Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. V/Prioress


The Prioress's Prologue.

1625. corpus dominus; of course for corpus domini, the Lord's body. But it is unnecessary to correct the Host's Latin.

1626. 'Now long mayest thou sail along the coast!'

1627. marineer, Fr. marinier; we now use the ending -er; but modern words of French origin shew their lateness by the accent on the last syllable, as engineer.—M. The Fr. pionnier is pioner in Shakespeare, but is now pioneer.

1628. 'God give this monk a thousand cart-loads of bad years!' He alludes to the deceitful monk described in the Shipman's Tale. A last is a very heavy load. In a Statute of 31 Edw. I. a weight is declared to be 14 stone; 2 weights of wool are to make a sack; and 12 sacks a last. This makes a last of wool to be 336 stone, or 42 cwt. But the dictionaries shew that the weight was very variable, according to the substance weighed. The word means simply a heavy burden, from A. S. hlæst, a burden, connected with hladan, to load; so that last and load are alike in sense. Laste, in the sense of heavy weight, occurs in Richard the Redeles, ed. Skeat, iv. 74. Quad is the Old English equivalent of the Dutch kwaad, bad, a word in very common use. In O.E., þe qued means the evil one, the devil; P. Pl. B. xiv. 189. Cf. note to A. 4357. The omission of the word of before quad may be illustrated by the expression 'four score years,' i. e. of years.

1630. 'The monk put an ape in the man's hood, and in his wife's too.' We should now say, he made him look like an ape. The contents of the hood would be, properly, the man's head and face; but neighbours seemed to see peeping from it an ape rather than a man. It is a way of saying that he made a dupe of him. In the Milleres Tale (A. 3389), a girl is said to have made her lover an ape, i. e. a dupe; an expression which recurs in the Chanones Yemannes Tale, G. 1313. Spenser probably borrowed the expression from this very passage; it occurs in his Faerie Queene, iii. 9. 31:—

'Thus was the ape,
By their faire handling, put into Malbeccoes cape.'

1632. 'Never entertain monks any more.'

1637. See the description of the Prioress in the Prologue, A. 118.

The Prioresses Tale.

For general remarks upon this Tale, see vol. iii. p. 421.

1643. Cf. Ps. viii. 1-2. The Vulgate version has—'Domine Dominus noster, quam admirabile est nomen tuum in uniuersa terra! Quoniam eleuata est magnificentia tua super caelos! Ex ore infantium et lactentium perfecisti laudem,' &c.

1650. can or may, know how to, or have ability to do.

1651. The 'white lily' was the token of Mary's perpetual virginity. See this explained at length in Rock, Church of our Fathers, iii. 245.

1655. 'For she herself is honour, and, next after her Son, the root of bounty, and the help (or profit) of souls.'

1658. Cf. Chaucer's A.B.C, or Hymn to the Virgin, (Minor Poems, vol. i. p. 266), where we find under the heading M—

'Moises, that saugh the bush with flaumes rede
Brenninge, of which ther never a stikke brende,
Was signe of thyn unwemmed maidenhede;
Thou art the bush, on which ther gan descende
The Holy Gost, the which that Moises wende
Had been a-fyr.'

So also in st. 2 of an Alliterative Hymn in Warton, Hist. Eng. Poetry, ed. Hazlitt, ii. 284.

1659. 'That, through thy humility, didst draw down from the Deity the Spirit that alighted in thee.'

1660. thalighte = thee alighte, the two words being run into one. Such agglutination is more common when the def. art. occurs, or with the word to; cf. Texpounden in B. 1716.

1661. lighte may mean either (1) cheered, lightened; or (2) illuminated. Tyrwhitt and Richardson both take the latter view; but the following passage, in which hertes occurs, makes the former the more probable:—

'But nathelees, it was so fair a sighte
That it made alle hir hertes for to lighte.'
Sq. Ta.; F. 395.

1664. Partly imitated from Dante, Paradiso, xxxiii. 16:—

'La tua benignità non pur soccorre
A chi dimanda, ma molte fiate
Liberamente al dimandar precorre.
In te misericordia, in te pietate,
In te magnificenza, in te s'aduna
Quantunque in creatura è di bontate.

1668. goost biforn, goest before, dost anticipate. of, by. The eighth stanza of the Seconde Nonnes Tale (G. 50-56) closely resembles ll. 1664-70; being imitated from the same passage in Dante.

1677. Gydeth, guide ye. The plural number is used, as a token of respect, in addressing superiors. By a careful analysis of the words thou and ye in the Romance of William of Palerne, I deduced the following results, which are generally true in Mid. English. 'Thou is the language of a lord to a servant, of an equal to an equal, and expresses also companionship, love, permission, defiance, scorn, threatening: whilst ye is the language of a servant to a lord, and of compliment, and further expresses honour, submission, or entreaty. Thou is used with singular verbs, and the possessive pronoun thine; but ye requires plural verbs, and the possessive your.'—Pref. to Will. of Palerne, ed. Skeat, p. xlii. Cf. Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar, sect. 231.

1678. Asie, Asia; probably used, as Tyrwhitt suggests, in the sense of Asia Minor, as in the Acts of the Apostles.

1679. a Iewerye, a Jewry, i. e. a Jews' quarter. In many towns there was formerly a Jews' quarter, distinguished by a special name. There is still an Old Jewry in London. In John vii. 1 the word is used as equivalent to Judea, as also in other passages in the Bible and in Shakesp. Rich. II, ii. 1. 55. Chaucer (House of Fame, 1435) says of Josephus—

'And bar upon his shuldres hye
The fame up of the Jewerye.'

Thackeray uses the word with an odd effect in his Ballad of 'The White Squall.' See also note to B. 1749.

1681. vilanye. So the six MSS.; Hl. has felonye, wrongly. In the margin of the Ellesmere MS. is written 'turpe lucrum,' i. e. vile gain, which is evidently the sense intended by lucre of vilanye, here put for villanous lucre or filthy lucre, by poetical freedom of diction. See Chaucer's use of vilanye in the Prologue, A. 70 and A. 726.

1684. free, unobstructed. People could ride and walk through, there being no barriers against horses, and no termination in a cul de sac. Cf. Troilus, ii. 616-8.

1687. Children an heep, a heap or great number of children. Of is omitted before children as it is before quad yere in B. 1628. For heep, see Prologue, A. 575.

1689. maner doctrine, kind of learning, i. e. reading and singing, as explained below. Here again of is omitted, as is usual in M.E. after the word maner; as—'In another maner name,' Rob. of Glouc. vol. i. p. 147; 'with somme manere crafte,' P. Plowman, B. v. 25: 'no maner wight,' Ch. Prol. A. 71; &c. See Mätzner, Englische Grammatik, ii. 2. 313. men used, people used; equivalent to was used. Note this use of men in the same sense as the French on, or German man. This is an excellent instance, as the poet does not refer to men at all, but to children. Moreover, men (spelt me in note to B. 1702) is an attenuated form of the sing. man, and not the usual plural.

1693. clergeon, not 'a young clerk' merely, as Tyrwhitt says, but a happily chosen word implying that he was a chorister as well. Ducange gives—'Clergonus, junior clericus, vel puer choralis; jeune clerc, petit clerc ou enfant de chœur'; see Migne's edition. And Cotgrave has—'Clergeon, a singing man, or Quirester in a Queer [choir].' It means therefore 'a chorister-boy.' Cf. Span. clerizon, a chorister, singing-boy; see New E. Dict.

1694. That, as for whom. A London street-boy would say—'which he was used to go to school.' That ... his = whose.

1695. wher-as, where that, where. So in Shakespeare, 2 Hen. VI. i. 2. 58; Spenser, F. Q. i. 4. 38. See Abbott's Shakesp. Grammar, sect. 135. thimage, the image; alluding to an image of the Virgin placed by the wayside, as is so commonly seen on the continent.

1698. Ave Marie; so in Spenser, F. Q. i. 1. 35. The words were—'Aue Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum; benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus uentris tui. Amen.' See the English version in Specimens of Early English, ed. Morris and Skeat, p. 106. It was made up from Luke i. 28 and i. 42. Sometimes the word Jesus was added after tui, and, at a later period, an additional clause—'Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.' See Rock, Church of our Fathers, iii. 315; and iii. pt. 2, 134.

1702. 'For a good child will always learn quickly.' This was a proverbial expression, and may be found in the Proverbs of Hending, st. 9:—

'Me may lere a sely fode [one may teach a good child]
That is euer toward gode
With a lutel lore;
Yef me nul [if one will not] him forther teche,
Thenne is [his] herte wol areche
Forte lerne more.
Sely chyld is sone ylered; Quoth Hendyng.'

1704. stant, stands, is. Tyrwhitt says—'we have an account of the very early piety of this Saint in his lesson; Breviarium Romanum, vi. Decemb.—Cuius uiri sanctitas quanta futura esset, iam ab incunabulis apparuit. Nam infans, cum reliquas dies lac nutricis frequens sugeret, quarta et sexta feria (i. e. on Wednesdays and Fridays) semel duntaxat, idque uesperi, sugebat.' Besides, St. Nicholas was the patron of schoolboys, and the festival of the 'boy-bishop' was often held on his day (Dec. 6); Rock, Church of our Fathers, iii. 2. 215.

1708. Alma redemptoris mater. There is more than one hymn with this beginning, but the one meant is perhaps one of five stanzas printed in Hymni Latini Medii Ævi, ed. F. J. Mone, vol. ii. p. 200, from a St. Gallen MS. no. 452, p. 141, of the thirteenth century. The first and last stanzas were sung in the Marian Antiphon, from the Saturday evening before the 1st Sunday in Advent to Candlemas day. In l. 4 we have the salutation which Chaucer mentions (l. 1723), and in the last stanza is the prayer (l. 1724). These two stanzas are as follows:—

'Alma redemptoris mater,
quam de caelis misit pater
propter salutem gentium;
tibi dicunt omnes "aue!"
quia mundum soluens a uae
mutasti uocem flentium....
Audi, mater pietatis,
nos gementes a peccatis
et a malis nos tuere;
ne damnemur cum impiis,
in aeternis suppliciis,
peccatorum miserere.'

There is another anthem that would suit almost equally well, but hardly comes so near to Chaucer's description. It occurs in the Roman Breviary, ed. 1583, p. 112, and was said at compline from Advent eve to Candlemas day, like the other; cf. l. 1730. The words are:—

'Alma redemptoris mater, quae peruia caeli
Porta manes, et stella maris, succurre cadenti,
Surgere qui curat, populo: Tu quae genuisti,
Natura mirante, tuum sanctum Genitorem,
Virgo priùs ac posteriùs, Gabrielis ab ore
Sumens illud "Aue!" peccatorum miserere.'

In the Myrour of Our Lady, ed. Blunt, p. 174, an English translation of the latter anthem is given, with the heading 'Alma redemptoris mater.'

1709. antiphoner, anthem-book. 'The Antiphoner, or Lyggar, was always a large codex, having in it not merely the words, but the music and the tones, for all the invitatories, the hymns, responses, versicles, collects, and little chapters, besides whatever else belonged to the solemn chanting of masses and lauds, as well as the smaller canonical hours'; Rock, Church of our Fathers, v. 3, pt. 2, p. 212.

1710. ner and ner, nearer and nearer. The phrase come neor and neor (= come nearer and nearer) occurs in King Alisaunder, in Weber's Metrical Romances, l. 599.

1713. was to seye, was to mean, meant. To seye is the gerundial or dative infinitive; see Morris, Hist. Outlines of English Accidence, sect. 290.

1716. Texpounden, to expound. So also tallege = to allege, Kn. Ta., A. 3000 (Harl. MS.); tespye = to espy, Nonne Pr. Ta., B. 4478. See note to l. 1733.

1726. can but smal, know but little. Cf. 'the compiler is smal learned'; Old Plays, ed. Hazlitt, i. 10.—M. Cf. coude = knew, in l. 1735.

1733. To honoure; this must be read tonóure, like texpounden in l. 1716.

1739. To scholeward; cf. From Bordeaux ward in the Prologue, A. 397.—M.

1749. The feeling against Jews seems to have been very bitter, and there are numerous illustrations of this. In Gower's Conf. Amant. bk. vii, ed. Pauli, iii. 194, a Jew is represented as saying—

'I am a Jewe, and by my lawe
I shal to no man be felawe
To kepe him trouth in word ne dede.'

In Piers the Plowman, B. xviii. 104, Faith reproves the Jews, and says to them—

'ȝe cherles, and ȝowre children · chieue [thrive] shal ȝe neure,
Ne haue lordship in londe · ne no londe tylye [till],
But al bareyne be · & vsurye vsen,
Which is lyf þat owre lorde · in alle lawes acurseth.'

See also P. Pl., C. v. 194. Usury was forbidden by the canon law, and those who practised it, chiefly Jews and Lombards, were held to be grievous sinners. Hence the character of Shylock, and of Marlowe's Jew of Malta. Cf. note on the Jews in England in the Annals of England, p. 162.

1751. honest, honourable; as in the Bible, Rom. xii. 17, &c.

1752. swich, such. The sense here bears out the formation of the word from so-like.—M.

1753. your, of you. Shakespeare has 'in your despite,' Cymb. i. 6. 135; 'in thy despite,' 1 Hen. VI, iv. 7. 22. Despite is used, like the Early and Middle English maugre, with a genitive; as maugre þin, in spite of thee, in Havelok, ll. 1128, 1789.—M.

1754. 'Which is against the respect due to your law.' Cf. 'spretaeque iniuria formae'; Æneid, i. 27.

1762. Wardrobe, privy. Godefroy's O. F. Dict. shews that garderobe meant not only a wardrobe, or place for keeping robes, &c., but also any small chamber; hence the sense. See Cotgrave.

1764. 'O accursed folk (composed) of Herods wholly new.'

1766. 'Murder will out'; a proverb; see B. 4242.

1769. Souded to, confirmed in. From O. F. souder, Lat. solidare, whence E. solder. Wyclif's later version has—'hise leggis and hise feet weren sowdid togidere'; Acts, iii. 7. The reference in ll. 1770-5 is to Rev. xiv. 3, 4.

1793. Iesu. This word is written 'Ihu' in E. Hn. Cm.; and 'ihc' in Cp. Pt. Ln.; in both cases there is a stroke through the h. This is frequently printed Ihesu, but the retention of h is unnecessary. It is not really an h at all, but the Greek Η, meaning long e (ē). So, also, in 'ihc,' the c is not the Latin c, but the Gk. C, meaning Σ or s; and ihc are the first three letters of the word ΙΗΣΟΥΣ = ιησους = iesus. Iesu, as well as Iesus, was used as a nominative, though really the genitive or vocative case. At a later period, ihs (still with a stroke through the h) was written for ihc as a contraction of iesus. By an odd error, a new meaning was invented for these letters, and common belief treated them as the initials of three Latin words, viz. Iesus Hominum Salvator. But as the stroke through the h or mark of contraction still remained unaccounted for, it was turned into a cross! Hence the common symbol I.H.S. with the small cross in the upper part of the middle letter. The wrong interpretation is still the favourite one, all errors being long-lived. Another common contraction is Xpc., where all the letters are Greek. The x is ch (χ), the p is r (ρ), and c is s, so that Xpc = chrs, the contraction for christus or Christ. This is less common in decoration, and no false interpretation has been found for it.

1794. inwith, within. This form occurs in E. Hn. Pt. Ln.; the rest have within. Again, in the Merchant's Tale (E. 1944), MSS. E. Hn. Cm. Hl. have the form inwith. It occurs in the legend of St. Katharine, ed. Morton, l. 172; in Sir Perceval (Thornton Romances), l. 611; in Alliterative Poems, ed. Morris, A. 970; and in Palladius on Husbandry, ed. Lodge, iii. 404. Dr. Morris says it was (like utwith = without) originally peculiar to the Northern dialect. See the Glossary, and the note to l. 2159 below (p. 202).

1805. coomen; so in E. Hn.; comen in Pt. Cp. But it is the past tense = came. The spelling comen for the past tense plural is very common in Early English, and we even find com in the singular. Thus, in l. 1807, the Petworth MS. has 'He come,' equivalent to 'coom,' the o being long. But herieth in l. 1808 is a present tense.

1814. nexte, nighest, as in Kn. Ta. A. 1413. So also hext = highest, as in the Old Eng. proverb—'When bale is hext, then bote is next,' i. e. 'when woe is highest, help is nighest.' Next is for neh-est, and hext is for heh-est.

1817. newe Rachel, second Rachel, as we should now say; referring to Matt. ii. 18.

1819. dooth for to sterve, causes to die. So also in l. 1823, dide hem drawe = caused them to be drawn.

1822. Evidently a proverb; compare Boeth. bk. iv. pr. 1. 37-40 (vol. ii. p. 93); and note to P. Plowman, C. v. 140.

1826. The body occupied the place of honour. 'The bier, if the deceased had been a clerk, went into the chancel; if a layman, and not of high degree, the bearers set it down in the nave, hard by the church-door'; Rock, Ch. of our Fathers, ii. 472. He cites the Sarum Manual, fol. c.

1827. the abbot; pronounced thabbòt. covent, convent; here used for the monks who composed the body over which the abbot presided. So in Shakespeare, Hen. VIII, iv. 2. 18—'where the reverend abbot, With all his covent, honourably received him.' The form covent is Old French, still preserved in Covent Garden.

1835. halse; two MSS. consulted by Tyrwhitt read conjure, a mere gloss, caught from the line above. Other examples of halse in the sense of conjure occur. 'Ich halsi þe o godes nome' = I conjure thee in God's name; St. Marherete, ed. Cockayne, p. 17. Again, in Joseph of Arimathie, ed. Skeat, l. 400—

'Vppon þe heiȝe trinite · I halse þe to telle'—

which closely resembles the present passage.

1838. to my seminge, i. e. as it appears to me.

1840. 'And, in the ordinary course of nature.'

1843. Wil, wills, desires. So in Matt. ix. 13, I will have mercy = I require mercy; Gk. ἔλεον θέλω; Vulgate, misericordiam uolo. Cf. B. 45.

1848. In the Ellesmere MS. (which has the metrical pauses marked) the pause in this line is marked after lyf. The word sholde is dissyllabic here, having more than the usual emphasis; it has the force of ought to. Cf. E. 1146.

1852. In the Cursor Mundi, 1373-6, Seth is told to place three pippins under the root of Adam's tongue.

1857. now is used in the sense of take notice that, without any reference to time. There is no necessity to alter the reading to than, as proposed by Tyrwhitt. See Mätzner, Engl. Gram. ii. 2. 346, who refers to Luke ii. 41, John i. 44, and quotes an apt passage from Maundeville's Travels, p. 63—'Now aftre that men han visited the holy places, thanne will they turnen toward Jerusalem.' In A. S. the word used in similar cases is sōþlīce = soothly, verily.

1873. Ther, where. leve, grant. No two words have been more confused by editors than lene and leue. Though sometimes written much alike in MSS., they are easily distinguished by a little care. The A. S. lȳfan or lēfan, spelt lefe in the Ormulum (vol. i. p. 308), answers to the Germ. erlauben, and means grant or permit, but it can only be used in certain cases. The verb lene, A. S. lǣnan, now spelt lend, often means to give or grant in Early English, but again only in certain cases. I quote from my article on these words in Notes and Queries, 4 Ser. ii. 127—'It really makes all the difference whether we are speaking of to grant a thing to a person, or to grant that a thing may happen. "God lene thee grace," means "God grant thee grace," where to grant is to impart; but "God leue we may do right" means "God grant we may do right," where to grant is to permit.... Briefly, lene requires an accusative case after it, leue is followed by a dependent clause.' Lene occurs in Chaucer, Prol. A. 611, Milleres Tale, A. 3777, and elsewhere. Examples of leue in Chaucer are (1) in the present passage, misprinted lene by Tyrwhitt, Morris, Wright, and Bell, though five of our MSS. have leue; (2) in the Freres Tale, D. 1644, printed lene by Tyrwhitt (l. 7226), leene by Morris, leeve by Wright and Bell; (3) (4) (5) in three passages in Troilus and Criseyde (ii. 1212, iii. 56, v. 1750), where Tyrwhitt prints leve, but unluckily recants his opinion in his Glossary, whilst Morris prints lene. For other examples see Stratmann, s. v. lænan and leven.

It may be remarked that leve in Old English has several other senses; such as (1) to believe; (2) to live; (3) to leave; (4) to remain; (5) leave, sb.; (6) dear, adj. I give an example in which the first, sixth, and third of these senses occur in one and the same line:—

'What! leuestow, leue lemman, that i the [thee] leue wold?'
Will. of Palerne, 2358.

1874. Hugh of Lincoln. The story of Hugh of Lincoln, a boy supposed to have been murdered at Lincoln by the Jews, is placed by Matthew Paris under the year 1255. Thynne, in his Animadversions upon Speght's editions of Chaucer (p. 45 of the reprint of the E.E.T.S.), addresses Speght as follows—'You saye, that in the 29 Henry iii. eightene Jewes were broughte from Lincolne, and hanged for crucyfyinge a childe of eight yeres olde. Whiche facte was in the 39 Hen. iii., so that you mighte verye well haue sayed, that the same childe of eighte yeres olde was the same hughe of Lincolne; of whiche name there were twoe, viz. thys younger Seinte Hughe, and Seinte Hughe bishoppe of Lincolne, which dyed in the yere 1200, long before this little seinte hughe. And to prove that this childe of eighte yeres olde and that yonge hughe of Lincolne were but one; I will sett downe two auctoryties out of Mathewe Paris and Walsinghame, wherof the fyrste wryteth, that in the yere of Christe 1255, being the 39 of Henry the 3, a childe called Hughe was sleyne by the Jewes at Lyncolne, whose lamentable historye he delyvereth at large; and further, in the yere 1256, being 40 Hen. 3, he sayeth, Dimissi sunt quieti 24 Judei á Turri London., qui ibidem infames tenebantur compediti pro crucifixione sancti Hugonis Lincolniae: All which Thomas Walsingham, in Hypodigma Neustriae, confirmeth: sayinge, Ao. 1255, Puer quidam Christianus, nomine Hugo, à Judeis captus, in opprobrium Christiani nominis crudeliter est crucifixus.' There are several ballads in French and English, on the subject of Hugh of Lincoln, which were collected by M. F. Michel, and published at Paris in 1834, with the title—'Hugues de Lincoln, Recueil de Ballades Anglo-Normandes et Ecossoises relatives au Meurtre de cet Enfant.' The day of St. Hugh, bishop of Lincoln, is Aug. 27; that of St. Hugh, boy and martyr, is June 29. See also Brand's Pop. Antiq. ed. Ellis, i. 431. And see vol. iii. p. 423.

1875. With, by. See numerous examples in Mätzner, Engl. Gram. ii. 1. 419, amongst which we may especially notice—'Stolne is he with Iues'; Towneley Mysteries, p. 290.