By Bernard Felix Huppe
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Additional info for A Reading of the Canterbury Tales
573575) His firstand onlyunfavorable personal observation is occasioned by the Summoner's cynical observation that the archdeacon's curse is reserved only for those who can't pay: 'Purse is the ercedekenes helle,' seyde he. But wel I woot he lyed right in dede; Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede, For curs wol slee right as assoillyng savith, And also war hym of a Significavit. (658662) There is all the difference in the world between agreeing with an affluent, gentlemanly squire, who happens to be a monk, and agreeing with a boor, who happens to be a minor, if powerful, church official.
I, 3541) Then follows the great portrait gallery of the Canterbury pilgrims. It seems all very simple, uncomplicated by a theme and Page 13 thoroughly realistic, except for the rhetoric of the opening Spring song, and the solemnly formal rhetorical introduction to the description of the pilgrims. Nowadays "rhetoric" is taken as something that Hemingway got rid of, and "convention" seems sufficient to explain the Spring song and the formal introduction to the portraits. Reflection, however, forces the recognition that "convention" is something a great poet uses for his own purposes and that rhetoric is only empty when it has no function.
For example, there are presumably twenty-nine pilgrims, each of whom is to tell two tales on the way, and two more on the return. In the version we have, no pilgrim tells more than one tale, yet in the last Fragment (X), the Host declares: Page 4 Lordynges everichoon, Now lakketh us no tales mo than oon. In the preceding Fragment IX he asks the Cook to tell his tale, although Fragment I ends with the beginning of a Cook's Tale, although only a beginning. In Fragment II the Man of Law says he will speak in prose, but speaks instead in stanzaic verse.
A Reading of the Canterbury Tales by Bernard Felix Huppe