Chaucer and his prioress: feigning silence in the "Prioress's Tale" and "Chaucer's Retraction"
Burt, Cameron Bryce
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This study provides a new reading of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale and considers its purpose within the context of the Canterbury Tales. I argue that the Tale, as an exemplum, demonstrates the dangers of tale-telling, and exposes the moral discrepancies of the Canterbury tale-telling competition and the pilgrims’ use of stories as verbal assaults against one another. I argue that the Tale condemns the unchristian-like “actions” of the Christians within its frame as they respond to the clergeon’s murder; the Tale’s ending presents a cathartic response from this congregation, which indicates their understanding of the clergeon’s martyrdom. It also provokes a similar response from the Canterbury pilgrims, which serves to silence them, and to create a paradox that disrupts possible responses to the Tale. Further, Chaucer’s Retraction at the end of the Tales is intended to silence the poet’s critics through the creation of a similar paradox.