Chaucer and Allegory: The Physician’s Tale

Dale Priest
SCMLA 2013 (took notes, but lost them)

The story was transformed from history into allegory.
Prologue shows the physician as secular.
Ironic discrepancy between the teller and tale, but may remind us of God as the Great Physician.

Personified Envy doesn’t praise the girl’s beauty.

ref to Augustine

speech by personified Nature (l. 11-28)
shows nature’s interest in divine work
described as archetypal artist = standard convention
Nature as divine artison.
Shapes into pattern of ideal primary.

Chaucer turns the sympathetic judge in Livy’s history into a ravaging devil:
“his heart was metamorphized”
“devil ran into his heart”

in both:
Appius rules in favor of accomplice, without time for refutation

Livy:
father stabs her heart
her fiancé holds her body while father slips away

Chaucer:
50-line discussion preceding death
Death before dishonor.
Daughter proceeds to compare herself to Jeptha’s daughter.

St Augustine –typological exegesis to uncover truth behind scriptural veil
all related to charity and condemning cupidity

delivery of head to judge shows triumph of virtue over evil

French Allegorical poem Le Roman de la Rose also deals with the same story.

Le Roman de la Rose:
20,000 lines
written between 1260 and 1280
69 line reference to Virginia episode
says if folks looked to God, there would be no corrupt judges
This poem has daughter beheaded (as Chaucer does later) in court (not at home, as Chaucer).

Virginia is alive in God’s hand and the judge is in Hell with the devils.

Chaucer says there is a reason for clemency:
Claudius was doomed to hang, but father asked for exile, lest he die in his evil due to beguiling.

Father of girl = God
Appius = beguiler (Father of Lies, devil)

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