Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Shipmannes Tale. - Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
The Shipmannes Tale. - Geoffrey Chaucer, Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5) 
The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, edited from numerous manuscripts by the Rev. Walter W. Skeat (2nd ed.) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899). 7 vols. Vol. 5.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The Shipmannes Tale.
This Tale agrees rather closely with one in Boccaccio’s Decamerone, Day viii. nov. 1. See further in vol. iii. p. 420.
1191.Seint Denys, Saint Denis, in the environs of Paris. Cf. ll. 1247, 1249, and note to 1341.
1202.us, i. e. us women. This is clear proof that some of the opening lines of this Tale were not originally intended for the Shipman, but for the Wife of Bath, as she is the only lady in the company to whom they would be suitable. We may remember that Chaucer originally meant to make each pilgrim tell four Tales; so there is nothing surprising in the fact that he once thought of giving this to the Wife. This passage is parallel to D. 337–339.
1209.perilous. Cf. D. 339: ‘it is peril of our chastitee.’
1228. Referring to the common proverb—‘As fain as a fowl [bird] of a fair day’; cf. l. 1241 below, A. 2437, G. 1342.
1233.Daun, Dan, for Lat. Dominus, corresponding to E. sir, as in ‘Sir John,’ a common title for a priest. Cf. B. 3119.
1244.Shoop him, lit. shaped himself, set about, got ready. Cf. P. Plowman, C. i. 2, xiv. 247, and the notes.
1245.Brugges, Bruges; which, as Wright remarks, was ‘the grand central mart of European commerce in the middle ages.’ Cf. P. Plowman, C. vii. 278, and the note.
1256.graunges, granges; cf. notes to A. 3668, and A. 166.
1260.Malvesye, Malmsey; so named from Malvasia, now Napoli di Malvasia, a town on the E. coast of Lacedaemonia in the Morea. See note in the Babees Book, ed. Furnivall, p. 206, where Malvasia is explained as the Ital. corruption of Monemvasia, from Gk. μόνη ἐμβασία, single entrance; with reference to its position.
1261.Vernage. In the Babees Book, ed. Furnivall, p. 203, vernage is said to be a red wine, bright, sweet, and somewhat rough, from Tuscany and Genoa, and other parts of Italy. The Ital. name is vernaccia, lit. the name of a thick-skinned grape. The information in this note and the preceding one is drawn from Henderson’s History of Ancient and Modern Wines, 1824: which see.
1262.volatyl, wild fowl, game; here used as a collective plural, to represent Lat. uolatilia. Littré quotes: ‘Tant ot les volatiles chieres’; Roman de la Rose, 20365. Wyclif has al volatile to translate cunctumuolatile, Gen. vii. 14; also my volatilis in Matt. xxii. 4, where the Vulgate has altilia. Cf. F. volaille.
1278.passed pryme, past 9 a.m. See notes to A. 3906, F. 73; and cf. B. 1396.
1281.his thinges, the things he had to say; cf. F. 78. It ‘means the divine office in the Breviary, i.e. the psalms and lessons from scripture which, being absent from the convent, he was bound to say privately’; Bell. curteisly, reverently. See note to l. 1321 below.
1287.under the yerde, still subject to the discipline of the rod. As girls were married at a very early age, this should mean ‘still quite a child.’ Cf. as hir list in l. 1286. And see E. 22. See Ælfric’s Colloquy (Wright’s Vocab. ed. Wülker, p. 102), where the boy says he is still sub uirga, on which the A. S. gloss is under gyrda. F. sous la verge (Littré).
1292.appalled, enfeebled, languid; see F. 365.
1293.dare, lie motionless. This is the original sense of the word, as in E. Friesic bedaren. So also Low G. bedaren, to be still and quiet; as in dat weer bedaart, the weather becomes settled; een bedaart mann, a man who has lost the fire of youth. Du. bedaren, to compose, to calm. The rather common M. E. phrase to droupe and dare means ‘to sink down and lie quiet,’ like a hunted animal in hiding; hence came the secondary sense ‘to lurk’ or ‘lie close,’ as in the Prompt. Parv. Cotgrave has F. blotir, ‘to squat, skowke, or lie close to the ground, like a daring lark or affrighted foul.’ Hence also a third sense, ‘to peer round,’ as a lurking creature that looks out for possible danger. The word is common in M. E., and in many passages the sense ‘to lie still’ suits better than ‘lurk,’ as it is usually explained.
1295.Were, ‘which might be,’ ‘which should happen to be’; the relative is understood. forstraught, distracted. Such is evidently the sense; but the word occurs nowhere else, and is incorrect. As far as I can make it out, Chaucer has coined this word incorrectly. The right word is destrat (vol. ii. p. 67, l. 1), from O. F. destrait, pp. of destraire, to tear asunder (as by horses), to torment, fatigue (Godefroy). Next, he turned it (1) into forstrait, pp. of forstraire (fortraire in Cotgrave), to purloin; and (2) into forstraught, as if it were the pp. of an A. S. *for-streccan, to stretch exceedingly. Thus, he has made one change by altering the prefix, and another by misdividing the word and substituting English for French. A similar mistake is seen in the absurd form distraught, used for ‘distracted,’ though it is, formally, equivalent to dis-straught, as if made up of the prefix dis- and the pp. of strecchen, to stretch. An early instance occurs in Lydgate’s Minor Poems, ed. Halliwell, p. 206, where we find ‘Distrauhte in thouhte,’ i.e. distracted in thought, mad. There is much confusion between the E. prefixes for-, fore-, and the F. fors-, for-. Chaucer has straughte (correctly), as the pt. t. of strecchen, in A. 2916.
1298. Accent labóured on the second syllable.
1303. ‘God knows all’; implying, ‘I can contradict you, if I choose to speak.’
1321.port-hors, for porte-hors, lit. ‘carry-abroad,’ the F. equivalent of Lat. portiforium, a breviary. Also spelt portous, portess, &c. ‘The Portous, or Breviary, contained whatever was to be said by all beneficed clerks, and those in holy orders, either in choir, or privately by themselves, as they recited their daily canonical hours; no musical notation was put into these books.’—Rock, Church of our Fathers, v. iii. pt. 2, p. 212. Dan John had just been saying ‘his things’ out of it (l. 1281). The music was omitted to save space. See P. Plowman, B. xv. 122, and my note on the line.
1327.for to goon, i. e. even though going to hell were the penalty of my keeping secret what you tell me.
1329. ‘This I do, not for kinship, but out of true love.’
1335.a legende, a story of martyrdom, like that of a saint’s life.
1338. St. Martin of Tours, whose day is Nov. 11.
1341. St. Denis of France, St. Dionysius, bishop of Paris, martyred 272, whose day is Oct. 9. Near his place of martyrdom was built a chapel, which was first succeeded by a church, and then by the famous abbey of St. Denis, in which King Dagobert and his successors were interred. The French adopted St. Denis as their patron saint; see Chambers, Book of Days, ii. 427; Alban Butler, Lives of the Saints, Oct. 9.
1353.sit, is becoming, befits; see E. 460, 1277.
1384.Geniloun, Genilon or Ganelon, the traitor who betrayed Charlemagne’s army at Roncesvalles. For this deed he was torn to death by wild horses, according to the romance-writers. See La Chanson de Roland, l. 3735. Cf. note to B. 3579, and Book of the Duchesse, 1121, and my note upon it.
1396.chilindre, a kind of portable sun-dial, lit. cylinder. A thirteenth-century Latin treatise on the use of the chilindre was edited by Mr. E. Brock for the Chaucer Society, and I here copy his clear description of the instrument. ‘The Chilindre (cylindrus) or cylinder is one of the manifold forms of the sun-dial, very simple in its construction, but rude and inaccurate as a time-shower. According to the following treatise, it consists of a wooden cylinder, with a central bore from top to bottom, and with a hollow space in the top, into which a moveable rotary lid with a little knob at the top is fitted. This lid is also bored in the centre, and a string passed through the whole instrument. Upon this string the chilindre hangs [perpendicularly] when in use. The style or gnomon works on a pin fixed in the lid. When the instrument is in use, the style projects at a right angle to the surface of the cylindrical body, through a notch in the side of the lid, but can, at pleasure, be turned down and slipt into the central bore, which is made a little wider at the top to receive it. The body of the chilindre is marked with a table of the points of the shadow, a table of degrees for finding the sun’s altitude, and spaces corresponding to the months of the year and the signs of the zodiac. Across these spaces are drawn six oblique hour-lines.
‘To ascertain the time of day by the chilindre, consider what month it is, and turn the lid round till the style stands directly over the corresponding part of the chilindre; then hold up the instrument by the string so that the style points towards the sun, or in other words, so that the shadow of the style falls perpendicularly, and the hour will be shewn by the lowest line reached by the shadow.’
Another treatise of the same character was subsequently edited by Mr. Brock for the same Society. It is entitled ‘Practica Chilindri; or the Working of the Cylinder; by John Hoveden.’
There is a curious reference to the same instrument in the following passage from Horman’s Vulgaria, leaf 338, back:—‘There be iorneyringis [day-circles, dials] and instrumentis lyke an hangynge pyler with a tunge lyllyng [lolling] out, to knowe what tyme of the day.’
In Wright’s Vocabularies, ed. Wülker, 572. 22, we find: ‘Chilindrus, anglice a leuel; uel est instrumentum quo hore notantur, anglice a chylaundre.’ It thus appears that the reading kalendar, in the old editions, is due to a mistake.
The most interesting comment on this passage is afforded by the opening lines of the Prologue to Part II. of Lydgate’s Siege of Thebes, where Lydgate is clearly thinking of Chaucer’s words. Here also the black-letter edition of 1561 has Kalendar, but the reading of MS. Arundel 119 (leaf 18) is more correct, as follows:—
pryme of day, 9 a.m., in the present passage; see above, and note the preparations for dinner in ll. 1399–1401; the dinner-hour being 10 a.m. See also note to A. 3906. ‘Our forefathers dined at an hour at which we think it fashionable to breakfast; ten o’clock was the time established by ancient usage for the principal meal’; Our Eng. Home, p. 33. In earlier times it was nine o’clock; see Wright, Hist. of Domestic Manners, p. 155.
1399. ‘As cheery as a magpie.’
1404.Qui la? who’s there. All the MSS. agree in thus cutting down the expression qui est la to two words; and this abbreviation is emphasised by the English gloss ‘Who ther’ in E. and Hn.; Cm. has Who there, without any French. It is clear, too, that the line is imperfect at the caesura, thus:—
Qui la? | quod he. | — Pe | ter it | am I ∥
This medial pause is probably intentional, to mark the difference between the speakers. Ed. 1532 (which Tyrwhitt follows) has Qui est la, in order to fill out the line. Wright has the same; and (as usual) suppresses the fact that the word est is not in the MS. which he follows ‘with literal accuracy.’
Peter! by Saint Peter! a too common exclamation, shewing that even women used to swear. It occurs again in D. 446, 1332, and Hous of Fame, 1034, 2000.
1412.elenge, pronounced (eeléngga), in a dreary, tedious, lonely manner; drearily. From A. S. ǣlenge, lengthy, protracted; a derivative from lang, long; see P. Plowman, C. i. 204, and the note. In Pegge’s Kenticisms (E. D. S. Gloss. C. 3), we have: ‘Ellinge [pronounced éllinj], adj. solitary, lonely, melancholy, farre from neighbours. See Ray.’ It is also still in use in Sussex. The usual derivation from A.S. ellende, foreign, is incorrect; but it seems to have been confused with this word, whence the sense of ‘strange, foreign,’ was imported into it. See Alange in the New E. Dictionary.
1413.go we dyne, let us go and dine; as in P. Plowman, C. i. 227.
1417.Seint Yve. ‘St. Ivia, or Ivo,’ says Alban Butler, ‘was a Persian bishop, who preached in England in the seventh century.’ He died at St. Ive’s in Huntingdonshire. A church was also built in his honour at St. Ive’s in Cornwall. His day is April 25. This line is repeated in D. 1943. Cf. A. 4264.
1421.dryve forth, spend our time in; cf. P. Plowman, C. i. 225.
1423.pleye, ‘take some relaxation by going on a pilgrimage’; clearly shewing the chief object of pilgrimages. Cf. D. 557. The line also indicates that it was a practice, when men could no longer make a show in the world, to go on a pilgrimage, or ‘go out of the way’ somewhere, to avoid creditors.
1436.houshold. So in E. Hn. Cm.; Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. T. have housbonde, housbond, but the application of this word to a housewife is not happy.
1441.messe, mass; it seems to have been said, on this occasion, about 9.30 a.m. It did not take long; cf. l. 1413.
1445.At-after, soon after. This curious form is still in use; see the Cleveland Glossary. So in the Whitby Glossary:—‘All things in order; ploughing first, sowing at-after.’ Cf. ‘at-after supper,’ Rich. III. iv. 3. 31; and see At, § 40, in the New E. Dict. We find also at-under and at-before. It occurs again in F. 1219.
1466.a myle-wey, even by twenty minutes (the time taken to walk a mile).
1470.Graunt mercy of, many thanks for.
1476. ‘God defend (forbid) that ye should spare.’
1484.took, handed over, delivered; see note to P. Plowman, C. iv. 47. And see l. 1594 below.
1496.let, leadeth, leads; note the various readings. Cf. ‘Thet is the peth of pouerte huerby let the holy gost tho thet,’ &c.; i.e. that is the path of poverty whereby the Holy Ghost leads those that, &c.—Ayenbite of Inwyt, p. 185; and so again in the same, p. 115, l. 9, and p. 51, l. 13. In P. Plowman, B. iii. 157, the Rawlinson MS. has let instead of ledeth.
1499.crowne; alluding to the priestly tonsure. See note to P. Plowman, C. i. 86.
1506. For bolt-upright, see note to A. 4194. This line is defective in the first foot; read—Hav’ | hir in | his, &c. Tyrwhitt reads Haven, but admits, in the notes, that the final n came out of his own head.
1515.the faire, the fair at Bruges. On fairs, see the note to P. Plowman, C. vii. 211.
1519.chevisaunce, a contract for borrowing money on his credit; see A. 282, and note to P. Plowman, B. v. 249. For the purpose of making such a contract, a proportional sum had to be paid down in ready money; see note to l. 1524.
1524. ‘A certain (number of) franks; and some (franks) he took with him.’ The latter sum refers to the money he had to pay down in order to get the chevisance made. See note to Wyclif’s Works, ed. Matthew, p. 528. And see l. 1558.
1542. Here sheeld is used as a plural, by analogy with pund, i.e. pounds. A sheeld was a French écu, or crown; see A. 278.
1557.Lumbardes, Lombards, the great money-lenders and bankers of the middle ages. Cf. ‘Lumbardes of Lukes, that lyuen by lone as lewes,’ Lombards from Lucca, that live by lending, as Jews do; P. Plowman, C. v. 194. Owing to the accent, Lumbard’s is dissyllabic.
1558.bond is misprinted hond in Wright’s edition; MS. Hl. has bond, correctly, though the note in Bell says otherwise.
1592.Marie, by St. Mary; the familiar ‘Marry!’ as used by our dramatists.
1595.yvel thedom, ill success. Cf. ‘Now, sere, evyl thedom com to thi snoute’; Coventry Mysteries, p. 139. This is printed by Halliwell in the form—‘Now, sere evyl Thedom, com to thi snoute,’ i.e. ‘now, sir Ill Success, come to thy snout’; but how a man can come to his own nose, we are not told.
1599.bele chere, fair entertainment, hospitality. Bele=mod. F. belle.
1606. ‘Score it upon my tally,’ make a note of it. See A. 570, and note to P. Plowman, C. v. 61.
1613.to wedde, as a pledge (common). Cf. A. 1218.
1621.large, liberal; hence E. largesse, liberality.