10: The Monk's Tale Summary and Analysis
The Host comments that he wishes his own wife were as patient as Prudence in the Tale of Melibeus. He describes Goodlief, his wife, as ill-tempered in the extreme and big and brawny into the bargain. In short, Harry reveals that he is henpecked.
The Host then turns the company's attention to the Monk, whom he abuses at length, supposedly in jest. Harry comments on the Monk's well-fed and sturdy appearance, remarks that he would make a fine breeder, and adds that if the Host had his way, all the monks and priests would have wives and beget fine children. Harry feels that the Church is taking all the best men and leaving only weaklings among the laity who are fathering inferior offspring.
The Monk bears all this taunting and disrespect patiently. As if to defend the seriousness of his commitment to the religious life, he vows to tell some tragedies which he defines as stories relating to persons of high station and prosperity who fall from power into misery and poverty.
The Monk's Tale turns out to be a lengthy list of noble historical, biblical, and mythological characters who suffered misfortune. Each recitation is very short and is intended to be a warning against trusting in the permanence of luck or prosperity. The characters the Monk deals with are: Lucifer, Adam, Samson Hercules Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Zenobia, King Pedro of Spain, King Peter of Cyprus, Barnabo of Lombardy, Count Ugolino of Pisa, Nero, Holofernes, Antiochus, Alexander Julius Caesar and Croesus.
Discussion and Analysis
The Host's scorn for the clergy is evident in this prologue. He is not really eager to increase the population by having the clergy marry; he is rather implying that all monks are lecherous scoundrels.
The Monk's Tale (actually 17 short recitations) contradicts the Host's lewd jests. It is very serious and sorrowful and gives a typical clerical admonition that Man must not trust fame and fortune, for they are fleeting and temporal.