The "a" Group Manuscript Tales Heard by the Squire Before He Tells His Tale

The Squire's father started with the tale of two young, love-struck knights who learn about the hard realities of life, death and fate in Theseus' tournament. The Squire then heard the Miller parody his father's courtly view of love with a bawdy, obscene fabliau about an older man whose wife cuckolds him with a clerk. The Reeve's tale of drunken rape and revenge follows, and after it the Cook's descent into the underworld of apprentices on the streets of London. The Lawyer brought the moral tone up again, but in doing so he depicted stewards and knights as would-be rapists or seducers, and he showed earthly government as largely ineffective and dependent upon divine intervention for what little order exists. The Wife of Bath excoriated all husbands and claimed victory for aggressive women, depicting marriage as a battlefield where love actually weakens the lover's competitive advantage. The Friar and Summoner quarrel obscenely and mock both the ecclesiastical court system and the lord's court which determined how to divide farts evenly. Then the Clerk depicted a nobleman whose bizarre "curiosity" about his wife's ability to withstand emotional pain drives him to punish her three times without cause. Finally, the Merchant has portrayed a household that parodies his own (knight with young, love-struck squire who "carf biforn the knyght ful many a day" [IV.1773]) and shows the squire seducing the knight's wife (i.e., Mom).

We also must remember that in the "b," "c," and "d" manuscript groups, the Squire follows the Fragment I tales and Lawyer's tale of Custance (with the spurious "Cook's Tale of Gamelyn" tacked on to Fragment I in the "c" and "d" group manuscripts), but the social and psychological pressure described above is still there. In the Hengwrt MS order, the oldest and sometimes considered closest to that common in Chaucer's time, the Wife of Bath, Friar, and Summoner tell their tales before the Man of Law and the Squire follows the Man of Law. This increases, somewhat, the anti-romance and anti-authoritarian force of the Squire's experience of this audience.