Week 9: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

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The Tale of the Physician, cont.

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

The plot now begins to unfold: a judge named Appius sees Virginia and falls in love with her. He knows he will have to use a trick to get possession of her, so he arranges for a man named Claudius to sue Virginius in court, charging that Virginia is actually not Virginius's daughter at all, but a slave belonging to Claudius whom Virginia stole.

This maid, upon a day, went into town
Unto a temple, with her mother dear,
As the wont is of young maids everywhere.
Now there was then a justice in that town
Was governor of all the region known.
And so befell, this judge his two eyes cast
Upon this maid, noting her beauty fast,
As she went by the place wherein he stood.
Swiftly his heart was altered, and his mood,
He was so caught by beauty of the maid,
And to his own dark secret heart he said:
"She shall be mine in spite of any man!"

Anon the Fiend into his bosom ran
And taught him swiftly how, by treachery,
The maiden to his purpose might win he.
For truly not to bribery or force
Would it avail, he thought, to have recourse,
Since she had many friends, and was so good,
So strong in virtue, that he never could
By any subtle means her favour win
And make her give her body unto sin.

Therefore, and with great scheming up and down,
He sent to find a fellow of the town,
Which man, he knew, was cunning and was bold.
And unto this man, when the judge had told
His secret, then he made himself right sure
That it should come to ears of no creature,
For if it did the fellow'd lose his head.
And when assent to this crime had been said,
Glad was the judge, and then he made great cheer
And gave the fellow precious gifts and dear.
When plotted out was their conspiracy,
From point to point, how all his lechery
Should have its will, performing craftily,
As you shall hear it now told openly,
Home went the churl, whose name was Claudius.

This false judge, who was known as Appius
(Such was his name, for this is no fable,
But an historical event I tell,
At least the gist is true, beyond a doubt)-
This false judge goes now busily about
To hasten his delight in all he may.
And so befell soon after, on a day,
This false judge, as recounts the ancient story,
As he was wont, sat in his auditory
And gave his judgment upon every case.

Forthwith the wicked churl advanced a pace,
And said: "Your honour, if it be your will,
Then give me justice prayed for in this bill,
Of my complaint against Virginius.
And if he claim the matter stands not thus,
I will so prove, by many a good witness,
That truth is what my bill does here express."
The judge replied: "On this, in his absence,
I may not give definitive sentence.
Let him be called and I will gladly hear;
You shall have all your right, and no wrong, here."

Virginius came to learn the judge's will,
And then was read to him this wicked bill,
The substance of it being as you shall hear.
"To you, Judge Appius, may it so appear
That comes and says your servant Claudius,
How that a knight, by name Virginius,
Against the law, against all equity,
Holds, expressly against the will of me,
My servant who is slave to me by right,
Who from my house was stolen, on a night,
While yet she was but young; this will I prove,
My lord, by witness competent thereof.
She's not his child, whatever he may say;
Wherefore to you, my lord the judge, I pray,
Yield me my slave, if that it be your will."
Lo, this was all the substance of his bill.

Virginius' eyes the churl's began to hold,
But hastily, before his tale he'd told,
Ready to prove it, as befits a knight,
And by the evidence of many a wight,
That false was this charge of his adversary.
The wicked judge, he would no moment tarry,
Nor hear a word more from Virginius,
But gave his judgment then and there, as thus:
"I do decree in favour of the churl:
No longer shall you hold this servant girl.
Go bring her here and leave her as my ward.
This man shall have his slave, as my award."


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how did Appius persuade Claudius to go along with the plan?
  • what did Claudius accuse Virginius of in court?
  • what decision did judge Appius give?

Source: The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Modern English translation (name of translator not given). Website: Litrix Reading Room


Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM