The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Manciple's Tale Summary

The Host then asks if anyone can wake the Cook, who is so drunk he has dozed off. The Manciple politely tries, but the Cook is so drunk he falls off his horse and into the mud. The Host asks the Manciple to tell a tale instead of the Cook, since the Cook is too drunk to accomplish anything but staying on his horse.

The Cook says he will “quit” the Manciple’s tale, but the Manciple gives him some wine, which improves the Cook’s mood. The Manciple then begins his tale.

The Manciple tells the story of Phoebus, the god of poetry. When he lived on earth, he was a lusty bachelor, a great archer, and envied by all for his singing and musical talents. He had a white crow that could imitate speech and that could also sing.

Phoebus also had a beautiful wife whom he loved. But he was also consumed by jealousy, so he kept his wife in the house and watched her closely. Here, the narrator reminds his listeners, such jealousy is pointless; a faithful wife will not need guarding, and an unfaithful one will stray no matter how closely she is guarded. The narrator compares women to birds – no matter how nice a bird cage is, the bird would rather not be in it.

Without Phoebus’s knowledge, his wife had a lover, whom she snuck into the house while Phoebus was out. The white crow saw this, and when Phoebus returned, the crow told on his wife. Phoebus murdered his wife in a fit of rage, but when he realized what he had done, he destroyed his musical instruments and his bow and arrows. Then he accused the crow of lying to him and pulled out all its feathers before tossing it out the door to the Devil.

This, says the narrator, is why all crows are black. It is also why you should never tell a man his wife is cheating on him: because he will hate the messenger.

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