Stone Washington
Canterbury and the Tales of America
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By Stone Washington
May 15, 2015


"We are shaped by what we love."

"For if a priest be foul, on whom we trust, No wonder is a common man should rust."

~Geoffrey Chaucer


Prologue

This essay is on the timeless collection of stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer: The Canterbury tales in London England during the 14th-15th centuries. I have found that many of the powerful lessons introduced by Chaucer over 700 years ago still apply to many situations within America today. I was also inspired by my father Professor Ellis Washington's essay on Chaucer. I will refer to his work and Chaucer's literary impact on the modern age later during the course of this essay.

The collection of tales by Geoffrey Chaucer begins with the narrator joining 29 pilgrims at the Talabard Inn on the outskirts of London, sometime in the late 1300's for a trip to the Shire of St. Thomas A. Becket in Canterbury. The innkeeper/host, Harry Bailly, announces a contest of who can tell the most entertaining and best morality tale will win a free supper at the inn. The next day the Pilgrims begin the journey to Canterbury and all accepted the challenge of the innkeeper Bailly. Below are the most important of the tales from Chaucer's work.

Knight's Tale

From a prison tower in Athens, Palamon and Arcite spot Emily in a garden. The men both love her and argue bitterly over her. Soon Arcite is released and Palamon escapes the prison. The two begin to fight over the girl in a grove until Duke Theseus comes along and proposes a tournament between the men for Emily. Arcite wins the competition, but it is a pyrrhic victory as Arcite sustains a heavy wound from falling off his horse. On his deathbed Arcite reconciles with Palamon following a long period of mourning. Ironically and by default the Duke chooses Palamon to take Emily.

Miller's Tale

Nicholas, a student at Oxford University desired a woman named Alison, a young wife of the old carpenter John with whom he lives with. Nicholas predicts a second coming of Noah's flood from the Bible and John, desiring to survive the flood, hangs tubs from the roof as life boats. When John falls asleep in the tub, Nicholas and Alison sneak into bed. Absolon a parish clerk taps on the window asking for a kiss from Alison, who tricks him into kissing her buttocks. When Absolan returns Nicholas offers his buttocks for the prank but is burned with a poker by Absolon in revenge. Nicholas cries for water and John believing the flood has begun cuts the rope holding his tub and breaks his arm in the fall.

Reeve's Tale

Simkin is a miller, steals wheat and meal brought to him for grinding. Simkin is also a bully and claims to be an expert with a sword and knives. His wife is a pompous and arrogant daughter of the town clergyman (and therefore illegitimate, as Catholic priests do not marry). They have a twenty-year-old daughter Malyne and a six-month-old son.

When Simkin overcharged for his latest work grinding corn for Soler Hall at Cambridge University College, the college steward was too ill to face him. Two students there, John and Aleyn, are very outraged at this latest theft and vow to beat the Miller at his own game. John and Aleyn pack an even larger amount of wheat than usual and say they will watch Simkin while he grinds it into flour, pretending that they are interested in the process. Simkin sees through the clerks' story and vows to take even more of their grain than he had planned to prove that scholars are not always the wisest or cleverest of people. He unties their horse, and the two students are unable to catch it until nightfall.

Returning to the Miller's house, John and Aleyn offer to pay him for a night's sleeping there. Simkin and his family fall fast asleep while John and Aleyn lay awake, plotting revenge. First Aleyn creeps over to Malyne in her bed while she remains asleep. When the Miller's wife leaves her bed to relieve herself of the wine she's drunk, John moves the baby's cradle to the foot of his own bed. Upon returning, the Miller's wife feels for the cradle to identify her bed, and mistakenly assumes that John's bed is her own. When she enters his bed, John has sex with her.

Dawn comes, and Aleyn says goodbye to Malyne. Seeing the cradle in front of what he assumes is Simkin's bed (but is in fact John's), he goes to the other bed, shakes the Miller – whom he thought was John – awake and recounts his sexual experience. Simkin rises from his bed in a rage, waking his wife in John's bed, who takes a club and hits her raging husband by mistake, thinking him one of the students. John and Aleyn beat up the Miller as well and flee taking with them the stolen bread and horse. The Cambridge students thus have their revenge over the Miller's dishonesty.

Wife of Bath's Prologue

Dame Alice tells the story of her five marriages, and how she dominated all of her husbands, the first three sexually, the fourth through jealously, and the fifth after a fight. Once when angry, Alice threw her fifth husband's anti-feminist book in the fire, provoking the man to strike her. She played dead on the floor and then struck him. The couple soon makes up for this and in misplaced gratitude the husband gives rewards his scheming, psychotic wife with the possession over his entire estate.

Wife of Bath's Tale

After raping a maiden, a knight is sentenced to death unless he can discover what women desire the most within a year. An old hag offers the answer if in return the knight promises to give her the first thing she asks for. Her answer: women desire control in a marriage, is correct and afterward the old hag requests to be married to the Knight. Seeing his unwillingness the old woman offers herself to be old, ugly, and faithful, or young, beautiful, and possibly unfaithful. He gives her the choice – more importantly the control – and she transforms into a young, beautiful, and faithful woman.

Friar's Tale

In his Prologue the Friar tells the tale of the 'Summoner' whom he describes as one who "runs around giving out summonses for fornication" [e.g., official permission to engage in unmarried sexual intercourse]. The Friar tells the story about a wicked Summoner who falsely accuses people of sin, holding them in contempt of their offense in order extort money from them. One day the Summoner comes upon a Yeoman (butler) who is really a devil dressed in human clothes seeking souls. The two come into an old woman's house and the Summoner begs her for money. The woman curses the Summoner proclaiming, "The Devil take your body." The Yeoman asks if she really means this and the old woman says yes unless the Summoner rightfully repents of his sins. The Summoner refuses and the Devil carts him off to Hell just as the old woman predicted.

Clerk's Tale

The exceedingly wealthy Marquis Walter marries poor but virtuous Griselda on the condition that she never questions anything he asks her to do. When they have a son and daughter, Walter pretends to have them kidnapped and killed. Then he asks for a new bride to replace Griselda. Griselda's willing acceptance and unquestioning of his actions convinces him of her devotion and virtue. He returns the children and restores his wedding vows, and the two live happily ever after.

Franklin's Tale

The French Knight Averagus marries his beloved fiancé Dorigen, and then sails off to England to embark in a battle. In his absence the squire Aurelius pronounces his love for Dorigen. Dorigen worries that her husband's ship will crash into the rocks of France when he returns so she tells him that if he can make the rocks disappear then she will love him. So Aurelius hires a magician to create an illusion upon the ground to make the rocks seem to disappear, allowing Averagus to sail safelty home. The two then return home in loving arms, only to find Averagus who tells Dorigen that she must honor her services. Aurelius is amazed by Averagus respect for a promise and returns Dorigen to her lover, and is in turn pardoned by the magician for his services.

Pardoner's Prologue

Before preaching his sermons the Pardoner loves to extort people by conflating Latin words for dramatic effect and reveals his "relics" (sacred old bones, ragged bits of cloth) to the crowd, which he claims to have healing powers, and tells the people "radix malorum est cupiditas"(greed is the root of all evil). He perverts holiness as a disguise to feed off of people's guilt by making everyone buy pardons and feel ashamed if they don't.

Pardoner's Tale

Hearing of a friend's death, three young rioters decide to seek out Death and kill him. They meet and abuse an old man, who tells them that he left Death under a tree over yonder. At the tree they find eight bashels of gold coin which they divide amongst themselves. One of the men journeys off to spend his share, which he partially spends on wine and poison to kill off his friends and reap their shares. When the man returns, his friends kill him and drink the poisoned wine which kills them as well. The moral of the tale: The three rioters had found death (through their duplicitous greed).

Shipman's Tale

A merchant's wife complains to the monk John that her husband is stingy with money and no fun in bed. She owes money for a dress, so John borrows money from the merchant and gives it to the wife and has sex with her. When the merchant returns and hears that John repaid the debt to the wife, who thought it was a gift and spent it on a new dress. He reluctantly accepts his loss of money.

Nun's Priest Tale

Chanticleer the singing rooster, dreams that he is being attacked by a beast and soon wakes up to find his wife Petroclote calling him a coward and that his dream was caused by a mere stomach ache. After arguing the couple flies off to the woods where a sly fox lies in wait. Suddenly Chanticleer runs into a fox who tells him he wishes to only hear his merry sings. As Chanticleer burst into signing the fox abducts him and runs off into the woods. But Chanticleer manages to escape up a high tree by tricking the fox to open his mouth and shout at the people chasing them from behind, releasing Chanticleer. The fox tries to trick him again, but Chanticleer will not fall for the sly fox's trick twice.

Parson's Tale

The tale is a long, sermon like cautionary story on repentance, requiring contrition (genuine sorrow for sin), confession, and performing tasks ordered by priests such as saying prayers. The Parson lists the seven deadly sins, from which mostly all the tales apply to, and concludes with the reward of true penitence, which is "The endless bliss of Heaven."

Epilogue: Chaucer's Retraction and message for Modern Day

In a closing statement Chaucer asks that all those who have listened to these tale forgive him for his literary sins. He apologizes for offending anyone and requests prayers for his salvation. Chaucer's work reveals many tendencies within human nature which teaches us much about the immoralities of man, including the profound depravities of human nature and the innate corruption of human institutions most notably the Clergy, the Pardoner, the Summoner, the aristocracy and the lust of fame and fortune that often lead the poor and the ordinary astray.

The Knight's tale exploits the lust men through two friends who fight to the death over a simple woman. It takes the death of one of them to cause the other to see that lust can overtake one's true feelings. The Miller's tale represents the foolishness of superstition seen when the college students believe in a 'second flood' when God promised no such thing in the book of Genesis. This resembles the liberal dogmatism and hegemony over the academy and the propagation of pseudo-science such as evolution, eugenics, anthropogenic global warming now called 'climate change' which has only caused trillions of tax dollars, laundered and funneled through various organizations of the Socialist bureaucracy headed by the Democrat Socialist Party and Obama. The greed, duplicity and treachery demonstrated throughout Chaucer's Canterbury Tales can be seen 700 years later in America's Liberal-Muslim Axis which prevents our President Obama to balance our budget, pave our roads, repair our bridges, have a functional train system (at least as competent to third world countries), protect our Southern borders, combat Islamic terrorism (i.e. ISIS), among many other domestic and foreign policy failures.

The Reeve and Friar's Tales both represent how you always reap what you sow and how the punishment should always fit the crime, such as with the thieving Miller being robbed and the reproachful Summoner is condemned to Hell himself. This appropriate judgment of crime should be applied to American jurisprudence under Natural Law, the philosophy and jurisprudence of America's Constitutional Framers. However, since circa 1900 the Socialists and Progressives have replaced Natural Law with Positive Law (the separation of law and morals), a tyranny ruling the courts to this day. The Wife of Bath exploits the unjust dominance of men over women. This similar to America's Second-Wave Feminist movement where feminists such as Hillary Clinton is "equality" with men but in actuality is seeking 'egalitarianism' (equality of results) and expects to become the first woman president. But as in the Prologue some women take advantage of weak, appeasing men to become power hungry witches, like Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth, or like many of the scandalous actions of the Clintons today. The Clerk, Shipman and Franklin's Tales seek to test whether human mistrust is above upholding honor, promises, and wedding devotions no matter what the circumstance. The Pardoner's Tale feeds on man's futility in revenge and the misdirection of rioters, similar to the misguided anarchy with the Baltimore riots who seek "justice" ("No Justice, No Peace") which glorifies nihilism and criminal destruction of their own city. Chaucer's Tales proves that revenge always leads to more death.

Finally the Nun Priest's tale shows how a simple rooster can learn from a mistake, while than the supposed greatest nation on earth cannot learn from their collective mistake in the reelection of the Socialist Progressive Barack Obama in 2012. When will we learn from our mistakes America, and repent of our past evils (as the Parson's tale urges) before we are doomed to continually repeat them, as the famous scholar George Santayana stated. Will we be remembered as the greatest God blessed nation on earth? Or is America enslaved to the literacy satire within Chaucer's Tales and thus failing to live up to our Judeo-Christian heritage bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers?

*N.B.: This essay is based in part on a synopsis of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales contained in, Dr. W. John Campbell, Book of Great Books: A Guide to 100 World Classics (Fall River, 2000), pp. 116-123

© Stone Washington

 

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Stone Washington

Stone Washington is a PhD student in the Trachtenberg School at George Washington University. Stone is employed as a Research Fellow for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, focusing on economic policy as part of the Center for Advancing Capitalism. Previously, he completed a traineeship with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He was also a Research Assistant at the Manhattan Institute, serving as an extension from his time in the Collegiate Associate Program. During this time, he worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in Clemson's Department of Political Science and served as a WAC Practicum Fellow for the Pearce Center for Professional Communication. Stone is also a member of the Steamboat Institute's Emerging Leaders Council.

Stone possesses a Graduate Certificate in Public Administration from Clemson University, a Juris Master from Emory University School of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Clemson University. While studying at Emory Law, Stone was featured in an exclusive JM Student Spotlight, highlighting his most memorable law school experience. He has completed a journalism fellowship at The Daily Caller, is an alumnus of the Young Leader's Program at The Heritage Foundation, and served as a former student intern/Editor for Decipher Magazine. Some of Stone's articles can be found at EllisWashingtonReport.com, which often provide a critical analysis of prominent works of classical literature and its correlations to American history and politics. Stone is a member of the Project 21 Black Leadership Network, and has written a number of policy-related op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The College Fix, Real Clear Policy, and City Journal. In addition, Stone is listed in the Marquis Who's Who in America and is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. Friend him on his Facebook page, also his Twitter handle: @StoneZone47 and Instagram. Email him at stonebone20@att.net.

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