The Prioress�s Tale is definitely anti-Semitic, but who can we ultimately ascribe these sentiments to: the Prioress or Chaucer, himself? As I worked through the story, it seems to become clear that we can attribute them to Chaucer. There are no comments about the Jews which are any less than fully derogatory; I would expect that if this tale was meant as a critique or commentary on Jewish-Christian relations at the time from an objective standpoint, that there would be a reprieve, however small, of some of the Jews portrayed in the story. None can be found, however, and all Jews that even knew of this incident are slaughtered, suggesting, of course, the myopic view that all Jews think and behave the same way.

The adjectives describing the two �sides��Christians and Jews�are quite contrasting. Consider the �innocent� and �little� child, his mother the �poor� widow, against the Jews who were �hateful to Christ and his comaignye� (5). They are also called the �cursed Jews� in line 112. Again, this is a mass-lumping of Jewish people into a single category that just so obviously reeks of deeply seated prejudice (there�s a stronger word I seek, but it eludes me at present).

When the provost draws the Jews by horses, the Prioress makes note that �after that he heng hem by the lawe� (147) � the Christian�s law, of course. It�s no stretch�whether you believe in capital punishment or not�to see how they might have justified killing the hired Jewish murderer, but I doubt that the systematic eradication of any Jew with knowledge of the boy�s murder has any such support under any law.

I am curious why the Prioress relays the song�s lyrics missing �mater� from the full O alma redemptoris mater until �Yet spak this child when spreind was holy water / And song O alma redemptoris mater� (153-4). Surely it�s not an oversight on Chaucer�s part; he seems careful to get it right all but once, so I�ll assume that its final reciting which includes �mater� holds significance, but as yet I�m unsure of what that might be. Perhaps this is a question that can be addressed and answered satisfactorily in class, particularly in light of how this particular tale comments on The Shipman�s Tale.

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This page contains a single entry by Stephen Donner published on October 23, 2005 4:44 PM.

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