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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Manciple’s Tale Summary

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Last Updated November 10, 2022.

The Manciple’s Prologue

The company continues to ride along, and the Host notices that the Cook is so drunk that he is about to fall off his horse. The Cook should tell them a tale, he says. The Manciple speaks up to relate his story instead, calling the Cook a “stynkynkg swyn” due to his bad breath. The Cook becomes angry and does fall off his horse. It takes several men to get him back on. The Manciple again comments on the Cook’s drunkenness, and the Host tells him to get on with his tale. The Manciple gives the Cook a drink, pacifying him, and the Host praises the peace-making effects of Bacchus, the god of wine.

The Manciple’s Tale

Phoebus is the world’s best archer and does many wonderful deeds. He is a musician, too, and the most handsome man in the world and the best of knights. Phoebus has a pure white crow, whom he has taught to speak. The bird can tell stories and sing beautifully.

Phoebus also has a wife, and he is jealous when it comes to her even though he does his best to please and honor her. The Manciple remarks that trying to guard wives is a useless task because any creature, woman or bird, kept in a cage will strive to get out and fly away no matter how good life is in the cage.

Phoebus’s wife is unfaithful to him, and she invites her lover to their house when her husband isn’t home. When Phoebus returns, the crow sings “Cuckoo!” at him and then tells Phoebus exactly what has happened, for the bird has witnessed the whole thing.

Phoebus is furious. He kills his wife, breaks his bow and musical instruments, and calls the crow a traitor. Even though the bird’s story is true, Phoebus now doubts it. He has acted rashly in his anger and curses the crow. The bird, he says, will turn black and never again sing sweetly. It will only cry harshly from now on. That is why crows are black and caw to this day. The Manciple notes that it is best for people to hold their tongues and not tell tales, as his mother always said when she taught him the story of the crow.

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