Speech, circumspection, and orthodontics in the Manciple's Prologue and Tale and the Wife of Bath's Portrait

Mel StormStudies in Philology. Chapel Hill: Spring 1999.Vol. 96, Iss. 2;  pg. 109, 18 pgs







Abstract (Document Summary)

Storm suggests that the "Manciple's Prologue" and "Manciple's Tale" may have been Chaucer's examination of conscience and an attempt at self-justification.

Full Text (7479   words)

Copyright University of North Carolina Press Spring 1999

LONG constrained to communicate his political convictions by indirection only, and seized late in his career by a more insistent concern that his writing should embody moralitas and sententia less equivocally than before, Chaucer made of the Manciple's Tale a kind of apologia, a reflection, simultaneously rueful and exculpatory, on his long avocation as a poet. In doing so, he managed to reflect and redeploy the portrait of the Wife of Bath, pressing it into joint service toward the same end as he pondered the aims of art and the responsibilities of the artist.

Even though, to one writing in the 1990s, the debate about Chaucerian Laodiceanism seems almost as remote as the lukewarm Phrygians who gave the controversy its name, the question of what degrees and what kinds of sententiae are to be found in Chaucer's works continues to perplex. The spiritual aspect of Chaucerian "sentence" has been the subject of learned investigation for years. Only more recently has much attention been turned to the social and political aspects of that sentence. Nevertheless, to the venerable image of Chaucer as gentle unmasker of personal folly and to the image of Chaucer as charitable promulgator, sometimes clandestine, of Christian moralitas, there may be appended another, that of Chaucer as political commentator and critic. Because Chaucer's genial demeanor sometimes veils the seriousness and obscures the satiric edge of his works, scholars have generally denied him, explicitly or by omission, the title of reformer. There have been exceptions, however, and they are growing in number. As early as I954, F. M. Salter could ask the rhetorical question, "We have been told, often enough, that Chaucer was no reformer. Was he stupid, then? Is it possible that a man of his great artistic skill, combined with [al moralizing bent, could be unaware of what he was doing . . . ?"' While Salter was addressing clerical reform specifically, his comments are appropriate to political and social reform as well. I would argue that Chaucer had a firm sense of his country's needs and its leaders' responsibilities and recognized, as well, the duty of the artist to chide and inspire, to show forth his own "swerd of castigatioun," just as he himself counseled Richard II to do. Further exploration is surely in order here, for discussions of Chaucer as political critic are still isolated islands in the archipelago of Chaucer studies. D. W. Robertson has discussed the fall of Troilus as reflective of the fall of Troy, itself in turn an image of "that decay that Chaucer could see so well in the life around him," asking rhetorically, like Salter, "Do my colleagues really believe that Chaucer had no moral or social responsibility?" 2 Donald Howard, too, has discussed the relevance of the Trojan story to England and has suggested that the Tale of Melibee and the Knight's Tale are parts of a "subtext" that Chaucer "addressed to the court and the ruling class."3 The role of the court poet was, as Richard Firth Green argues, changing in the late Middle Ages, looking toward the Renaissance, when poets would be much more fully installed as advisors to princes. With an increasingly literate and cultivated ruling class as audience, the court poet-earlier, in the minstrel tradition, primarily an entertainer-was in a position to assume some degree of the instructional role once reserved for the clergy, a process the Renaissance brought to full fruition.4 Derek Brewer observes that the polite mockery of the presumed patrons of the Legend of Good Women and the contemporary satire of the General Prologue offer evidence that Chaucer could indeed assert himself, but that he may, however, have developed his self-mocking persona out of self-preservation, the status of literature and of literary studies in Richard's court being "never completely assured." 5

The instinct for self-preservation is surely at issue when we view Chaucer as critic and counselor. Salter refers to Chaucer as a "reticent artist" whose criticism is thereby absolved from containing the reforming zeal it indeed possesses. Unquestionably the disarming nature of Chaucer's stance, the charm, the geniality, the self-effacing personae, the indirection of approach, the irony, the ambiguity, all are mechanisms well suited to enabling their user to function as an "unpersecuted, living reformer."6 Paul Strohm sees in Chaucer "a model of circumspection in pursuit of factional reward" who developed a poetic that could "sidestep the temptation to make a direct case."' Although what Larry D. Benson calls the critical cliche of "Chaucer the bourgeois poet with his protective cloak of irony" depends on perhaps too heavy an emphasis on the social gulf separating the poet from his aristocratic audience,8 Chaucer's circumstances still must inevitably have enforced caution. As the narrator says in Machaut's account of Phoebus and the raven, the same narrative that is at the heart of the Manciple's Tale, he is a fool who tells displeasing things to a lord who is at his ease.9 S. Sanderlin, ascribing to Chaucer prudent silence during difficult times, suggests that Chaucer's Kentish stays in the final decade and a half of his life were intended as sanctuary away from the dangerous cross currents of power in London, where Chaucer was constrained to accommodate himself to multiple camps.lo He was bound professionally, socially, and, so to speak, geographically to urge his sense of reformif urge he must-with care, subtlety, and charm. Similarly Carl Lindahl argues at length that Chaucer drew upon the strategies of folklore so that he could safely convey, from a position of subordination, a measure of "dangerous" truth.ll Michaela Gruden, too, citing instances of suppression of speech in the 138os and 1390s, emphasizes the particular challenge the poet faced and notes the need for finding strategies, "artfulness if not guile," for speaking the truth in difficult circumstances.lz From a slightly different perspective, Sheila Delany discusses Chaucer's cautious approach to the Virginius legend of the Physician's Tale, surmising that the legend's original aim, "to glorify rebellion," was "simply too dangerous to write about for a courtier with everything to lose."13

But even if Chaucer may have pragmatically accepted the need to subordinate his critical instinct to that for self-preservation, it does not follow that he did so without reluctance. V. J. Scattergood notes Mum and the Sothsegger and Hoccleve's Male Regle as representative of a species of late-medieval writing attacking subordinates hesitant to speak awkward truths to their superiors.14 The theme appears prominently in Chaucer in the Summoner's Tale with Friar John and Thomas and in the Merchant's Tale with Justinus and Placebo. Its manifestation in the Manciple's Tale will be addressed below. I contend that as Chaucer neared the end of his career and life, a sense of duty came to impinge more urgently upon him; the end of the Canterbury Tales shows evidence of self-conscious reflection upon such critical reticence as the poet may earlier have exhibited. To be sure, in investigating Chaucerian prudence a degree of chronological imprecision must be allowed. As Sanderlin has pointed out, the uncertainty of the dating of the Canterbury Tales may make it impossible to trace definitely changes of position or "swaying with the political wind.""5 Nevertheless, the more complex questions of ordering have only minor bearing on the works at issue. Both the Ellesmere and Chaucer Society orders agree in concluding the Canterbury Tales with the Second Nun, the Canon's Yeoman, the Manciple, the Parson and Chaucer's Retraction, that is, Fragment VIII (Group G), Fragment IX (Group H), and Fragment X (Group I). Fragment VII in the Ellesmere order would place both Chaucer's Tale of Melibee and the Monk's Tale in near proximity to these latter works, with only the Nun's Priest's Tale intervening, a most fitting near-juxtaposition, if allowable, although the Chaucer Society order, placing the Fragment VII sequence as B2, immediately following the Man of Law's Tale, is less obliging. At least, it is evident from all accounts that from the Second Nun's Tale to the Retraction we find tales that are, on the whole, more consistently and more overtly serious than the earlier ones, tales less dependent, that is, upon an audience's interpretive strategies to pierce to the moral kernel. It is, after all, the Second Nun whom Chaucer allows, although she is supposedly addressing the pilgrims orally, to refer to her audience as readers and to present her work as centered upon sentence and authority at the expense of "subtle" art:

Now preye I yow that reden that I write, Foryeve me that I do no diligence This ilke storie subtilly to endite, For bothe have I the wordes and sentence Of hym that at the seintes reverence The storie wroot, and folwen hire legende, And pray yow that ye wole my werk amende. (VIII. 78-84) 16

It can be argued further that there is in the later tales, in addition to the concern for present sentence, evidence of an impulse toward self-justification regarding those instances where perceived truth may earlier have been softened or concealed. As Chaucer neared the end of the Canterbury Tales and of his life his poetry hints of an increasing concern for moralitas, of an increasing mindfulness that sentence be clearly present in his work, and of an increasing dissatisfaction with works where it was less overtly in evidence. So the poetry hints, and even if one resists the temptation toward speculative biography, the evidence indicates that whether Chaucer was moved by deepening moral concerns or whether he was governed by artistic instinct, he chose to make an increasing emphasis on sententia part of his artistic structure. It is as if the moral gravitas of the pilgrims' goal-like the pull of gravity itself-grew more compelling as the object neared. Thus the Parson's Tale is absolutely appropriate as the concluding performance in the Canterbury Tales, and the Retraction follows properly as the logical culmination of both book and career. It should be emphasized that the order in which the works are arranged, not the order of composition, is of primary importance here. There is no question but that such an artistic project, whether long envisioned or newly sprung, would affect the incorporation of materials regardless of the time of composition, for in an anthologizing work art may show itself as much in selection and arrangement as in creation of the parts. Was the Life of Saint Cecilia, for example, composed long before? No matter. Once an appropriate context arises, it serves for the Second Nun, and such significance as it may have had earlier as an independent, free-standing work is simply the more enhanced when it is fitted into the new context. The individual elements, that is, finally are subordinated to and subsumed by the overall structure. In short, Chaucer, to the extent that his hand can be held accountable, deliberately places the more overtly moral tales, regardless of date of composition, among the later Canterbury Tales because that is the right place for them.

Of course, the expression of spiritual sentence, at least when orthodox, posed little risk for the artist; more problematic was political sentence. Many have argued that spiritual themes are present in Chaucerian corners where they are sometimes indiscernible to the unaided eye. I think it no less legitimate to suggest the presence of an implicit, subtle thread of political commentary-advice chiefly to the crown and to those near it-stitched carefully into the fabric of such works as Troilus and Criseyde, the Knight's Tale, and the Franklin's Tale, among others.

In the present discussion, I do not intend to debate the substance of Chaucer's political reflections, a matter too complex to dispatch properly in this single essay. Stated briefly, the range of Chaucer's concern included the questions of practical militarism, duty, loyalty, love, and hierarchy that, either in theory or in practice, bore on the events and personalities of his day. If one seeks a rubric in a single word, the word might as well be "chivalry." What matters most for present purposes is that Chaucer indeed had advice to give but was, over the course of his career, necessarily cautious in the degree to which he gave it.

There is in Chaucer a distinct vein of conservatism, both religious and political. As Charles Muscatine put it a quarter of a century ago, Chaucer, no harbinger of the Renaissance, has a conservatively medieval ideology "in tune with an earlier and securer phase of medieval culture.""It is upon such a conservative background, I would contend, that Chaucer draws when he evaluates the chivalry of his day and analyzes its appropriateness to the needs of the time; it is this background that is exemplified in his assigning to the traditional military chivalric bond a preeminent place among knightly ideals and deemphasizing the chivalry of love-the latter a manifestation of the chivalric impulse in courtly pursuits. While in Chaucer's poetry the recurrent literal image of etiolation and diversion is that of the martial figure turned venereal, the warrior turned lover (such as Troilus, Mars, and Arveragus), the image encapsulates a much broader range of social phenomena. While Edward III in thrall to Alice Perrers is the literal, historical image of Chaucer's exemplary poetic structure, Richard II, succumbing to the blandishments of flatterers and settling his taste upon the less martial pursuits that critics insisted weakened his court and country, is still another manifestation of that distracted martialism that Chaucer sums up in his single image. Chaucer employs the image of the martial turned venereal as a vehicle for political critique, but the criticism is, at most, oblique and veiled. The Canterbury sequence takes a turn as Canterbury is neared, and the organization and themes of the final tales suggest a reaction against the inumbrating reticence of the earlier.

In the final groupings of tales, Fragments VIII to X in the Ellesmere and groups G to I in the Chaucer Society order, the Manciple's Tale sits squarely between the overtly spiritual final performances of the Second Nun and the Parson (along with the highly confessional Canon's Yeoman's Tale) as Chaucer's political apologia, his reflection, I would suggest, on the restraint in his political commentary. Arguments hinging upon textual sequence in the Canterbury Tales are often subject to scrutiny, particularly between, if not within, fragments. No such problem arises in the present context, however, for the opening line of the Parson's Prologue, initiating the final fragment, clearly indicates that the Manciple's Tale was meant to precede it. This clear link between fragments is, in fact, unique in the Canterbury Tales. The time of the composition of the Manciple Tale is uncertain, but even if it were early, such evidence as the linking passage-as well as internal characteristics-suggests at least late and perhaps substantial revision.18 Although Fragment VIII (Group G) contains no such convenient references to the framework, it is placed just before the last two fragments in both the Ellesmere and the Chaucer Society orders. (The composition of the Second Nun's Tale probably took place considerably earlier, and Chaucer may have written part of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale earlier as well.)19 Although both the impact and the import of the crow's revelation to Phoebus (his lady is unfaithful) tend to be obscured by the brevity of the statement and its subordination to the Manciple's own primary message (one should keep one's own council), the crow's advice is thematically akin to the Chaucerian chivalric admonition sketched above: Phoebus is at risk in a matter of love. In this respect, then, Chaucer echoes his earlier established pattern of recondite chivalric and political commentary in the Manciple Tale, a tale that is, ironically, an apologia for non-candor set in the midst of a group of tales illustrating and exemplifying candor and overt sentence as never before.

In the sequence of the final three fragments as attested by both the Ellesmere and Chaucer Society orders, the straightforward piety of the prologue to the Second Nun's Tale at the beginning is close kin to that of the Parson's Tale at the end, and the saint's life that constitutes the Second Nun's Tale itself is thoroughly in the ecclesiastical mode. The Canon and his Yeoman are ecclesiastical only in the circumstance of their connection with a chapter, yet the Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale fit appropriately into the final sequence as well. The Canon's Yeoman's Tale, depending upon one's perspective, is an exercise either in tattling (linking it with the crow of the Manciple's Tale) or in increasingly candid truthtelling as the teller comes, during his monologue, more and more to recognize the truth. It is, as well, truth concerning the teller's superior, who, before he flees, offers a line that could as well have come from the Manciple: "Hoold thou thy pees and spek no wordes mo" (VIII. 693). (The Canon's Yeoman's Tale is generally acknowledged to have ties to the Second Nun's Tale, and we should note that the Cecilia of the latter is also an unhesitating teller of truth to Almachius, her superior-and she is killed for it.) It is possible to see in the Canon's Yeoman a parallel to Chaucer himself, with Chaucer, like the alchemist's servant, moving toward the end of a lengthy narrative and also toward unstinting revelation of earlier-suppressed truth. Chaucer's position with respect to the Manciple's Tale-its teller and its characters-is intriguing indeed, and a remarkable chain of analogy stretches from Chaucer, subservient to his patrons, through the selfeffacing personae of his early poems, through his pilgrim persona, in turn teased and browbeaten by the Host, through the Manciple to the crow in the Manciple's Tale.20 A common theme threads throughout all of these. All can be seen as individuals of astuteness or insight placed by fate in positions of subservience to those less insightful or astute (or, at the least, less well-informed) than themselves: Chaucer the courtier to the court; the crow to the god Phoebus, represented in the tale (significantly, insofar as Chaucer is concerned with social relationship) more as nobleman than as deity; the Manciple to the fellows of his inn. In the immediate context of the Canterbury Tales the relationship between Cook and Manciple, in a sense, works both ways, for the Cook, although of inferior status, holds a degree of ascendancy over the Manciple through his evident knowledge of the Manciple's malfeasance, candor threatening to beget further candor (IX. 69-80). It may be significant that the Manciple, in the interchange with the Cook, is deterred from truthtelling because it would precipitate further truthtelling. In brief, leaving the Cook aside, Chaucer tells of a Manciple whose position-not, I hasten to add, personality-reflects his own, and that Manciple, in turn, tells of a crow whose position reflects his own. Such analogies have not gone unnoticed. Birney, countering assessments of the Manciple's Tale as an early composition not particularly suited to its teller, argues that the Manciple's manipulation of the Cook and the manner of his treatment of classical story reflect the skills he employs to cozen his employers, and-particularly relevant to the present argument-that the tone of the crow's revelation of the adultery of Apollo's lady echoes "the sardonic tone of that ungentle pilgrim who could not restrain himself from jeering at anyone who has been made a fool of, whether it be a drunken cook or a college of lawyers." 21 Richard Hazelton suggests a further link, finding in the crow, as does Birney, the Manciple's alter ego and in turn finding the Manciple to be Chaucer's own "most transparent persona."22 Louise Fradenburg links the crow and Chaucer directly: the crow, like Chaucer, is a courtierpoet, but one whose discourse, in the revelation of Apollo's cuckoldry, fatally displeases the sovereign.23 If analogy (either linked or direct) leads us from Chaucer to the Manciple's crow, and if, as suggested above, the crow's message that Phoebus's relationship with his beloved is fraught with problems is analogous to Chaucer's point of view regarding courtly chivalry, we cannot help but be attentive, as Chaucer himself must have been attentive, to the fate of the crow.

Insofar as both the Manciple and crow are his alter egos, Chaucer in effect dramatizes through them his own divergent alternatives. The ways open to the artist are not unlike the twin legends confronting the dreamer before the gate in the Parliament of Fowls, "good aventure" and "mortal strokes of the spere," and the Manciple, for one, intends to risk no mortal strokes. The Manciple, first, criticizes the drunken Cook, then retreats when the Host warns him that displeasing the Cook might result in the exposure of his business dealings before his Inns-of-Court superiors. The Manciple, that is, dissembles or, more accurately, qualifies and meliorates by final words and actions-in a sense, retractscriticism that is indeed given, and hence he presumably survives in the good graces of the criticized.

The crow, next, reveals in "wordes bolde" (IX. 258) the infidelity of his master's lady. The crow's words are bold indeed: His "on thy bed thy wyf I saugh hym swyve" (IX. 256) is scarcely less blunt than January's "Ye, algate in it wente!" (IV. 2376). Chaucer seems intent upon making his exemplar the unadulterated article. In consequence of the crow's message the lady is killed, the master heartbroken, and the crow himself bereft of white feathers, song, and speech. The crow's fate exemplifies that of the messenger or counselor who expresses without hesitation or equivocation unwelcome news or counsel. Not only does the messenger suffer, but from his candor comes tragedy for all involved. Thus Chaucer's narrative creation, the Manciple, exemplifies the positive consequences of discretion and dissimulation, while the Manciple's narrative creation, the crow, demonstrates the negative consequences of outspoken honesty. In the Manciple's Tale, then, set late as it is in the Canterbury Tales sequence, we may hear the voice of a selfreflective Chaucer, looking back upon his career and evaluating and rationalizing it, even as he contemplates its end.24

If the Manciple's Tale embodies rueful self-reflection, it is not surprising that it should have a propensity to echo earlier passages in the Canterbury Tales, even as far back as the General Prologue. The description of Apollo alone reflects variously the Knight (he is "fulfild of gentillesse, / Of honour, and of parfit worthynesse [IX. 123-24]); the Squire (he is a "lusty bachiler" [IX. 107]); and John of the Miller's Tale (like John, he loves his wife "moore than his lyf" [IX. 140], and, also like John, "Jalous he was, and wolde have kept hire fayn" [IX. 144]).2 Prominent among the earlier works whose echoes reverberate in the Manciple's Tale is the personal narrative of the Wife of Bath, which it balances both dramatically and thematically. The Manciple and the Wife are opposite types with respect to the theme of speech and circumspection. The balance, I would argue, is deliberate, not coincidental. The Wife of Bath, in her openness, is precisely what the Manciple is not-and what Chaucer is not. I here bypass the question of the intrinsic merit and even the orthodoxy or unorthodoxy of the Wife of Bath's propounded "doctrine" as being at best tangential. The numerous echoes of the Wife of Bath in the Manciple's Tale serve the dual purpose of linking the works and offering evidence that if some version of the Manciple's Tale was in fact an early composition, Chaucer updated it to fit it into the later context rather than merely inserting it wholesale.26

The Wife of Bath alludes to the story of the tell-tale chough (III. 23132), itself the core of the Manciple's Tale. The Manciple cites clerkish descriptions of wives, both good and shrewish, in lines that could have been drawn from the diatribes Alison attributes to her husbands (III. 235-378):

A good wyf, that is clene of werk and thoght, Sholde nat been kept in noon awayt, certayn; And trewely the labour is in vayn To kepe a shrewe, for it wol nat bee. This holde I for a verray necetee, To spille labour for to kepe wyves: Thus writen olde clerkes in hir lyves. (IX. 148-54)

While the passage resounds with the antifeminist fervor of the sentiments Alison pretends to quote from her husbands, the language itself bears close comparison with her own in a later passage, where she could well be referring to the same clerk or clerks to whom the Manciple alludes:

The clerk, whan he is oold, and may noght do Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho, Thanne sit he doun, and writ in his dotage That wommen kan nat kepe hir mariage! (III. 707-oo-Io)

Both Manciple (IX. 175-82) and Wife (III. 348-56) use the image of the cat to illustrate the natural desire for liberty, but, while the repetition of so traditional an exemplar may be coincidence, certainly suggestive is the extensive iteration of the theme of women's desire for liberty in both (III. 313ff., 348ff., 543ff.; IX. i3gff.). The Manciple, to be sure, is primarily concerned with sexual liberty, the Wife with perambulatory, but the Wife of Bath combines the themes in the pretense that her "walkynge out by nyghte" was a means of monitoring her husband's philandering (III. 393-99), just as Chaucer possibly combines them in the famously ambiguous remark in the General Prologue that "She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye" (Iv 467). The Manciple's Tale, like the Wife of Bath's personal narrative, ends in violence, and violence in each account is followed in turn by almost identical language. Alison says to Jankyn, after he has struck her down, "O! hastow slayn me, false theef?" (III. Soo); "O false theef!" Phoebus says to the crow, once he has killed his lady, "I wol thee quite anon thy false tale" (IX. 292-93). Both represent themselves as non-textual (the Manciple in so many words [IX. 235, 3z6], the Wife of Bath through her endorsement of experience over authority [III. ), but nevertheless cite almost ad nauseam learned clerks, scripture, and the classics. The Wife of Bath, a teaching "dame" if ever there was one, attributes some of her wisdom to her own "dame," using the word no doubt in the sense of "mother": "My dame taughte me that soutiltee" (III. 576). The theme of a linked chain of authority, couched in parallel language, reappears in the tale of the Manciple (IX. 317-62), taught by his own "dame" (IX. 317), again, probably meaning "mother" ("thus was me toold and taught" [IX. 337]). Even the Wife of Bath's sensory impairment echoes in the counsel of the Manciple's dame against "jangling": "Dissimule as thou were deef, if that thou heere / A janglere speke of perilous mateere" (IX. 347-48). Chaucer enriches the parallels immensely through having the counsel of the Manciple and his dame, to restrain one's tongue and spread tidings neither false nor true, run so precisely counter to the whole essence of the Wife of Bath and yet be couched in language and placed in context so similar. The parallel lines, it would seem, are no more likely to meet than those infinite ones of Marvell's lovers. Of the many parallels, straightforward or ironic, between the Manciple and the Wife of Bath, one in particular is of an unusual nature and constitutes what one might call an orthodontic connection between the narratives. (Though it is tempting in this dental context, it would no doubt be unseemly to call it a "bridge.") The Manciple, citing, like Alison, the wisdom of "my dame," insinuates into his narrative the image of the teeth as the wall of the tongue, provided by God to circumscribe careless speech:

My sone, God of his endelees goodnesse Walled a tonge with teeth and lippes eke, For man sholde hym avyse what he speeke. (IX. 322-24)

Sheila Delany associates the Manciple's reflections on the walling of the tongue with James 3:3-10, itself a commentary on "the use and abuse of language."2' The Manciple may himself have anticipated the matter earlier when telling the yawning cook,

Hoold cloos thy mouth, man, by thy fader kyn! The devel fo helle sette his foot therin! Thy cursed breeth infect wole us alle. (IX. 37-39)

The syntax is ambiguous. Whether the mouth is to be closed as a precaution against impure breath or against the devil's entrance, whether the reference to the devil is a curse or a statement of accomplished fact, the general counsel is the same, namely, "Hoold cloos thy mouth." But when the Manciple speaks of walling the tongue with teeth and lips, the imagery has a specificity to which mere reflection on occlusion and self-control does insufficient justice. Teeth, like most phenomena of the created world, received a broad range of figurative treatment among the patristic writers, particularly, of course, when they appeared in scripture. Reflecting on Canticles 4:2 ("Thy teeth are as flocks of sheep . . ."), Augustine envisions the saints as "the teeth of the church cutting off men from their errors."28 Job in his suffering says, "The flesh being consumed, my bone hath cleaved to my skin, and nothing but lips are left about my teeth" (Job 19:20). The Glossa Ordinaria here identifies the teeth with the apostles, but that is barely a beginning.29 The following catalog, drawn from the Allegoriae in universam sacram scripturam, once attributed to Rabanus Maurus, and ranging both positively and negatively from the church and preachers through persecutors of the church and slanderers, is illustrative of the range of invention applied to the image of the teeth as it appears throughout scripture:

Dentes sunt verba Ecclesiae, ut in Job . . ; Dentes, praedicatores, ut in Cantico . . . ; Dentes, interni sensus, ut in Job . . .; Dentes, verba legis, ut in Deuteronomio . . .; Dentes, robora virtutum . . .; Dentes, vitia edacitatis, ut in Job . . ; Dentes, persecutiones daemonum, ut in cantico Deuteronomii.; Dentes dura, ut in Psalmis: "Dentes peccatorum contrivisti;" id est, crudelia verba pravorum destruxisti. Dentes, detractores, ut in Psalmis . . .; Dentes, crudelitates, ut in Job. ..30

As is immediately evident, a significant number of these interpretations not surprisingly identify the teeth with words and speech.

The specific image that occurs in the Manciple's Tale is that of the teeth as a wall. The image had become traditional by the Renaissance, as is illustrated by Morris Palmer Tilley, all of whose citations are from the fifteenth century or later.? There is probably little profit to be gained in trying to trace down a direct source for Chaucer, but an intriguingly close parallel is to be found in Lactantius:

[The tongue] is covered by the concave part of the palate as by a shell, and God has surrounded it with the enclosure of the teeth as with a wall?2

Whether the figure is derived from Lactantius or elsewhere, the significance the Manciple draws from the image of the teeth as a wall for the tongue-constraint of speech-is, of course, appropriate both to his career (as servant of lawyers) and to his relationship with the Cook in the prologue. It is wisdom from which he has profited. In inverted fashion both image and interpretation are appropriate as well to the Manciple's direct opposite, the Wife of Bath, a self-described "verray jangleresse" (III. 638). Much attention has been given to the Wife of Bath's loquacity and to the extraordinary heterodoxy of the substance of her speech; in this regard the fact that she is "gat-tothed," a detail attested both by herself (III. 603) and by the narrator (I. 468), would seem to be a matter of particular significance. Scholars have traditionally relegated Alison's being gat-toothed to the province of the physiognomists as the sign of a lecherous nature and left it at that. Editors and other scholars generally turn to Walter Clyde Curry, according to whose catalog gat-toothed women were expected to be "envious, irreverent, luxurious by nature, bold, deceitful, faithless, and suspicious."33 I would propose that, in addition to serving as a physiognomic symptom, the image figuratively betokens undisciplined speech. If the teeth are indeed palisades to wall in the tongue, in the case of Alison there is a breach-or there are breaches-in the wall. The Wife is not merely loquacious. Her speech is literally undisciplined in such matters as her carelessness of citation, her propensity to misappropriate auctoritas or to quote selectively. These elements of her character broaden the interpretive resonance of the image of gat-toothedness, for if the teeth are, figuratively, the words of the church or the preachers, that they should have gaps between them must surely be significant. One way or another, the teeth, figuratively as well as orthodontically considered, should all be present and in their proper places.

In a significant inversion, although Alison's mouth, the organ of speech, lacks due enclosure, her ear, the organ of hearing, is blocked. To the extent that Alison is more a talker than a listener, the deprivation is no doubt the less acute, and it is, of course, the narrator of the General Prologue, not Alison, who laments her deafness (I. 446). Given Alison's character and predilections, her deafness may well be a convenience, saving her the annoyance of having to listen to uncongenial doctrine: it is, after all, the unintended consequence of Jankyn's deafening blow that he cedes to Alison the governance "of his tonge" and burns his "book of wikked wyves" (III. 8I5, 685). We should remember, mindful of the continuing but inverted parallels, that the Manciple's "dame," warning her son against janglers who "speke of perilous mateere," advises him to "[d]issimule as thou were deef" (IX. 347-48). The Wife of Bath, jangler to the core, is deaf in fact, especially to virtuous speech; the Manciple and his dame, wary of any kind of speech that may endanger the speaker and hearer, can only pretend deafness.

More severe, though, than the blow that punishes and perhaps simultaneously gratifies the Wife of Bath is the contrasting punishment of the other jangler, the Manciple's crow, bereft not of hearing but of speech. The severity of his transformation is perhaps not surprising, for if the Wife of Bath's tongue lacked a degree of circumscription, the crow's lacked it altogether. The moralizing Manciple, or, rather, the Manciple's Lactantius-echoing "dame," evidently saw no reason to point out the obvious, but I will do so here: the crow to whom the moral implications of the image apply had, as is the nature of crows, no teeth at all. Judson Allen and Patrick Gallacher, commenting on the moral value of Ovid's metamorphoses for the Middle Ages, have noted that "Ovid's changes were understood to produce figurative equivalents of the moral values involving his characters." 35 The divergent transformations of Alison and the crow are similarly fitting. The crow exercises his power of speech with absolute freedom and in consequence he loses not his hearing, as does the Wife of Bath, whose teeth provide at least partial restraint, but speech itself. In other words, the Wife, who does not want to hear the truth, is transformed into one who cannot hear. The crow, who takes no care to govern his tongue into silence, loses his ability to govern his tongue into speech.

The artist who would promulgate the truth must possess two powers, the ability to perceive that which goes on about him-an ability of which hearing is one instrument and one image-and the ability to disseminate his reflections thereon-that is, speech. Alison and the crow, with their variously unwalled mouths, variously lose both. The practical if not pretty lesson for a courtier-poet in a less-than-ideal world and a less-than-ideal court is obvious. The Manciple's Tale, placed just before the Parson's "penitential," his "examination of conscience," may serve as Chaucer's own examination of conscience, and as an attempt at self-justification, before his audience. Emporia State University


1 F. M. Salter, "The Tragic Figure of the Wife of Bath," Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 3d ser., 48, sect. 2 (1954): 7.

2 D. W. Robertson, Jr., "The Concept of Courtly Love as an Impediment to the Understanding of Medieval Texts," in The Meaning of Courtly Love, ed. F. X. Newman (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1972), 13, 17.

3 Donald R. Howard, Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World (New York: Ballentine, 89), 322, 437.

4 Richard Firth Green, Poets and Princepleasers: Literature and the English Court in the Late Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, IgBo); see especially loI-ll, 15267, and 203-ii.





5 Derek Brewer, "The Relationship of Chaucer to the English and European Traditions," in Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Literature, ed. Derek Brewer (University, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1966), 28-29. Alfred David agrees that Chaucer was indeed a moralist and a teacher, but that he necessarily had to preserve a deferential stance before the superiors whom he instructed. See Alfred David, The Strumpet Muse: Art and Morals in Chaucer's Poetry (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1976), especially 11-13.

6 Salter, "The Tragic Figure of the Wife of Bath," 7.

7 Paul Strohm, "Politics and Poetics: Usk and Chaucer in the 138os," in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 138o-153o, ed. Lee Patterson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), go, izz.

8 Larry D. Benson, "A Reader's Guide to Writings on Chaucer," in Writers and Their Background: Geoffrey Chaucer, ed. Derek Brewer (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 975), 332.

9 The passage is cited in F. N. M. Diekstra, "Chaucer's Digressive Mode and the Moral of The Manciple's Tale," Neophilologus 67 (1983): 136.





10 S. Sanderlin, "Chaucer and Ricardian Politics," Chaucer Review 22 (1988): 182. lt See Carl Lindahl, Earnest Games: Folkloric Patterns in the Canterbury Tales (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987). Lindahl concentrates more upon the folkloric strategies themselves than upon what those truths are.

12 Michaela Paasche Gruden, "Chaucer's Manciple's Tale and the Poetics of Guile," Chaucer Review 25 (1991): 339.

13 Sheila Delany, "Politics and the Paralysis of Poetic Imagination in The Physician's Tale,' Studies in the Age of Chaucer 3 (1981): 57, 6o.

14 V. J. Scattergood, "The Manciple's Manner of Speaking," Essays in Criticism 24 (1974): 126.

IS Sanderlin, "Chaucer and Ricardian Politics," 182.





16 Quotations from Chaucer are from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). Citations will be given by fragment and line number.





17 Charles Muscatine, Poetry and Crisis in the Age of Chaucer (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972), 31.





ls John H. Fisher, primarily on the basis of the Ovidian nature of the Manciple's Tale but taking into account as well its parallels with Gower, places its original composition as contemporaneous with the Legend of Good Women, that is, between Troilus and Criseyde and the Canterbury period (The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2d ed. [New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1989], 336-37). Chaucer's later adaptation, Fisher implies, may have consisted only of adding the prologue, yet some readings would suggest that if original composition were indeed early, the adaptation was considerably more extensive. Donald C. Baker, countering Manly and Rickert, argues in favor of late composition but concedes the inconclusive nature of the manuscript evidence (The Manciple's Tale, in A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, vol. 2, part lo [Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984], iz-14). That the tale as we have it took shape late is implied by such evidence, noted by others, as maturity of style, allusiveness to earlier tales in the Canterbury sequence, appropriateness to the teller's portrait, and aptness to the tone of the subsequent Parson's Prologue and Tale. See, for example, George Schlesinger, "A Plug for Pluralism? A Note on the Manciple's Tale," The Durham University Journal 52 (1991): 5; Diekstra, "Chaucer's Digressive Mode," 133, 147n; Earle Birney, "Chaucer's 'Gentil' Manciple and His 'Gentil' Tale," Neuphilologische Mitteilungen 61 (196o): 257-67; A. C. Spearing, "The Canterbury Tales IV: Exemplum and Fable," in The Cambridge Chaucer Companion, ed. Piero Boitano and Jill Mann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 86), 175; and James Dean, "Dismantling the Canterbury Book," PMLA 100 (1985): 754. 19 See Benson, The Riverside Chaucer, xxix; see also 941-42 for a summary of scholarship supporting the unity of Fragments VIII, IX, and X.





20 Among those seeing the Manciple as reflective or parodic of Chaucer are Scattergood, who sees parallels in such matters as narrative strategy and shared textual allusion ("The Manciple's Manner of Speaking," 143, 146n), and Lee W. Patterson, who finds that both reflect questioningly upon the uses of language ("The Parson's Tale and the Quitting of the Canterbury Tales," Traditio 34 [19781: 377-78).





21 Birney, "Chaucer's 'Gentil' Manciple," 265.

22 Richard Hazelton, "The Manciple's Tale: Parody and Critique," JEGP 62 (1963): 1-31; quotation from 30.

23 Louise Fradenburg, "The Manciple's Servant Tongue: Politics and Poetry in THe Canterbury Tales," ELH 52 (I985): 85-ii8.





24 Chaucerian self-reflection, it should be noted, can be viewed from a perspective quite counter to mine. Scattergood agrees that Chaucer was personally concerned with the Manciple's theme of restraint, but from the point of view of one who fears having offended rather than that of one who regrets having tried not to offend ("The Manciple's Manner of Speaking," 142).

25 See also Spearing, who finds in the Manciple's language echoes not only of the narrator of the Canterbury Tales but of Troilus and Criseyde as well ("Exemplum and Fable," 175)





26 Diekstra argues that the digressions of the Manciple's Tale bring the audience back into the marriage debate, "the world of the Wife of Bath's Prologue" ("Chaucer's Digressive Mode," 140-41).





27 Sheila Delany, "Doer of the Word: The Epistle of St. James as a Source for Chaucer's Manciple's Tale," Chaucer Review 17 (1983): 252.

28 Saint Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson, Jr. (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1958), 37.





29J. P Migne, ed., Patrologia Latina, zu vols. (1844-55), 113:810: "Dentes apostoli sunt...." This interpretation is borne out by both the marginal and the interlinear glosses in the two Renaissance printings of the glossed Vulgate Bible that I have consulted, the Lyons edition of 1589 and the Antwerp edition of 1617. In each text the marginal gloss is identical to that in Migne.





30 Migne, PL 112:9o7-8. Migne attributes the work to Rabanus; Dom A. Wilmart, "Les Allegories sur l'Ecriture attribuees 5 Raban Maur," Revue Benedictine 32 (1920): 47-56, places it in the late twelfth century; Henri de Lubac, Exigegese medievale: Les quatre sens de l'Ecriture, Premiere Partie (Paris: Aubier, 1959), 152, attributes it to Adam Scot.





so Morr s raimer lllley, A ilctonary or the 1rovers In Lng ana in tngland m the 5ixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1950), 676 (T424); see also 674 (T3g2).

32 Lactantius, On the Workmanship of God, or the Formation of Man, in The Works of Lactantius, trans. William Fletcher, 2:72, The Ante-Nicene Christian Library, 22 (Edinburgh, 1871).





33 Walter Clyde Curry, Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences, rev. ed. (New York: Barnes and Noble, 196o), 1og; Curry in turn cites his own article, "More about Chaucer's Wife of Bath," PMLA 37 (1922): 31-51, specifically 45-46n38). 34 This aspect of the Wife of Bath's character has been documented exhaustively. See, for example, the following: Donald C. Baker, "Chaucer's Clerk and the Wife of Bath on the Subject of Gentilesse," Studies in Philology 59 (1962): 631-4o; Kemp Malone, "The Wife of Bath's Tale," Modern Language Review 57 (1962): 481-gl; D. W. Robertson, Jr., A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962),





320-21; Bernard F. Huppe, A Reading of the "Canterbury Tales" (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1964), lo8 et passim; Richard L. Hoffman, "The Wife of Bath as Student of Ovid," Notes and Queries n.s. ii (1964): 287-88, "Ovid and the Wife of Bath's Tale of Midas," Notes and Queries n.s. 13 (1966): 48-50, and Ovid and the "Canterbury Tales" (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1966),145-49; Tony Slade, "Irony in the Wife of Bath's Tale," Modern Language Review 64 (1969): 241-47; Bernard S. Levy, "The Wife of Bath's Queynte Fantasye," Chaucer Review 4 (1969): Io6-22; David Parker, "Can We Trust the Wife of Bath?" Chaucer Review 4 (1969): go-98; Gloria K. Shapiro, "Dame Alice as Deceptive Narrator," Chaucer Review 6 (1971): 130-41; Donald R. Howard, The Idea of the "Canterbury Tales" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 253-54; Ellen Schauber and Ellen Spolsky, "The Consolation of Alison: The Speech Acts of the Wife of Bath," Centrum 5 (1977): 20-34; Anne Mendelson, "Some Uses of the Bible and Biblical Authority in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale" (Ph.D. diss., Bryn Mawr, 1978), abstract in Dissertation Abstracts International 39 (1978): 22gSA; Robert Cook, "Another Biblical Echo in the Wife of Bath's Prologue?" English Studies 59 (1978): 390-94; and Melvin Storm, "Alisoun's Ear," Modern Language Quarterly 42 (1981): 219-26.





3 Judson B. Allen and Patrick Gallacher, "Alisoun through the Looking Glass: Or Every Man His Own Midas," Chaucer Review 4 (1969): gg.




[Author Affiliation]

36 I would like to thank the Research and Creativity Committee of Emporia State University for its support during the completion of this study.