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Chaucer's Prudent Poetics:: Allegory, the Tale of Melibee, and the Frame Narrative to the Canterbury Tales

Stephen Yeager
The Chaucer Review
Vol. 48, No. 3 (2014), pp. 307-321
DOI: 10.5325/chaucerrev.48.3.0307
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/chaucerrev.48.3.0307
Page Count: 15
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Chaucer's Prudent Poetics:
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Abstract

The character Prudence in Chaucer's Tale of Melibee prudently explains to her husband Melibee that he ought to be merciful, interpreting the text's events for him as they unfold. However, her interpretive methodology poses many problems to the reader. Prudence confuses her twin roles as human wife and allegorical virtue; both the content and manner of her speech can sometimes contradict her own advice, and it is far from clear at the end of the story that her husband has actually learned anything. The implication of this incoherence is that interpretive methodologies themselves are the problem. It is Melibee's strict, moralizing adherence to the precise words used by Prudence and his counselors that leads him towards violence and revenge, while Prudence's looser and somewhat contradictory interpretations of proverbial wisdom nonetheless culminate in a clear, consistent notion of charitable mercy.

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