April 17th: The Manciple’s Tale

In The Manciple’s Tale, voice and power are closely related, with the Manciple concluding that one must act responsibly with their words (or their silence) to avoid unnecessary provocation. In the Open Access Companion, Myra Seaman notes the voiceless, drunken Cook, who is unable to deliver a tale when asked to by the Host. Because of this voicelessness, the Manciple criticizes his indulgent behavior, but tells a tale that delivers a contradictory message. Much like the bird using his newfound ability to talk to reveal the Phebus’s social misdemeanor (his cuckoldry), the Manciple uses his opportunity to rebuke the Cook for his. In what other ways do the events and characters of the story highlight the Manciple’s hypocrisy? Does the message of the tale undermine the speaker, or is there also advocacy for maintaining one’s voice?

The Manciple’s Tale

In the Open Access Companion, Seaman analyzes the presence of, or lack thereof, a voice for the wife in the Manciple’s Tale. While she is a central figure in the story, she never speaks a line, thus “correctly represent[ing] medieval women’s experience as it comes to us: almost exclusively through men’s voices.” Seaman acknowledges the parallel language used for her and the crow, both being under her husband’s ruling. In the tale, even though the crow is clearly depicted as male with the use of ‘he’, is severely punished for speaking out, further emasculating the creature and equating it with femininity, as women’s voices are not heard. However, the end of the tale exhibits women’s wisdom through experience with words from the Manciple’s mother. This wise woman character is featured in other tales of Chaucer’s, such as the wife in the Wife of Bath’s Tale. It is interesting that this figure appears again in a tale where femininity seems to be a doomed position, leading to violence. Further, since the crow is paralleled against women, does he too encapsulate this wisdom?

April 10th: The Nun’s Priest Tale

The article by Alex Mueller that we read for today engages with the question of genre in the Nun’s Priest Tale. Which genre would you classify the tale as; allegory, fable, epic, epic romance, fabliau or other? Does it even have only one genre, or can it be a mix of several? Provide evidence from the texts to support your answers.

April 5th: Re-reading with Kathy Lavezzo

We discussed in class the ways that Jews are demonized in The Prioress’s Tale, and how the nameless boy is contrasted against them through his innocence. What evidence is there in the text to show that the villainous portrayal of Jews (or Judaism as a whole) is not merely used to emphasize the holiness of the boy, but rather deliberate anti-semitism? In what ways, according to Lavezzo, does the Prioress fall short of reality in her attack? After reading Lavezzo’s essay, how would you speculate Chaucer’s intentions for telling the tale?

April 3rd: The Prioress’s Tale

In the Prioress’s Tale, the narrator spreads anti-semitism by telling the victimization of the seven year old boy at the hands of Jews living in the ghetto. In what ways does the Prioress use the boy in contrast to his murderers to push her values on the audience?

Burnable Book

In your note to the reader at the end of your book, you mention cultural biases playing a role in our modern perception of the Middle Ages. However, is it possible to separate modern bias from a work that takes place in an era far removed from ours? By using modern conceptualizations of the Middle Ages do we somehow warp the image? Or do you see it as we really are not that far removed, simply occupying different points on the same line?


The character John Gower turned out to have a much bigger role than I originally imagined. Several of Gower’s characteristic traits throughout the book lead me to question if he was potentially designed to be a representation of yourself?

Questions for Dr. Holsinger

The plot of The Burnable Book is very complex, placing historical figures in morally questionable spots as the mystery assassination unfolds. How did you balance the desire to paint an accurate picture of medieval England and the desire to remain creatively free to write an interesting mystery novel? Did you receive any criticism about the way you wrote characters such as Chaucer, King Richard, the Earl of Oxford, etc.?