CHAUCER’S TALE OF SIR TOPAS
Sir Topas was a handsome young man who was a skilled hunter, archer and
wrestler, but he was not interested in women, which caused disappointment to many a maiden.
One night in the forest, he fell asleep and dreamed of an Elf Queen who
joined him under his cloak. When he awoke he was determined to search the earth for the Elf Queen.
The Host interrupts the tale, for he is tired with such ‘illiterate rhymes’,
so Chaucer tells the Tale of Melibee.
This is a tedious story concerning Dame Prudence who is the wife of Melibee.
Whilst they were away, the Melibee’s home is burgled by three thieves, and
their daughter Sophia, who was still at home, was grievously injured by the burglars. The burglars are captured, but after taking advice to the surprise of those present, Dame Prudence wishes to have a
peaceful settlement with the burglars. Melibee decided to punish the burglars with a fine, but Prudence blocked this, so the burglars left after they were given a lengthy sermon.
It is not known what happened to the daughter Sophia.
We can only assume that it is through modesty that Chaucer assigns two
uneventful stories to his name.
The Tale of Melibee has almost no plot, but it goes on for 1,885 lines, and
perhaps its only function is to demonstrate Chaucer’s art in poetry.
The question that the tale poses is whether we should avenge like with like,
violence with violence. It is clear that Melibee and Dame Prudence adopt the view that we should turn the other cheek.
The Host was pleased with Chaucer’s tale of Dame Prudence and Sir Topas.
He wished that his wife had been here to have witnessed the story.
He blames his wife for driving him to commit acts of dishonesty.
He then turns to the Monk and asks for a merry tale, but the Monk responds
by providing a series of tragic tales.