Tale, this one from Solomon, in addition to the two that the Reeve had provided: "Ne bryng nat every man into thyn hous"' (1.4331). Both of the previous tales had outlined the dangers of harboring non-family members under one's roof at night, a practice that is precisely the trade of an innkeeper.19 Roger's maxim questions the wisdom of compromising one's private space by suggesting that not everyone who requests hospitality should be granted it, as Symkyn's story illustrates.20 What trouble a person gains from putting up guests is the risk any host takes: "`For herberwynge by nyghte is perilous. / Wel oghte a man avysed for to be/ Whom that he broghte into his pryvetee"' (1.4332-34). City innkeepers, for instance, were held responsible for the behavior of their guests. A London ordinance passed in 1384 decreed that due to "larcenies and divers evil deeds" done in the City and the suburbs, all innkeepers were sworn to "harbour no one longer than a day and night, unless they were willing to answer for them and their acts" and also to not receive any strangers or "'travaillyngmen' or others, unless they had good and sufficient surety from them for their actions."21 Innkeepers in violation could be fined *ioo. A hosteler would not appear to maintain the integrity of the private space when he let in any and all boarders.' Roger is also suggesting that this is an important point for an urban trader to consider. The shop is a public space open to all. But the "pryvetee," or private space, would be where he and his family would sleep; it would be closed to most outsiders. Entry to this space must be carefully regulated or the safety of the household and its business could be adversely affected, as shown by The Reeve's Tale.

The Cook's Tale illustrates what can happen to the urban household that opens its "pryvetee" to strangers who could cause damage to the family and ruin its reputation in the community. Yet it is not the tale of an innkeeper that the Cook threatens to tell in retaliation for Harry's accusations against him. His maxim about householding and the comment the victualler makes in the tale about exiling the rotten apple ("Wel bet is roten appul out of hoord" 11.44o6]) both argue for maintaining the integrity of one's private space by restricting access to it to those whom one can trust.23 The Miller and Reeve have both told of households brought down because the family allowed in strangers who sought to ruin the reputation of the householder. The victualler in The Cook Tale, though, is not an innkeeper, and Perkyn Revelour is more than a boarder.

Perkyn is an outsider. Specifically, he is an apprentice, a person whose presence is a common, if not a desirable, addition to any trader's household. The damage that he causes is not physical harm, such as Nicholas, Aleyn, and John bring their hosts, but economic harm, and it is more treasonous than the tricks played by the young men in the previous two tales. His behavior punishes a person who has been Perkyn's benefactor and who eventually would have gained him membership in the urban community. Ultimately, the Cook will demonstrate that the damage done by one ill-chosen apprentice can be more devastating to the family than cuckoldry because it ruins the reputation of the master in the commercial world of the city.

Perkyn is similar to Absolon with his well-combed locks, his dancing, and his liveliness.24 David Wallace also suggests a parallel with the Squire who is well-groomed after the courtly fashion (that is, "fetisly") and appears suffused with sexual energy.25 But the comparison with either youth stops there since Perkyn is dark-complexioned and darkhaired while courtly figures, such as Absolon for instance, are fair and golden-haired. Perkyn is not a courtly model, a clever scholar, or an amorous clerk. He is perhaps closer to the three rioters in The Pardoner's Tale or one of the smoky-faced devils of the mystery cycles for which guilds of Cooks sponsored the Hell-plays since he is an agent of discord who plays havoc in the regulated environment of urban trade.26

The fragmentary tale narrates Perkyn's departure from one household and his arrival at another. Both households are ostensibly commercial locations with the first one engaging in legitimate commerce and the second in illegitimate. In fact, the compeer's wife, rather than the compeer himself, keeps the shop. Considering the downward movement for which Perkyn has opted in his choice to lodge with the compeer, Cooper rightly observes that "it is hard to see what further harm could come to the companion with whom he moves in, since he is already both dissolute and a thief (4395), and his wife is safely beyond dishonour."27 Because the tale breaks off as soon as Perkyn sends his gear to this new place and has yet to arrive there himself, speculating on what direction the tale would finally take is difficult.28

The existing portion, however, examines one of the fundamental institutions of medieval London and many other cities. Apprenticeship gained a person not only the knowledge of a trade, but also the potential for full citizenship upon the satisfactory completion of a term of service with a master. By being an apprentice rather than a boarder, Perkyn is not delivering a humorous judgment to punish some folly of his host's, as the young boarders of the Miller's and Reeve's tales do; he is committing a serious breach of contract and destroying the livelihood of one who had pledged to give him the tools to succeed in his trade, his guild, and his city. The story of his harm to the victualler's business, then, is not comic but cautionary.

As one of the three ways to become a London citizen, apprenticeship was a closely monitored and highly regulated practice.29 According to Barbara A. Hanawalt, [a]pprenticeship, with all its tensions, was a major way of assimilating the large number of country and markettown youth who would provide the city's skilled labor force and become its citizens and its elite. It was the training ground not only for workers in crafts and trade, but also for those who would lend continuity to the social and political ethos of London."30 By apprenticing Perkyn to a victualler (like the Cook, a food-seller), Perkyn's parents or sponsors would have placed him with a master who could ensure him entry into London society and a comfortable life." Once the particulars of the apprenticeship contract were agreed to, the master would owe Perkyn training and instruction as well as bed, board, and clothing and would be responsible for his behavior. In exchange, Perkyn would owe service to the master for the duration of the contract (traditionally seven years). When his master had agreed to take him on as an apprentice, Perkyn would also have been expected to swear an oath that he was not a bondman, that he would serve his master well, and that he would not reveal secrets of the trade.32 The ensuing relationship between master and apprentice would become less one of employer to employee and more one of father to son.' Moreover, a master might not have many apprentices throughout his lifetime, and these would perhaps stay with him for several years, so that they would often be considered members of the family.34 In light of this consideration, the masters and the apprentices needed to feel comfortable with one another.

At the beginning of the contract period, the master would have enrolled the apprentice at Guildhall, and at its conclusion, he would bring the apprentice again to Guildhall to have him made a citizen. Early termination of an apprenticeship was unusual.35 But if either the master or the apprentice had abandoned his responsibilities, the other party could sue for termination in the mayor's court. More material exists in legal documents concerning negligent masters than derelict apprentices, but we can assume that complaints against apprentices did exist. The usual complaints against masters were that they neglected to instruct, feed, or clothe their apprentices, and in some cases, masters completely abandoned them 36

Surviving litigation usually charges the apprentices with laziness, theft, or carelessness.37 For instance, a 1367 case argued that an apprentice, Richard Wasshelyn, had served for ten years faithfully but was dismissed without good reason ("cause resonable") shortly before the completion of his contractual period. His master, Gilbert Melchebourne, counterargued that Wasshelyn had committed unspecified acts of misconduct and caused Melchebourne damages of 1000 marks.' Wasshelyn was released from his apprenticeship, but Melchebourne was not required to sponsor Wasshelyn's request for citizenship. Presumably, unless another sponsor had stepped forward, Wasshelyn would never have gained membership in either the guild or the City.

If we can take this case as typical of the grievances raised against an apprentice, the complaint breaks into two components: one economic and one social. The profitability of the shop is threatened, as is Melchebourne's reputation in the City. Perkyn's behavior would cause the same twofold complaint for disrupting the household and the business of his master. Chaucer is not dramatizing the Wasshelyn case, but through the Cook, he has given Perkyn characteristics opposite to the expectations of a good apprentice, making him essentially every master's and every householder's nightmare.

The code of conduct expected of the apprentice would probably be typical of what is expressed in a lyric from a fifteenth-century manuscript now known as Huntington Library MS HM 140 and which Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell entitled "Advice to Apprentices" in their edition.39 The poem is mostly a catalogue of exemplary virtues that would have been included in any advice-to-youth poem, including diligence, respecting others, and living "withe your felisship peisibly" (22). The apprentice should be clean and courteous, while avoiding pride and lechery. A few lines do have specific relevance to a young man, such as Perkyn, learning how to conduct himself in business:


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Gambling and other games of chance would be wasteful for the apprentice. They would attract the wrong type of associations, which would in turn be harmful to the apprentice's reputation and the reputation of the master with whom he is contracted. Similarly, an apprentice should spend "never to riottously" (34); an,apprentice cannot succeed in his chosen profession if he can manage neither his money nor himself. The poem then argues that a good social component will influence a good economic component: these together will "cause gode fame" (36). As we have seen, good fame is what all traders, including the Cook, desire. Later, in fragment VII, the Shipman will agree, commenting that the merchant in his tale behaves as would a good merchant on a business trip by not dicing or dancing so that he would lose either his money or his reputation (VII.304-6).

Although this lyric dates from after Chaucer's death, its advice would no doubt be as true for apprentices in the late fourteenth century as it would be for those in the fifteenth century. Perkyn behaves in a manner opposite to the advice propounded by the poem. Instead of being diligent, he is dissolute: "He loved bet the taverne than the shoppe" (1.4376). He would rather carouse with his friends than work (L438o84); he does not live with his fellows "peisibly" and his conduct drives customers from his master's shop (1.4391-94); he disrupts the business of this shop by running out to see processions and pageants (1.4377-79); and when he is out of the shop, he engages in "unthryfty playes," being more interested in gaming, and then he empties his master's money box to pay for his own losses (1.4389-90). He does not eschew "eville" company, but surrounds himself with those of dubious reputation, such as the compeer with whom he ultimately lodges. That he has been "somtyme lad with revel to Newegate" (1.4402) is also testimony to Perkyn's ungovernable behavior.' The portrait of Perkyn that the Cook gives us is of a young man who seems little interested in becoming a participating member of the London community and is indifferent to the reality that he is wasting his long-suffering master's time and capital.

The Cook recognizes that Perkyn's behavior would distract other apprentices and family members, seducing them away from profitable industry. Therefore, the master's food metaphor of Perkyn as a rotten apple is fitting: "'Wel bet is roten appal out of hoord / Than that it rotie al the remenaunt"' (1.44o6-7). As the bad apple can spoil the whole bunch unless it is removed, so Perkyn can ruin the business unless he leaves.41 The Cook applies this maxim to the circumstances by commenting that "It is ful lasse harm to lete hym pace,/ Than he shende alle the servantz in the place" (1.4409-lo). The maxim also supports the one that the Cook had quoted from Solomon in his prologue: "Ne bryng nat every man into thyn hous" (1.4331). Both warn of the risk caused by indiscriminately integrating outsiders into one's community without examining their character. One bad person could destroy the livelihood of the rest.

As the loose element in the otherwise orderly environment of his master's shop, Perkyn ultimately threatens the household with financial ruin or worse. Consequently, the Cook suggests through his tale that the bad apprentice, such as Perkyn, should be kept at a distance lest he corrupt the household: ask him to buy and sell, but do not ask him to stay. The master appears to retain Perkyn for the full term of servitude rather than dismissing him before that time. By honoring the term length of the apprenticeship, the master could be protecting himself legally so that Perkyn could not return to him later with a lawsuit over an early dismissal." But by retaining him, he might have allowed irreparable harm to be done to his business.

However, he does not present Perkyn to the mayor's court as a citizen. In fact, at the completion of Perkyn's apprenticeship, the master gladly hands him his papers, ending his service: "And bad hym go, with sorwe and with meschance" (Lq 4412). So indifferent is Perkyn to his education that he fails to realize that his master's refusal to enroll him as a citizen has cut him off from the chance for membership in the community.43 Since Perkyn failed to fulfill his part of the agreement and refused to be governed by his master, the master has decided not to fulfill his part. It is an act that attempts to control the ungovernable elements of society by denying them membership to the power structures of society. By ejecting Perkyn, the master absolves himself of any further responsibility in supervising Perkyn's behavior.

The master no doubt feels threatened by the notoriety Perkyn and his "meynee" would garner from any who would see them playing dice in the street, since Perkyn's misdeeds reflect badly on his master's-ability to control him. Wallace rightly observes that their gathering is opposed to the orderly commercial world of the shop owner and certainly the lack of regulation of their energy can create greater danger.' What they have constructed is a society comparable to the guild structure of London, except that while the guilds encourage communal cooperation in the pursuit of mutually beneficial commerce, Perkyn's "meynee" prefers riot and gambling. Membership in the City perhaps does not interest him because he already has membership in another group, one that appears to constitute itself with principles contrary to the City's. He pursues pleasure rather than profit and his own individual desires rather than those of the group. When he leaves the victualler's shop for the house of his compeer, he joins a husband-and-wife team who also pursue their own pleasures indifferent to, though dependent on, the needs of others. Basically, they are parasites. Perkyn would fit in quite well with them.

That other household in the tale is the antithesis of the master's house. When Perkyn arrives there, he crosses into a community constituted on disrupting social and economic order and one as marginal as the society of the Canon and his Yeoman are later found to be. The compeer, being a thief, is a predator who survives off of the labor of others. His prostitute wife is the one with the false shop "heeld for contenance" (I.4421). The shop testifies to her cleverness or audacity because she runs a brothel, illegal inside the City limits. It is also a representation of her false trade. She produces no commodity for sale except her own body. The wife makes the most private act of the household public and degrades the satisfaction of desire to a commodity. Here, the "pryvetee" of the household is the business.

Two fifteenth-century scribes added punishments for Perkyn to the tale in order to provide what for these writers may have seemed a fitting closure given the Cook's vocation, character, and moralistic stance on Perkyn's behavior articulated thus far: MS Rawlinson Poetry 141 has all the rioters hanged at the end, and MS Bodley 686 sends either Perkyn or the thief to prison and the other to his death.45 In each case, the disruptive behavior of Perkyn and his companions cannot go without a public condemnation of that behavior. The thief, prostitute, and bad apprentice represent three different affronts to the City structure that need to be removed from the community. The punishment also fulfills the curse that Perkyn's master laid on him at their parting by bringing him to a well deserved bad end.

The Bodley scribe, who reads the tale as cautionary rather than comic, adds an eight-line moral that essentially remonstrates with young men (presumably the readers) to moderate their behavior and learn to engage in profitable enterprise, material that is in agreement with the content of the "Advice to Apprentices." To the Bodley continuator of this tale, hanging or imprisonment must be the only fitting ends for characters who disrupt civic order. Significantly, The Cook's Tale, its continuator, and the advice poem all make behavior unbecoming of a merchant equivalent to thievery and prostitution in its wickedness, and a crime punishable by law.46

The Cook in his cautionary tale demonstrates that whomever the community grants entrance to may destroy it; therefore, no disruptive elements should be allowed into it. For the City trader, maintaining a positive reputation for the public space is very important for his own commercial survival and membership in the guild. The story of Perkyn's unfortunate master shows that one bad apple spoils the bunch just as one bad apprentice spoils the business. Moreover, one weeping sore spoils the appetite. What comes from both the Cook's tale and his portrait is how important commercial exchange and the systems that govern it are to maintaining civic order. Honest traders contribute to the City's welfare and their own renown; rioters and thieves threaten it. The way to success, then, is to build a reputation that will ensure confidence in buyers and will translate into rising individual profits. Whatever his ultimate fate was to be, Perkyn has failed at building a reputation as an honest trader through his own self-destructive indifference and has caused harm to an otherwise respectable trader who unwisely maintained Perkyn in his private household and public business. The Cook, conversely, attempts to build such an appearance as an honest trader and producer of exemplary wares. His success, though, depends on how much caution potential customers take from the tale he makes or with the pies he bakes.47


1 Edith Rickert, citing C. Jamison, suggested that the Cook may be a Roger Knyght de Ware, who was a London cook ("Chaucer's 'Hodge of Ware," Times Literary Supplement, 20 October 1932,761). Earl D. Lyon recorded that a Roger of Ware was a "common nightwalker," guilty of wandering the streets after curfew (Lyon, "Roger de Ware, Cook," Modern Language Notes 52 11937): 491-94). Regardless of whether Roger of Ware was a historical figure documented in London records as Rickert, Lyon, and others report, Chaucer's characterization of the Cook is the issue in this argument.

2 The same can be said about Harry, who is on the pilgrimage for no pious reason, but rather to ensure that the pilgrims return to his inn.

3 David Wallace suggests that because Roger is from Ware (a town some thirty miles from London that had a reputation for unruliness), Chaucer's first readers would perhaps assume the Cook to be a rowdy individual. Riots had occurred in Ware in 1351 in response to the enforcement of the Statute of Laborers, and later, a substantial number of rebels came to London from Ware during the 1381 Peasants' Revolt. See Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford: Stan





ford University Press, 1997), 167. But the tale that the Cook relates appears to condemn ungovernable behavior.

4 V. A. Kolve has observed that the "part of the Cook's performance that projects an imaginative self-identification with the values of his master victualler is grounded in a linked professional and civic identity" (Chaucer and the Imagery of Narrative: The First Five Canterbury Tales [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1984], 275). The Cook understands that his role in the community is to contribute to civic order as well as to the city's commerce. His own success would be due to maintaining a reputation for honesty and quality in his trade, and this reputation is what his portrait seeks to establish for the other pilgrims.





5 Walter Clyde Curry argued that the "mormal" was a dry scabby ulcer, while Haldeen Braddy suggested that it was a weeping one. See Curry, Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences (New York: Oxford University Press, 1926), 48; Braddy, "The Cook's Mormal and Its Cure," Modern Language Quarterly 7 (1946): 265-67.

6 The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). All citations from Chaucer will be from this edition.





7 Muriel Bowden believes that the Cook's vices "do not interfere with his skill in culinary art." The choices of food that Chaucer lists, she suggests, demonstrates the variety of the Cook's culinary repertoire (A Commentary on "The General Prologue" to "The Canterbury Tales" [New York: Macmillan, 1949],186-87). Jill Mann describes how the Cook is a figure of gluttony. Indeed, his gluttony is also foreshadowed by the ambiguous line "Wel koude he knowe a draughte of Londoun ale" (1.382), which could attest to either his practical or recreational knowledge. See Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire: The Literature of Social Classes and "The General Prologue" to "The Canterbury Tales" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), 169. In any case, Mann's observation foregrounds the Cook's vice, thus obscuring his art. But the Cook's portrait does the reverse; it foregrounds the Cook's art and obscures the Cook. Moreover, the Cook does not appear as a drunkard until fragment IX, long after he has told what exists of his tale.

8 Helen Cooper, Oxford Guides to Chaucer: "The Canterbury Tales," id ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 48.





9 Harry's suspicions concerning the Canon are aroused because the Canon's slovenly appearance is inconsistent with the Yeoman's account of his master's success (VIII.62839)*





10 Mann suggests that rather than being a glutton, the Franklin is sanguine and this humor is what redeems his love of food, turning it into an example of his generosity. Chaucer "associates the mountains of food, not with a diseased and queasy glutton, but with a fresh-complexioned man with an excellent stomach" (Estates Satire, 156).





11 Additionally, the Cook will question the wisdom of unrestricted hospitality when he argues against allowing strangers into one's "pryvetee," thereby placing himself counter to the example of St. Julian.





12 The 1394 case of Walter Kyng, Grocer, illustrates how the City government investigated and prosecuted deceitful food-sellers. Two members of the grocers' guild, Edward Fraunceys and Mark Ernlee, presented the mayor and the aldermen with three bags of dust "made of rape, radish roots and old, rotten cetuall,' all unfit for human consumption. The two grocers alleged that Kyng's apprentice was putting these bags on sale, deceiving the people and scandalizing the entire trade. See A. H. Thomas and P. E. Jones, eds., Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls of the City of London, 1323-1482, 6 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926-61), 3:219-20; this work is cited hereafter as CPMR. As with many other such cases of fraud, the phrase "in deceptionem populi et scandalum totius misteri" ["in the deception of the people and to the scandal of the entire mistery"] (London, Guildhall, Pleas and Memoranda Roll, A 33, mem. 6) emphasizes that the fraud of one member affects the entire guild. All citations from the Pleas and Memoranda Rolls (hereafter PMR) come from CPMR. Where a citation records the exact language of the original document, the material is cited from the manuscripts held in the Corporation of London Records Office, Guildhall.

13 London, Guildhall, Letter-Book H, fol. cxviib. A folio designation indicates material cited from the original manuscripts held in the Corporation of London Records Office, Guildhall; material cited by pagination in Arabic numerals comes from Reginald R. Sharpe, ed., Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London, A-L (1275-1497), 11 vols. (London: John Edward Francis, 1899-1912). Henry Thomas Riley speculates in a footnote for "garbage" that Ig]iblets are probably included under this uninviting term"; see Memorials of London and London Life in the XIIlth, XIVth, and XVth Centuries (London, 1868), 438 n. 1. Wallace also records this ordinance, but as evidence of the Cook's "disquieting or unsavory connotations" (Chaucerian Polity, 167).





14 The ordinance stipulates a graduated schedule of fines related to the frequency of offense from 6 d. 8 p. for the first offense, 13 d. 4 P. for the second, etc. See London, Guildhall, Letter-Book H, fol. cxviib; Riley, ed., Memorials, 438.

15 Carl Lindahl notes that the number of slander cases in England is greater during Chaucer's years of maturity (136o-1400) than either in the first part of the fourteenth century or in the first part of the fifteenth, indicating, he believes, "that political and social upheavals toward the end of Richard II's reign made verbal abuse a particularly serious and relevant topic for the man who wrote and the audience that first heard the Canterbury Tales" (Earnest Games: Folkloric Patterns in "The Canterbury Tales" [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987], 183 n. 5). He summarizes the slander actions as fulfilling three principles: "1) the maintenance of social order, which hinged at least in theory on the preservation of the social hierarchy; 2) the settlement of personal disputes, which were described in terms of threats to the social order; and 3) a bias toward the powerful, who were the principal and nearly the sole, beneficiaries of these actions" (79-80). What Lindahl observes here is the shaping of legal action to maintain civic order even at the cost of denying fair judgments on all citizens.

16 David N. DeVries makes the valid connection that Harry's "admonition specifically links fraudulent business practice to fraudulent narrative practice" ("Chaucer and the Idols of the Market," Chaucer Review 32 [1998]: 393).

17 For instance, the Manciple, another uneducated Londoner, also cites a Flemish maxim: "litel janglyng causeth muchel reste" (IX.350).

18 The use of a Flemish proverb could also be a reference specifically drawn from London culture. Barbara A. Hanawalt records that during the tumult of the Hundred Years' War, Flemings fleeing the conflict on the Continent would be recruited in London to satisfy labor demands that could not be met by English workers (Growing Up in Medieval





London: The Experience of Childhood in History [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993, 177). Their presence, as with any group of foreigners, caused such animosity among the London population that the mayor had to order his citizens not to molest the Flemings in 1389 (Letter-Book H, 340). While many wealthy Flemings lived in the City, Sylvia Thrupp observes, their "immigration mainly affected strata lower than the merchant class" (The Merchant Class of Medieval London, 1300-1500 [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1948; reprint, 19891, 221-22). For instance, Wallace notes that many of London's prostitUtes were of Flemish origin (Chaucerian Polity, 167). The terrifying reality of Londoners' antipathy toward the Flemings became clear during the Peasants' Revolt when many were slaughtered in the City, an event to which Chaucer alludes in The Nun's Priest's Tale (VII-3394-97) in one of the curiously few references to contemporary historical events in all of Chaucer's works. On the allusion to the Massacre of the Flemings as a "bad joke," see R. James Goldstein, "Chaucer, Freud, and the Political Economy of Wit: Tendentious Jokes in The Nun ' Priest's Tale," in Chaucer's Humor: Critical Essays, ed. Jean E. Jost (New York: Garland, 1994), 145-62.

19 Hanawalt suggests that "Chaucer's knowledge of inns and taverns would have been informed by his experience with a variety of London establishments rather than any specific innkeeper in one tavern" ("The Host, the Law, and the Ambiguous Space of Medieval London Taverns," in Medieval Crime and Social Control, ed. Barbara A. Hanawalt and David Wallace [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 19991, 217).

20 Gerhard Joseph, in his examination of the issue of "herbergage" and space throughout fragment I, states that "the Fragment asserts that the quantity and quality of space is relative to the perspective of the human mind contending with it. For the 'ernest' pilgrim who manages to see things from the perspective of eternity, human space is dreadfully narrow, a prison with which we must make do and which we can make bearable through carefully ordered rituals. But for the actor or observer who views the world as 'game,' a cramped 'twenty foot of space' easily widens out to become a room 'a myle brood,' world enough and time for the acting out of a lighthearted human drama" ("Chaucerian 'Game'-'Earnest' and the Argument of Herbergage' in The Canterbury Tales," Chaucer Review 5 [19701: 91).





21 CPMR 3:78-79. For an analysis of the London innkeeper's role in keeping the peace in the City, see Hanawalt, "Host," 214-17.

22 E. G. Stanley argues that the Cook sees that the problem of the hosteler is "with putting up young men for the night, i.e. with herbergage, the disturbance, or the destruction even, of genuine or seeming domestic felicity; for on the one hand they are likely to rob the master of the house of whatever he cherishes most, and on the other hand they stand in danger of being robbed by him" ("'Of this Cokes Tale Maked Chaucer Na Moore,"' Poetica 5 11976]: 56-57). In this case, bringing outsiders into the domestic space invites predation, rather than commerce. Roger alleges that Harry's profession is as dangerous to Harry as Harry had alleged that Roger's and his fly-blown shop was to any of Roger's customers.

23 Wallace suggests that this maxim and the maxim from Solomon illustrate an antiassociational rhetoric that argues against civic unity (Chaucerian Polity, 171).





24 William Woods suggests that Perkyn is similar to Nicholas also in his dancing and Alisoun with her brown hair, unifying the fragment, but also showing an opposition between the vitality of The Miller's Tale and the decadence of The Cook's Tale ("Society and Nature in The Cook's Tale," Papers on Language and Literature 32 [1996]: 192).

25 Wallace, Chaucerian Polity, 168.

26 John Scattergood examines the character of the "revelour" and gallant to show that Perkyn fits into this character-type, one which was achieving prominence in literature around this time. See Scattergood, "Perkyn Revelour and The Cook's Tale," Chaucer Review 19 (1984): 14-23.





27 Cooper, "The Canterbury Tales,' 121. Kolve remarks that la]gainst the bourgeois values of trade are ranged the values of the body and its pleasure" in this fragment (Imagery of Narrative, 279).

28 Kolve's reading of the Cook's fragment recognizes the importance of the apprenticeship and guild structure to the tale. He suggests that "apprenticeship does not work as intended... and the Cook betrays an imaginative identification with those wilder energies and destructive impulses as well" (ibid., 275). But the Cook seems to reject Perkyn's behavior as counterproductive, antisocial, and self-destructive.

29 The other two ways to gain citizenship in London were to be born to a citizen or to be presented by a guild or mistery to the mayor and aldermen as a member (Letter-Book G, 179-81). This ruling clarified an earlier declaration from 1311/12 establishing that "no stranger be admitted to the freedom of the City except with the assent of the Commonality" (Letter-Book D, 283-84).

30 Hanawalt, Growing Up, 171.

31 The victuallers were one of the powerful mercantile groups in London (Thrupp, Merchant Class, 77-80). Woods's speculation, that Chaucer abandoned the tale because it seemed to strike too close to the political controversy between Nicholas Brembre and





John of Northampton that set the victuallers against many of the other London guilds (particularly the equally powerful mercers' guild) ("Society and Nature," 203), is probably not entirely accurate. At no time in his tale does the Cook give Perkyn a political agenda. Perkyn rejects organized business in favor of dissolute living.

32 CPMR 2: io-ii; Letter-Book H, 309-10. See also Hanawalt, Growing Up, 140. 33 Hanawalt, Growing Up, 170-71.

34 Ibid., 137.

35 The 1386 case of John Dilcok can stand as an example. He had not been enrolled as an apprentice after serving for five years, nor been taught anything, nor handed over to anyone else for instruction. The mayor and aldermen subsequently released him from his apprenticeship contract (CPMR 3:120-21).

36 For example, in 1383 John Penreth complained that his master had been imprisoned in Calais for debt and consequently the shop had been sealed up, so that Penreth was wasting his time walking the streets ("pert ... son temps en batant les ruwes"). Penreth was released from his apprenticeship (PMR A 27, mem. 7).

37 Hanawalt suggests that there may have been many examples of such rebellious ap





prentices, but since the masters had total power over the apprentices, these situations probably resulted in a master enacting his own punishment and not resorting to litigation. Consequently, few court records appear concerning this issue (Growing Up, 167-68). 38 PMR A 13, mem. 2b.

39 "Advice to Apprentices," in Reliquiae Antiquae: Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts Illustrating Chiefly Early English Literature and the English Language, ed. Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell, 2 vols. (London, 1843; reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1966), 2:223-24.





40 Committing rebellious apprentices to Newgate demonstrates the City's need to remove unruly elements from the community lest they cause greater disturbance to civic order. For instance, in 1371, the apprentice to Emma, widow of a London chandler named William Hatfield, was sent to Newgate prison because he "fuit rebellis et noluit deseruire eadem Emma nec per earn castigare" ["was rebellious and would not obey her, nor submit to her discipline"] (PMR A 16, mem. 5).





41 Thirteenth-century economic thinkers, such as John Duns Scotus and Peter John Olivi, had argued that a merchant's good reputation justified his obtaining a fair profit from the sale of his wares (Joel Kaye, Economy and Nature in the Fourteenth Century: Money, Market Exchange, and the Emergence of Scientific Thought [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], 140-42). Ruining the reputation of the business, as the merchant explains to Daun John in The Shipman's Tale (VII.289-go), would be professional suicide in the competitive world of medieval commerce.

42 See Hanawalt, Growing Up, 161-62.





43 Sir Frederick Pollock and Frederic William Maitland observed that membership in the "burgherhood" was a right transmitted from father to son and from master to apprentice (The History of English Law before the Time of Edward 1, 2d ed., 2 vols. [Cambridge, 1895; reprint, 1978], 1:671).

44 Wallace is correct that Perkyn's "act of association" rather than his dicing "makes such evil possible" (Chaucerian Polity, 169).





45 From the line it is unclear which one gains prison or death. See the edition of this text in John M. Bowers, ed., The Canterbury Tales: Fifteenth-Century Continuations and Additions (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 1992), 35-37.

46 See analyses of this particular manuscript in David Lorenzo Boyd, "Social Texts: Bodley 686 and the Politics of The Cook's Tale," Huntington Library Quarterly 58 (1996): 8197; and Daniel J. Pinti, "Governing The Cook's Tale in Bodley 686," Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 379-88.





47 An earlier version of this article was presented at the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Western Michigan University in May 1999. Also, I owe a debt of thanks to R. James Goldstein, who provided helpful comments on an earlier draft of this essay, and to the archivist and staff of the Corporation of London Records Office for their assistance in making the City documents available to me.




[Author Affiliation]

by Craig E. Bertolet




[Author Affiliation]

Auburn University