The Monk’s Prologue

From The Canterbury Tales By Geoffrey Chaucer

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 When I had ended my tale of Melibee and of Prudence and her goodness, our Host said, “As I am a faithful person, and by the precious body of Madrian[1], I would give a barrel of ale so my dear good wife might hear this story! She has no such patience as had Melibee’s wife. By God’s bones, when I beat my knaves, she brings me great clubbed staffs and cries, “Slay every one of the dogs! Break their backs and every bone!” 1900

 And if any neighbor of ours will not offer reverence to my wife in church, or is so bold as to offend her, she shakes her fist in my face when she comes home and cries, “False coward, avenge your wife! By God’s bones, you shall take my distaff[2] and go spin, and I will take your knife!” Day and night she will be saying, “Alas that I was ever born to wed a milksop or a coward ape, who is mastered by every creature! You do not dare to stand up for your wife’s rights!” 1912

 This is my life, unless I will pick a quarrel with my neighbors; I must rush from the house or I am lost, unless I were foolhardy, like a wild lion. I know well that some day she will make me kill some neighbor and then flee for my life, for I am a dangerous man with my knife in hand, albeit I dare not resist her, for she is big of arms, in faith, as anyone who injures her in word or act shall find. But let us pass this matter by. 1923

 “My lord Monk, be cheerful, for in faith you shall tell a tale. Lo, Rochester stands nearby now. Ride forth, my own lord; do not spoil our sport. But by my word, I do not know your name, whether to call you my Lord Sir John, or Sir Thomas, or else Sir Alban. Of what monastery are you, in heaven’s name? You have a very fine skin, I swear to God; it must be a noble pasture where you have fed: you do not look like a ghost, or even one who fasts! 1934

 “By my faith, you are some sort of officer, a noble sacristan or cellarer[3], for by my father’s soul I deem you must be a master at home, no poor cloister-monk or novice, but a governor, wise and wily; and a comely-looking person withal, for brawn and bones. May God bring to destruction the one that first brought you to the religious life. You would have been a great breeding fowl. If you had as great a permission as you have the might, you would have begotten many creatures. Alas, why do you wear such a wide cloak? 1948

May God give me sorrow, but if I were a pope, not only you, but every mighty man, even if his hair were cut rather high on his skull, should have a wife. The entire world is lost; religion has taken up all the best, and we lay-people are just shrimps. From weak trees come weak offshoots; therefore, our heirs are so slim and weak that they can not engender[4] well. This makes our wives want to make a try at religious people, for you might pay better, in terms of Venus’ payments, than we can. God knows, you pay with no little coins. But do not be angry, my lord, that I make merry in this way; very often I have heard a truth told in jest.” 1964

 This worthy monk took everything in patience, and said, “I will do my duty, as long as it is proper, to tell you a tale, or two or three of them. And if you wish to listen here, I will tell you the life of St, Edward; or else I will first relate certain tragedies, of which I have a hundred in my cell. A tragedy means a certain story, as the old books tell us, of one who stood once in great prosperity and falls from that high station into misery and ends in wretchedness. They are commonly in verses of six feet, which people call hexameters. Many are composed in prose, and many in other meters as well. Lo, this description should be sufficient. 1982

 Now listen if you wish to hear. But first I beg you to excuse my ignorance if I do not tell these things in order, whether it be of popes, kings, or emperors, according to their times, as they are found written, but put some before and some behind, as they come now into my memory.” 1990


Translated and Edited by Gerard NeCastro

© Copyright, 2007, All Rights Reserved

Citation. Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Monk’s Tale. NeCastro, Gerard, ed. and trans. eChaucer:

[1] Madrian. There seems to be no Saint Madrian. The best explanation of this name to date is that Madrian is a variation on Adrian, who was known in the fourteenth century as the patron saint of brewers. This, of course, would be appropriate in this context.

[2] Distaff. The small stick that is used to hold the thread while a weaver makes cloth.

[3] Sacristan or cellarer. Sacristan: Church officer responsible for care of sacred items, including the vessels, vestments, and relics. (Sexton.) Cellerar: Officer responsible for provisions for the monks, especially  those in the kitchen and cellar.

[4] Engender. Perform, procreate.