illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Tale of Melibee Summary

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Melibeus is out in the fields one day, leaving his wife and daughter at home, when enemies attack his house and mortally wound his daughter. Melibeus goes almost mad at the sight, but his wife, Prudence, chastises him for acting like a fool. Their daughter will recover, she says, and even if she does not, it is no excuse for this destructive behavior.

Prudence counsels moderation, and she tells her husband to get some advice about this situation. He calls in a great crowd of people. Some tell him to take revenge at once. Others who are older and wiser advise him to wait a while and carefully consider what he must do. Melibeus, still very angry, decides for war.

Prudence, however, holds her husband back. At first he does not want to take her advice because she is a woman. Prudence reasons away his arguments with plenty of examples of wise women and proceeds to tell Melibeus how to properly choose advisors and how to evaluate their advice and make an effective decision. She presents her arguments in good order and supports them with quotations from scripture, the theologians, and the classical philosophers.

Prudence also gives Melibeus a way to change his current plan and tells him clearly how and why he has erred up to this point. Prudence reviews the wise advice Melibeus has already been given about guarding his person and his home and about refraining from haste. Melibeus must work through legal channels and not take vengeance on his own. He must show patience.

Gradually, Prudence leads her husband away from anger and the desire for revenge and toward mercy and forgiveness. She warns him to refrain from greed and to embrace God and act according to his will.

Prudence meets with her husband’s enemies and leads them to repentance for their acts. She helps Melibeus choose forgiveness for his enemies just as God has chosen forgiveness for him, and in the end, the parties are reconciled.

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