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?

4 thoughts on “April 3rd: The Prioress’s Tale

  1. The Prioress sets up the boy as a small, defenseless, and well-meaning figure, consistently regarding him as “little” and explaining exactly why he began singing the song (which did not mean any harm to the Jewish families he passes), even calling him “so yong and tendre was of age” (524) to ellicit empathy from the reader for such a small and helpless being. His mother is a widow, making her out to be another weak and helpless Christian figure in the story. Oppositely, the Jewish families are equated to villainous figures in the Bible and they plot a ritualistic murder of the boy; this premeditative act of violence is especially evil. The fact that they plan to kill the boy for what they understood as him mocking them also shines negatively of the Jews, as the Prioress shows that their religious devotion leads them to evil.

  2. The boy is portrayed as innocent and pious, and is described in terms of his smallness. Steiner states that the emphasis that is placed on the littleness of the boy likens him to the figure of a child-saint, clearly painting himself in a positive and godly way. In contrast, the Jewish community is implied to be sinister and villainous – the streets they live on are referred to as a ghetto. The tale and the Prioress’ tone imply that their very streets should be bared off from the Christian community, as Steiner puts in her article.The Jewish community, who hire a murderer to kill the boy and throw away his body, are clearly wracked with sin and wrongdoings, with no other discernible qualities given to them but negative ones. The boy, however, remains innocent and saintly through his death, continuing to sing as he touches the souls of other Christians.

  3. The Prioress demonstrates the boy as being dedicated to the church. He loves it so much that he learns the song that the older children are singing and memorizes it. He is spiritual and innocent, as children are often depicted in religious texts. The Jewish community is seen as followers of Satan, which is ironic. The Prioress goes as far as to say that Satan “hath in Jues herte his waspes nest” (ll. 559). He lives in their hearts. Satan basically tells them that the boy is going to destroy their traditions and laws, so they have him killed to protect themselves. They do not even give the boy a proper burial and lie to his mother as she asks about him. Once the boy dies he is considered a martyr and saintlike. He is honored by the Virgin Mary and Jesus.

  4. The depiction of the Jewish community is far more radical than I had imagined it to be. Several stigmas of Jews that the Prioress alludes to throughout her story gives an accurate interpretation for how England treated them during this time period. The little boy who has his throat cut in the ghetto embodies everything that we would expect him to, such as innocence, purity, and divinity. All of the features that the boy seems to embody assist with attaching most readers to him emotionally and spiritually. When the boy is murdered by a Jewish man, a strong sense of hate is inflicted towards his murder and everything he represents.

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