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The Canterbury Tales
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Notes to the Man of Law's Tale
NOTES TO THE PROLOGUE
1. Plight: pulled; the word is an obsolete past tense from "pluck."
2. No more than will Malkin's maidenhead: a proverbial saying; which, however, had obtained
fresh point from the Reeve's Tale, to which the host doubtless refers.
3. De par dieux jeo asente: "by God, I agree". It is characteristic that the somewhat pompous
Sergeant of Law should couch his assent in the semi-barbarous French, then familiar in law
4. Ceyx and Alcyon: Chaucer treats of these in the introduction to the poem called "The Book of
the Duchess." It relates to the death of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the
poet's patron, and afterwards his connexion by marriage.
5. The Saintes Legend of Cupid: Now called "The Legend of Good Women". The names of eight
ladies mentioned here are not in the "Legend" as it has come down to us; while those of two
ladies in the "legend" -- Cleopatra and Philomela -- are her omitted.
6. Not the Muses, who had their surname from the place near Mount Olympus where the
Thracians first worshipped them; but the nine daughters of Pierus, king of Macedonia, whom he
called the nine Muses, and who, being conquered in a contest with the genuine sisterhood,
were changed into birds.
7. Metamorphoseos: Ovid's.
8. Hawebake: hawbuck, country lout; the common proverbial phrase, "to put a rogue above a
gentleman," may throw light on the reading here, which is difficult.
NOTES TO THE TALE
1. This tale is believed by Tyrwhitt to have been taken, with no material change, from the
"Confessio Amantis" of John Gower, who was contemporary with Chaucer, though somewhat
his senior. In the prologue, the references to the stories of Canace, and of Apollonius Tyrius,
seem to be an attack on Gower, who had given these tales in his book; whence Tyrwhitt
concludes that the friendship between the two poets suffered some interruption in the latter part
of their lives. Gower was not the inventor of the story, which he found in old French romances,
and it is not improbable that Chaucer may have gone to the same source as Gower, though the
latter undoubtedly led the way. (Transcriber's note: later commentators have identified the
introduction describing the sorrows of poverty, along with the other moralising interludes in the
tale, as translated from "De Contemptu Mundi" ("On the contempt of the world") by Pope