Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: The Parson’s Tale Essay

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Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales: The Parson’s Tale

The critical acclaim for The Canterbury Tales as a whole is matched by the puzzlement over the work’s conclusion, the “Parson’s Tale” and Chaucer’s retraction. By modern standards, it hardly seems the “merry tale” the Parson promises his audience, and after the liveliness of much of the rest of the Tales, it appears to close the work not with a bang, but a whimper.

However, this does not mean that the tale and retraction aren’t worthy of consideration, both independently and in the larger context of Chaucer’s masterpiece. Indeed, within the last century we have seen scholars arguing for the Parson’s sermon and Chaucer’s retraction as the capstone of the work, as ironic
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The Gregorian seven have formed our notion of the “seven deadly sins.”)(67-72).

The manuals of penance took many forms, from simple lists of penance by sin, called tariffs (Braswell 24) to lengthy, scripted dialogues (as in Robert of Flamborough’s Liber Poenitentialis in the early thirteenth century and one of the books of the Ancrene Wisse from the same period) (Braswell 38-45). Of interest here is the classification of specific actions within the scheme of the cardinal/deadly sins, which we see in Chaucer’s tale.

Scholars looking for specific sources for the “Parson’s Tale” have found three key volumes. The discussion of the process of confession and penitence are derived from Raymund of Pennaforte’s Summa de Poenitentia, the specific discussion of sins comes from Peraldus’s Summa vitiorum, and the remedies are from the Postquam (Cooper 400-01, Wenzel 351-78). The sins themselves are listed, according to Bloomfield, in the traditional Gregorian order (pride, wrath, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, and lechery) (72, 191).

However, the Parson says that he is “nat textueel” (57). Judith Shaw notes that the discussion of wrath, which claims to list “foure maneres” of homicide in deed (570) but only offers three manners and specific instances of infanticide and birth control, seems to support the Parson’s claim (Shaw 281). Bloomfield also
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