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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE MANCIPLE'S TALE

The Host asks the Manciple for his tale while the pilgrims are busy trying to keep the drunken Cook on his horse.

A man named Phoebus embodies every virtue-gentleness, kindness, bravery-but is very jealous of the wife he loves dearly. He has a white- feathered crow that can speak, and when he goes away, the wife's lover comes over. When Phoebus returns, the crow tells all. In a jealous rage, Phoebus kills his wife, then regrets it bitterly. Angry now at the bird for opening its beak, Phoebus pulls its white feathers and changes them for black, takes away the bird's voice, and kicks it out. The tale ends with advice against wicked gossip, in favor of keeping your tongue.


The tale is retold from a well-known fable in Ovid's Metamorphoses. (As in classical times, tales revolving around why something is so-here, the crows black feathers and raucous voice-were popular in the Middle Ages.) It's the shortest of all the complete tales, perhaps because Chaucer meant the Manciple to take his own advice about keeping his words down to a minimum!

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