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The Freres 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.
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The Freres Tale.
With respect to the source of this Tale, see vol. iii. p. 450.
1300.erchedeken. As to the duties of the archdeacon, here described, compare A. 655, 658. He enforced discipline by threats of excommunication, and inflicted fines for various offences. Compare Wyclif’s Works, ed. Arnold, iii. 166.
1305. I. e. he punished church-reeves if they did ill, and all cases in which wills or contracts had been wantonly violated. ‘Lakke of sacraments’ refers, chiefly, to the neglect of the precept to communicate at Easter; also to neglect of baptism, and, possibly, of matrimony, as that was also a ‘sacrament’ in the church of our fathers.
1307–8. These two lines occur here in MS. Hl. only; see note to 1294 above.
1309. Usury was prohibited by the Canon Law; cf. P. Plowman, C. vii. 239.
1314. ‘No fine could save the accused from punishment.’
1315. ‘The neglect to pay tithes and Easter offerings came under the archdeacon’s jurisdiction, as the bishop’s diocesan officer. The friar does not scruple to make an invidious use of this subject at the expense of the parochial clergy, because, being obliged by his rule to gain his livelihood by begging, he had no interest in tithes.’—Bell.
1317. Alluding to the shape of the bishop’s crosier. In P. Plowman, C. xi. 92, the crosier is described as having a hook at one end, by which he draws men back to a good life, and a spike at the other, which he uses against hardened offenders. On the crosier, see Rock, Church of Our Fathers, ii. 181. The bishop dealt with such offenders as were contumacious to the archdeacon.
1321. For the character of a Somnour, see A. 623.
1323.espiaille, set of spies; see note to B. 2509, p. 213.
1324.taughte, informed; the final e is not clided.
1327.wood were, should be, were to be as mad as a hare. See ‘As mad as a March hare’ in Hazlitt’s Proverbs.
1329. The mendicant orders were subject only to their own general or superior, not to the bishops. In the piece called Jack Upland (§ 11), Jack asks the friars—‘Why be ye not vnder your bishops visitations, and leegemen to our king?’—British Poets, ed. Chalmers, 1810; i. 567.
1331.terme, i. e. during the term.
1332.Peter, by saint Peter. ‘The summoner’s repartee is founded upon the law by which houses of ill-fame were exempted from ecclesiastical interference, and licensed.’—Bell. ‘Stewes, are those places which were permitted in England to women of professed incontinency . . . But king Henry VIII., about the year 1546, prohibited them for ever.’—Cowel’s Interpreter. Cock Lane, Smithfield, contained such houses; see my notes to P. Plowman, C. vii. 366, 367.
1343.approwours, agents, men who looked after his profits. From the O. Fr. approuer, apprower, to cause to profit, to enrich; from the O. Fr. sb. prou, profit, whence also E. prowess. Miswritten as approver in the seventeenth century, though distinct from approve (from approbare). See the New Eng. Dictionary. Tyrwhitt has the spelling approvers.
1347.Cristes curs, i. e. excommunication.
1349.atte nale, put for atten ale, lit. at the ale, where ale is put for ‘ale-house.’ Atten is for A. S. æt tham, where tham is the dat. neut. of the def. article. The expression is common; as in ‘fouhten atten ale,’ fought at the ale-house, P. Plowman, C. i. 43; ‘with ydel tales atte nale,’ id. C. viii. 19. ‘Thou hast not so much charity in thee as to goe to the Ale with a Christian’; Two Gent. of Verona, ii. v. 61. So also atte noke, for atten oke, at the oak; see note to P. Pl. C. vii. 207.
1350. See John, xii. 6; and cf. the Legend of Judas Iscariot, printed (from MS. Harl. 2277) in Early Eng. Poems, ed. Furnivall, 1862; p. 107.
1352.duetee (Cp. dewete) is trisyllabic; see l. 1391. It is a coined word, having no Latin equivalent. The spelling duete occurs, in Anglo-French, in the Liber Albus, p. 211, l. 23.
1356.Sir Robert; the title of Sir was usually given to one of the secular clergy; cf. note to B. 4000, p. 248.
1364.hir, her; so in E. Hn., but other MSS. have thee. The reading given is the better. The Somnour fined the man, but let the woman go; and then said that he let her go out of friendship for the man. This is intelligible; but the reading thee gives no sense to the words for thy sake.
1365. ‘You need not take any more trouble in this matter.’
1367.bryberý-es (four syllables), i. e. modes of robbery. So in MSS. Hn. Cm. Cp. MSS. Hl. Pt. Ln. have bribours, which will not scan, unless (as in Hl.) we also read Certeinly, giving a line defective in the first foot. Tyrwhitt inserts many before mo, to fill up the line.
1369.dogge for the bowe, a dog used to accompany an archer, to follow up a stricken deer; see the next line. The docility of such a dog is alluded to in E. 2014.
1373. ‘And, because such acquaintance brought him in the chief part of all his income.’
1377.ribybe. In l. 1573, she is called ‘an old rebekke.’ So in Skelton’s Elinour Rummyng, l. 492:—‘There came an old rybybe.’ And Ben Jonson speaks of ‘some good ribibe . . . you would hang now for a witch’; The Devil is an Ass, i. 1. 16. But probably Skelton and Ben Jonson merely took the word from Chaucer. A ribybe was, properly, a two-stringed Moorish fiddle; see note to A. 3331. Gifford’s note on the passage in Ben Jonson, says:—‘Ribibe, together with its synonym rebeck, is merely a cant term for an old woman. A ribibe, the reader knows, is a rude kind of a fiddle, and the allusion is, probably, to the inharmonious nature of its sounds.’ Halliwell suggests some (improbable) confusion between vetula and vitula.
I suspect that this old joke, for such it clearly is, arose in a very different way, viz. from a pun upon rebekke, a fiddle, and Rebekke, a married woman, from the mention of Rebecca in the marriage-service. For Chaucer himself notices the latter in E. 1704, which see. Observe that the form rebekke, as applied to the fiddle, is a corrupt one, though it is found in other languages. See rebebe in Godefroy’s O. F. Dictionary, and rebec in Littré.
1378.Cause and wolde are dissyllabic; and brybe, to rob, is a verb. But the editors ignore such elementary facts. The old editions insert haue a before brybe; and the modern editions insert han a; which, as Wright observes, is not to be found in the MSS!
1381. See A. 103, 104, 108; and, for courtepy, A. 290.
1382.hadde upon, had on; cf. D. 559, 1018.
1384. ‘Well overtaken, well met.’ So in Partonope of Blois, 6390: ‘Syr, wele atake!’ Cf. G. 556.
1394.for the name, because of the disgrace attaching to the very name. The Friar is severe.
1405.sworn-e, a plural form; the word sworn being here used adjectivally. See note to A. 1132, p. 66.
1408.venim, spite. wariangles, shrikes. According to C. Swainson (Provincial Names of British Birds), this is the Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio), called in Yorkshire the Weirangle or Wariangle. Some make it the Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor). Thus Ray, in his Provincial Words, ed. 1674, p. 83, gives warringle as a name for the Great Butcher-bird in the Peak of Derbyshire. ‘This Bird,’ says Willughby, ‘in the North of England is called Wierangle, a name, it seems, common to us with the Germans, who (as Gesner witnesseth) about Strasburg, Frankfort, and elsewhere, call it Werkangel or Warkangel, perchance (saith he) as it were Wurchangel, which literally rendered signifies “a suffocating angel.” ’ So also, the mod. G. name is Würgengel, as if from würgen and Engel. But this is a form due to popular etymology, as will presently appear. Cotgrave has ‘Pie engrouée, a Wariangle, or a small Woodpecker’; but a wariangle is really a Shrike; indeed Cotgrave also has: ‘Arneat, the ravenous birde called a Shrike, Nynmurder, Wariangle’; which is correct. In the Wars of Alexander, ed. Skeat, l. 1706, the word wayryngle occurs as a term of abuse, signifying ‘a little villain’; this is probably the same word, and answers to a dimin. form of A. S. wearg (Icel. vargr, O. H. G. warg, warc), a felon, with the suffix -incel, as seen in A. S. rāp-incel, a little rope, hūs-incel, a little house. Bradley cites, as parallel forms, the O. H. G. warchengil (see below), and the M. L. G. wargingel, which are probably formed in a similar way. The epithet ‘little felon’ or ‘little murderer’ agrees with other names for the shrike, viz. ‘butcher-bird,’ ‘murdering-bird,’ ‘nine-murder,’ ‘nine-killer,’ so called because it impales beetles and small birds on thorns, for the purpose of pulling them to pieces. This is why I take venim to mean ‘spite’ rather than ‘poison’ in this passage.
Schmeller, in his Bavarian Dict., ii. 999, says that the Lanius excubitor is called, in O. H. G. glosses, Warchengel (Graff, i. 349); also Wargengel, Würgengel, and Würger.
1413.north contree. This is a sly joke, because, in the old Teutonic mythology, hell was supposed to be in the north. Wright refers us, for this belief, to his St. Patrick’s Purgatory. See my note to P. Plowman, C. ii. 111, about Lucifer’s sitting in the north; cf. Isaiah, xiv. 13, 14; Milton, P. L. v. 755–760; Myrour of our Lady, ed. Blunt, p. 189. In the Icelandic Gylfaginning, we find—‘niðr ok norðr liggr Helvegr,’ i. e. downwards and northwards lies the way to hell. Cf. l. 1448.
1428.laborous is right; offyc-e is trisyllabic.
1436. A proverbial expression; still in use in Lancashire and elsewhere; see N. and Q., 7 S. x. 446, 498. Cf. ‘a taker and a bribing [robbing] feloe, and one for whom nothing was to hotte nor to heauie.’ Udall, tr. of Erasmus’ Apophthegmes; Cicero, § 50.
Of course the sense is—‘too hot to hold.’ Tyrwhitt quotes a similar phrase from Froissart, v. i. c. 229, ‘ne laissoient riens a prendre, s’il n’estoit trop chaud, trop froid, ou trop pesant.’
1439. ‘Were it not for my extortion, I could not live.’
1451. ‘What I can thus acquire is the substance of all my income.’ See note to A. 256; and Feck in the New Eng. Dictionary.
1456. Read ben’cite; and observe the rime: prey-e, sey ye. Pronounce: (prei·yǝ, sei·yǝ), where (ǝ) represents the obscure vowel, or the a in China.
1459. Such questions were eagerly discussed in the middle ages; see l. 1461–5.
1463.make yow seme, make it seem to you. Tyrwhitt has wene (for seme), which occurs in MS. Cp. only.
1467.iogelour, juggler; for their tricks, see F. 1143. Wright says:—‘The jogelour (joculator) was originally the minstrel, and at an earlier period was an important member of society. He always combined mimicry and mountebank performances with poetry and music. In Chaucer’s time he had so far degenerated as to have become a mere mountebank, and as it appears, to have merited the energetic epithet here applied to him.’ Cf. my note to P. Plowman, C. xvi. 207.
1472. Read abl’ is. MS. Hl. has:—‘As most abíl is our-e pray to take.’ Cf. F. habile, for which Cotgrave gives one meaning as ‘apt unto anything he undertakes.’
1476.pryme, 9 a.m., a late time with early risers. See note to B. 4045, p. 250.
1483–91. Cf. Boeth. bk. iv. pr. 6. 62–71; Job, i. 12; ii. 6.
1502. I suspect this to be an allusion to a story similar to that entitled ‘A Lay of St. Dunstan’ in the Ingoldsby Legends.
1503. This probably alludes to some of the legends about the apostles. Thus, in The Lives of Saints, ed. Horstmann, p. 36, l. 72, some fiends are represented as doing the will of St. James the Greater; and in the same, p. 368, l. 50, a fiend says of St. Bartholomew:—‘He mai do with us al that he wole, for bi-neothe him we beoth.’ Cf. Acts, xix. 15.
1508. ‘The adoption of the bodies of the deceased by evil spirits in their wanderings upon earth, was an important part of the medieval superstitions of this country, and enters largely into a variety of legendary stories found in the old chroniclers.’—Wright. Bell quotes from Hamlet, ii. 2:—‘The spirit that I have seen May be the devil,’ &c.
1509.renably, reasonably. The A. F. form of ‘reasonable’ was resnable (as in the Life of Edw. the Confessor, l. 1602); and, by the law that s became silent before l, m, and n (as in isle, blasmer, disner, E. isle, blame, dine), this became renable. See note to P. Plowman, C. i. 176.
1510.Phitonissa; this is another spelling of pythonissa, which is the word used, in the Vulgate version of 1 Chron. x. 13, with reference to the witch of Endor. In 1 Sam. xxviii. 7, the phrase is mulier pythonem habens. The witch of Endor is also called phitonesse in Gower, Conf. Amant. bk. iv, ed. Pauli, ii. 66; Barbour’s Bruce, iv. 753; Skelton’s Philip Sparowe, l. 1345; Lydgate’s Falls of Princes, bk. ii. leaf xl, ed. Wayland; Gawain Douglas, prol. to the Æneid, ed. Small, ii. 10, l. 2; and in Sir D. Lyndesay’s Monarchè, bk. iv. l. 5842. And see Hous of Fame, 1261. Cf. πνευ̑μα Πύθωνος, Acts, xvi. 16.
1518.in a chayer rede, lecture about this matter as in a professorial chair, lecture like a professor; cf. l. 1638. The fiend is satirical.
1519. Referring to Vergil’s Æneid, bk. vi, and Dante’s Inferno.
1528. This much resembles A. 1132, q. v.
1541.for which, for which reason; stood, stood still, was stuck fast.
1543. In Brand’s Popular Antiquities, ed. Ellis, ii. 15, ‘Heit or Heck’ is mentioned as being ‘a well-known interjection used by the country people to their horses.’ Brand adds that ‘the name of Brok is still, too, in frequent use amongst farmers’ draught oxen.’ In the Towneley Mysteries, p. 9, is the exclamation ‘hyte!’ The word for ‘stop!’ was ‘ho!’ like the modern whoa! This explains a line in Gascoigne’s Dan Bartholmew of Bathe, ed. Hazlitt, i. 136:—‘His thought sayd haight, his sillie speache cryed ho.’ Bell notes that ‘Hayt is still the word used by waggoners in Norfolk, to make their horses go on’; and adds—‘Brok means a badger, hence applied to a gray horse, myne owene lyard boy (l. 1563). Scot is a common name for farm-horses in East-Anglia; as in A. 616.’ In the Towneley Mysteries, p. 9, names of oxen are Malle, Stott (doubtless miswritten for Scott), Lemyng, Morelle, and White-horne. The Craven Glossary says hyte is used to turn horses to the left; whilst the Ger. hott! or hottot! is used to turn them to the right. In Shropshire, ’ait or ’eet, said to horses, means ‘go from me’; see Waggoners’ Words in Miss Jackson’s Shropsh. Wordbook.
1548. MS. Hl. has—‘her schal we se play.’ Tyrwhitt has pray, which gives a false rime, for it should be prey-e; see l. 1455, and the note to l. 1456. The six MSS. all have a pley.
1559.thakketh (pronounced thakk’th) his hors, pats, or strokes his horses; to encourage them. From A. S. þaccian, to stroke (a horse), Gregory’s Pastoral Care, ed. Sweet, p. 303, l. 10. So also in A. 3304. (Not to thwack, or whack.)
1560. I adopt the reading of MSS. E. and Hn. MSS. Cm. Pt. Ln. have:—‘And they bigunne to drawe and to stoupe,’ which throws an awkward accent on the former to. MS. Hl. has:—‘And thay bygon to drawen and to stowpe.’ But I take to-stoupe to be a compound verb, with the sense ‘stoop forward’; though I can find no other example of its use. Being uncommon, it would easily have been resolved into two words, and this would necessitate the introduction of to before drawen. Bigonne usually takes to after it, but not always; cf. ‘Iapen tho bigan,’ B. 1883.
1563.twight, pulled, lit. ‘twitched.’ ‘Liard, a common appellative for a horse, from its grey colour, as bayard was from bay (see A. 4115). See P. Plowman, C. xx. 64 [and my note on the same]. Bp. Douglas, in his Virgil, usually puts liart for albus, incanus, &c.’—T. Other names of horses are, Favel for a chestnut, Dun for a dun horse, Ferrand for an iron-gray, and Morel, i. e. mulberry-coloured, for a roan.
1564. I give the reading of MSS. Hn. Cp. Pt. Ln., and of the black-letter editions. MS. Hl. has ‘I pray god saue thy body and seint loy’; for which Cm. has ‘the body,’ as if ‘the’ were the original reading, and ‘body’ a supplied word. I take se-ynt to be dissyllabic, as in A. 120, 509, 697, D. 604. As to seint Loy, the patron-saint of goldsmiths, farriers, smiths, and carters, see note to A. 120.
1568. Cf. Rom. de la Rose, 10335–6: ‘car ge fesoie Une chose, et autre pensoie.’
1570.upon cariage, by way of quitting my claim to this cart and team; a satirical reflection on his failure to win anything by the previous occurrence. Cariage was a technical term for a service of carrying, or a payment in lieu of it, due from a tenant to his landlord or feudal superior; see the New Eng. Dictionary, s. v. Carriage, I. 4. The landlord used to claim the use of the tenant’s horses and carts for his own service, without payment for the use of them; and the tenant could only get off by paying cariage. This difficult use of the word is exemplified by two other passages in Chaucer, one of which is in the Cant. Tales, I. 752; q. v. The other is in his Boethius, bk. i. pr. 4, l. 50, where he says:—‘The poeple of the provinces ben harmed outher by privee ravynes, or by comune tributes or cariages,’ where the Lat. text has uectigalibus.
1573.rebekke, old woman; lit. Rebecca; see note to l. 1377 above.
1576. Twelve pence was a considerable sum in those days; being equivalent to something like fifteen shillings of our present money.
1580.winne thy cost, earn your expenses.
1582.viritrate, a term of contempt for an old woman. Cf. ‘thou olde trot,’ addressed to an old woman; Thersites, in Hazlitt’s Old Plays, i. 415. Jamieson gives trat, an old woman; with three examples from G. Douglas. Levins (1570) has: ‘Tratte, anus.’
1591.wisly, certainly. I ne may, I cannot (come).
1593.go, walk; as usual, when used with ryde.
1595.axe a libel, apply to have a written declaration of the complaint against me, i. e. a copy of the indictment.
1596.procutour, proctor, to appear on my behalf. Only MS. Hl. has the full form procuratour; the rest have procutour or procatour, as suitable for the metre. These forms are interesting, as furnishing the intermediate step between procurator and proctor. So, in the Prompt. Parv., we find ‘proketowre, Procurator,’ and ‘prokecye, Procuracia’; whence, by loss of e, proctor and proxy. there is dissyllabic, as in A. 3165, and frequently.
1613.Seinte Anne, saint Anna, whose day is July 26. In Luke, ii. 36, is mentioned ‘Anna the prophetess.’ At the commencement of the apocryphal gospel of Mary, we are told that the virgin’s ‘father’s name was Joachim, and her mother’s Anna.’ This is the saint Anna here alluded to. See B. 641; G. 70; and Cursor Mundi, l. 10147. Hence it became a common practice to give a girl the name of Mary Ann, which combined the name of the virgin with that of her mother.
1617.I payde, and which I paid.
1618.lizt, liest; a common form; see P. Plowman, C. vii. 138 (B. v. 163); Plowman’s Crede, 542.
1630.stot, properly a stallion (as in A. 615), or a bullock; also applied, as in the Cleveland Glossary, to an old ox. Here it clearly means ‘old cow,’ as a term of abuse.
1635.by right; because the old woman really meant it; cf. l. 1568.
1644.leve, grant. Tyrwhitt wrongly has lene, lend. The difference between these two words, which are constantly confused (being written leue, lene, often indistinguishably) is explained in my note to P. Plowman, B. v. 263. Leue (grant, permit) is usually followed by a dependent clause; but lene (lend, grant, give) by an accusative case.
1647. I supply and to fill up the line. This and appears in all the modern editions, but without authority, and without any notice that the MSS. omit it. Yet it neither appears in any one of our seven MSS. nor in MSS. Dd., Ii., or Mm. Neither does it appear in the black-letter editions. Indeed MS. E. marks the scansion thus: After the text of Crist | Poul | and John; as if the word ‘Poul’ occupied a whole foot of the verse. And I can readily believe that the line was meant to be so scanned.
1657. See Ps. x. 9. sit, short for sitteth.
1661. See 1 Cor. x. 13. over, above, beyond.
1662. For Christ as a ‘knight,’ see P. Plowman, C. xxi. 11; Ancren Riwle, p. 390.
1663. For Somnours, several MSS. have Somnour. MS. Cm. is defective; MS. Dd. supports the reading which I have given. It is immaterial, as thise Somnours includes the particular Somnour who was one of the party.