Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Monk's Prologue. - Notes to the Canterbury Tales (Works vol. 5)
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The Monk’s Prologue. - 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.
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The Monk’s Prologue.
3079. The tale of Melibee (as told above) is about a certain Melibeus and his wife Prudence, who had a daughter called Sophie. One day, while Melibeus is absent, three of his enemies break into his house, beat his wife, and wound his daughter. On returning, he takes counsel as to what must be done. He is for planning a method of revenge, but his wife advises him to forgive the injuries, and in the end her counsels prevail.
3082.corpus Madrian, body of Madrian: which has been interpreted in two ways. Urry guessed it to refer to St. Materne, bishop of Treves, variously commemorated on the 14th, 19th, or 25th of September, the days of his translations being July 18 and October 23. Mr. Steevens suggested, in a note printed in Tyrwhitt’s Glossary, that the ‘precious body’ was that of St. Mathurin, priest and confessor, commemorated on Nov. 1 or Nov. 9. The latter is more likely, since in his story in the Golden Legende, edit. 1527, leaf 151 back, the expressions ‘the precious body’ and ‘the holy body’ occur, and the story explains that his body would not stay in the earth till it was carried back to France, where he had given directions that it should be buried.
3083. ‘Rather than have a barrel of ale, would I that my dear good wife had heard this story.’ Cf. morsel breed, B. 3624.
lief is not a proper name, as has been suggested, I believe, by some one ignorant of early English idiom. Cf. ‘Dear my lord,’ Jul. Caesar, ii. 1. 255; and other instances in Abbott’s Shakesp. Grammar, sect. 13.
3101. ‘Who is willing (or who suffers himself) to be overborne by everybody.’
3108.neighëbor, three syllables; thannè, two syllables.
3112. Observe the curious use of seith for misseith.
3114.Monk. See him described in the Prologue, A. 165.
3116.Rouchester. The MSS. have Rouchester, (Hl. Rowchestre), shewing that Lo stands alone in the first foot of the line. Tyrwhitt changed stant into stondeth, but all our seven MSS. have stant.
According to the arrangement of the tales in Tyrwhitt’s edition, the pilgrims reach Rochester after coming to Sittingborne (mentioned in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue), though the latter is some eleven miles nearer Canterbury. The present arrangement of the Groups remedies this. See note to B. 1165, at p. 165.
3117.Ryd forth, ride forward, draw near us.
3119.Wher, whether. dan, for Dominus, a title of respect commonly used in addressing monks. But Chaucer even uses it of Arcite, in the Knightes Tale, and of Cupid, Ho. Fame, 137.
3120. The monk’s name was Piers. See B. 3982, and the note.
3124. Cf. ‘He was not pale as a for-pyned goost’; Prol. A. 205. Jean de Meun says, in his Testament, l. 1073, that the friars have good pastures (il ont bonnes pastures).
3127.as to my doom, in my judgment.
3130. Scan the line—Bút a góvernoúr wylý and wýs. The Petworth MS. inserts ‘boþ’ before ‘wyly’: but this requires the very unlikely accentuation ‘govérnour’ and an emphasis on a. The line would scan better if we might insert art, or lyk, after But, but there is no authority for this.
3132. Read—A wél-faríng persónë, after which comes the pause, as marked in E. and Hn.
3139. The monk’s semi-cope, which seems to have been an ample one, is mentioned in the Prologue, A. 262. In Jack Upland, § 4, a friar is asked what is signified by his ‘wide cope.’
3142. ‘Shaven very high on his crown’; alluding to the tonsure.
3144.the corn, i. e. the chief part or share.
3145.borel men, lay-men. Borel means ‘rude, unlearned, ignorant,’ and seems to have arisen from a peculiar use of borel or burel, sb., a coarse cloth; so that its original sense, as an adj., was ‘in coarse clothing,’ or ‘rudely clad.’ See borrel and burel in the New Eng. Dictionary.
shrimpes, diminutive or poor creatures.
3146.wrecched impes, poor grafts, weakly shoots. Cf. A. S. impian, to graft, imp, a graft; borrowed from Low Lat. impotus, a graft, from Gk. ἔμϕυτος, engrafted.
3152.lussheburghes, light coins. In P. Plowman, B. xv. 342, we are told that ‘in Lussheborwes is a lyther alay (bad alloy), and yet loketh he lyke a sterlynge.’ They were spurious coins imported into England from Luxembourg, whence the name. See Liber Albus, ed. Riley, 1841, p. 495; and Blount’s Nomolexicon. Luxembourg is called Lusscheburghe in the Allit. Morte Arthure, l. 2388. The importation of this false money was frequently forbidden, viz. in 1347, 1348, and 1351.
3157.souneth into, tends to, is consistent with; see Prol. A. 307, and Sq. Ta., F. 517. The following extracts from Palsgrave’s French Dictionary are to the point. ‘I sownde, I appartayne or belong, Ie tens. Thys thyng sowndeth to a good purpose, Ceste chose tent a bonne fin.’ Also, ‘I sownde, as a tale or a report sowndeth to ones honesty or dyshonesty, Ie redonde. I promise you that this matter sowndeth moche to your dishonoure, Ie vous promets que ceste matyere redonde fort a votre deshonneur.’
3160.Seint Edward. There are two of the name, viz. Edward, king and martyr, commemorated on March 16, 18, or 19, and the second King Edward, best known as Edward the Confessor, commemorated on Jan. 5. In Piers the Plowman, B. xv. 217, we have—
But Edward the Confessor is certainly meant; and there is a remarkable story about him that he was ‘warned of hys death certain dayes before hee dyed, by a ring that was brought to him by certain pilgrims coming from Hierusalem, which ring hee hadde secretly given to a poore man that askyd hys charitie in the name of God and sainte Johan the Evangelist.’ See Mr. Wright’s description of Ludlow Church, where are some remains of a stained glass window representing this story, in the eastern wall of the chapel of St. John. See also Chambers, Book of Days, i. 53, 54, where we read—‘The sculptures upon the frieze of the present shrine (in Westminster Abbey) represent fourteen scenes in the life of Edward the Confessor. . . . He was canonized by Pope Alexander about a century after his death. . . . He was esteemed the patron-saint of England until superseded in the thirteenth century by St. George.’ These fourteen scenes are fully described in Brayley’s Hist. of Westminster Abbey, in an account which is chiefly taken from a life of St. Edward written by Ailred of Rievaulx in 1163. Three ‘Lives of Edward the Confessor’ were edited, for the Master of the Rolls, by Mr. Luard in 1858. See Morley’s Eng. Writers, 1888, ii. 375.
3162.celle, cell. The monk calls it his cell because he was ‘the keper’ of it; Prol. 172.
3163.Tragédie; the final ie might be slurred over before is, in which case we might read for to for to (see footnote); but it is needless. The definition of ‘tragedy’ here given is repeated from Chaucer’s own translation of Boethius, which contains the remark—‘Glose. Tragedie is to seyn, a ditee [ditty] of a prosperitee for a tyme, that endeth in wrecchednesse’; bk. ii. pr. 2. 51. This remark is Chaucer’s own, as the word Glose marks his addition to, or gloss upon, his original. His remark refers to a passage in Boethius immediately preceding, viz. ‘Quid tragoediarum clamor aliud deflet, nisi indiscreto ictu fortunam felicia regna uertentem?’ De Consolatione Philosophiae, lib. ii. prosa 2. See also the last stanza of ‘Cresus’ in the Monkes Tale (vol. i. p. 268).
3169.exametron, hexameter. Chaucer is speaking of Latin, not of English verse; and refers to the common Latin hexameter used in heroic verse; he would especially be thinking of the Thebaid of Statius, the Metamorphoseon Liber of Ovid, the Aeneid of Vergil, and Lucan’s Pharsalia. This we could easily have guessed, but Chaucer has himself told us what was in his thoughts. For near the conclusion of his Troilus and Criseyde, which he calls a tragedie, he says—
Lucan is expressly cited in B. 401, 3909.
3170.In prose. For example, Boccaccio’s De Casibus Virorum and De Claris Mulieribus contain ‘tragedies’ in Latin prose. Cf. ll. 3655, 3910.
3171.in metre. For example, the tragedies of Seneca are in various metres, chiefly iambic. See also note to l. 3285.
3177.After hir ages, according to their periods; in chronological order. The probable allusion is to Boccaccio’s De Casibus Virorum, which begins with Adam and Nimrod, and keeps tolerably to the right order. For further remarks on this, shewing how Chaucer altered the order of these Tragedies in the course of revision, see vol. iii. p. 428.