The Canterbury Tales The Tale of Melibee Summary
The Tale of Melibee is Chaucer’s response to the Host’s demand for a proper tale written in prose. It discusses a young man named Melibee, who was rich and well-known in his town. He had a wife named Prudence and a daughter named Sophie.
One day, Melibee locked his wife and daughter in his house and went for a walk in the fields. While he was gone, his enemies broke into the house, beat up his wife, and gave his daughter “mortal wounds” in five places: her feet, her hands, her eyes, her nose, and her mouth.
Melibee returned, saw what had happened, and began crying. His wife Prudence calmed him down and began to give him some advice, relying on a large number of classical and Biblical authorities, most of whom were typically well-known in Chaucer’s time. Melibee, however, doesn’t think it proper to take advice from a woman, so Prudence recommends that he gather a group of his friends to give him advice instead.
Melibee does this, gathering most of the townsfolk in his house to advise him. The advice typically falls into two groups: the surgeons, physicians, lawyers, and old people tell Melibee to be cautious, while the neighbors and young people tell Melibee to launch an attack on his enemies immediately.
Although Melibee favors war, Prudence urges him to choose his counselors carefully and consider what their hidden motives are when they advise him. She then goes through all the advice Melibee has received and, with exhaustive references to various sources, explains how war is likely to be a bad outcome.
Prudence interprets Sophie’s injuries as damage caused by man’s vulnerability to the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. She says that a negotiated peace, followed by leaving everything to God’s grace and forgiveness, is the best path.
Meanwhile, Melibee’s enemies, who injured Prudence and Sophie, are caught and brought before Melibee. At first, Melibee wants to fine them, but Prudence talks him out of this and eventually into forgiving them instead. Melibee forgives them, then praises himself for his own generosity.