THE MONK’S TALE
The Monk’s Tale is almost a lecture concerning tragic figures of the past.
He starts with Adam and Lucifer’s fall from grace, leading on to the story of Samson and Delilah.
Next he provides brief histories concerning Hercules, Nebuchadnezzar, and
Balthasar who refused to abandon the ways of the wicked despite warnings from God. This led to the loss of his kingdom.
The Monk then provides details of a Persian woman, Zenobia. Not only
was she beautiful, but she was a great warrior and feared neither man nor beast.
She fell in love with Prince Idenathus and they had two sons. The courageous Prince conquered many lands and they soon ruled over a vast area. When the Prince died, her sons continued to show no mercy for the nations they had captured. Then they were invaded by the Roman Empire, and they were taken to Rome, mother and sons, as slaves to be jeered at.
Further tragic tales follow concerning Nero the Roman Emperor, King Peter of
Spain who was betrayed and slain by his own brother, and Julius Caesar who was assassinated.
The Monk would have continued if it had not been for the intervention of the
Knight, pleading for a merry tale, but he did not comply.
It is not clear what Chaucer’s intentions were in writing this tale for the
Monk. Maybe he wished to impress the reader with his knowledge of world literature and stories from far-off lands, some of which he perhaps translated into English. However, the tales are not told in
chronological order, and there seems to be no organization in this work. It may be that these were ideas for stories that the Pilgrims would tell on their return journey to London.
The Host agrees with the Knight that the stories were too grim, and boring,
and that he almost fell asleep.
The Host turns to the Nun’s Priest and asks if he knows a merry tale.