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What is the Prioress Tale about?

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matheny8076 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 17, 2011 at 9:49 PM via web

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What is the Prioress Tale about?

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noahvox2 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted November 18, 2011 at 1:13 AM (Answer #1)

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In Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the tale told by the Prioress follows that told by the Shipman and comes before "The Tale of Sir Thopas." This story, set in Asia, deals with a Christian school in the middle of a Jewish part of town. When a Christian choirboy learns to sing "Alma redemptoris" and does so in the Jewish quarter, the Jews hire somone to "cut his throat".

The child's mother, a widow, searches for her son, finds his body when a miracle occurs: people hear the dead child singing (despite the fact that he is dead and that his throat has been cut) the "Alma redemptoris." The Jews responsible for the boy's death were put to death.

Even afterwards, at the boy's funeral, he continues to sing this song. When the abbot wonders why, the dead boy explains that Jesus' mother " laid a precious pearl upon my tongue" (line 210) when he was dying which allowed him to sing even after death.

When the abbot removes the pearl, the boy stops singing and remains a silent corpse. Those standing nearby praised Mary for the miracle, declared the boy a martyr, and buried him "in a tomb of marble."

Given the summary of the story, "The Prioress' Tale" appears to reveal a prejudice against the Jews and their role not only in the death of this innocent young boy, but also recalls their role in the death of Jesus. Given the Prioress' Catholic faith, the power of Mother Mary is also highlighted.

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