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Of much the same nature is the Reeve's Tale, which was intended to be a quid pro quo to the Miller's, and is founded on the practice of the millers in those days, when they were paid in kind for grinding other people's corn, taking far more than their proper share, “tollen thries,” as the Prologue has it. In the tale two Cambridge students play a most outrageous trick on a miller of this description. The “Miller's Tale,” the “Reeve's Tale,” and the “Cook's Tale” which follows them, are, like all the others, in strict keeping with the characters of the narrators, and Chaucer is thus able to give dramatic unity to the poem as a whole.
When the Reeve had finished his tale, Roger, the Cook, volunteered to tell the next one; and the Host—after some good-humoured banter in which he tells him that he hopes his tale will be a good one, and so do much to make up for the havoc which his messes had made on the stomachs of former pilgrims who had been victimised by him, and who had cursed him for his Jacks of Dover, “that had been twiés hot and twiés cold,” and for “the parsley they had eten in his stubble goose”—granted his request, telling him at the same time not to be wroth at what he had said, since it was all in jest. The Cook said he knew that well enough, but that nevertheless he would make him pay for it, as his tale was to be about a “hostelère" who was thoroughly befooled by a rascally London “prentice” of the name of Perkin Revellour. The tale was broken off almost at the very commencement; and in some of the manuscripts, the “Tale of Gamelyn" was substituted for it and ascribed to the Cook. But this tale, although its plot is a fairly interesting one, is quite different in style from all the other tales, and inferior to most of them, so that in all probability it is not Chaucer's; and there seems good reason for the conjecture of the ablest of the commentators, that he had written it out, intending to remodel it, and that, as its scenery is the greenwood, and its action the free life of the lawless forester, he intended to give it in charge to the Yeoman, who is one of the seven who do not tell tales. The most interesting point with regard to it is, that it contains the outline of the plot of Shakespeare's “As You Like It,” with the exception of the delightful love-scenes which constitute the main charm of that play. There is no bond of connection between the next tale and those which precede it. The Host, proud of the success of his plan so far, urges the necessity of there being no delay in carrying it out. He reminds the company that time is speeding fast, and calls upon the Sergeant of Lawe to fulfil his promise, who, in precise and logical language befitting his profession, at once responds. He announces that his tale is to be one of many which have been told to illustrate the misfortunes of women who had become martyrs for the sake of love. But he adds that he has a difficulty in finding a subject, since one of the company, Chaucer himself (“although he knows but lewódly of metres and of rhyming craftily"), has, in his ‘Legend of Good Women, told more tales on the same subject than even Ovid had done; and he says that he would have found himself left out in the cold, and unable to tell a tale, if a certain merchant, in the course of his wanderings over many lands, had not come across a new one of considerable interest, and told it to him.
After a short introduction, in which he indicates that he is to speak of the misfortunes which the innocent are often called upon to suffer on account of the villany of unscrupulous men, many instances of which had no doubt come under his notice in the course of his practice, and of the strangely unequal distribution of happiness and prosperity in this imperfect world of ours, he proceeds as follows:–
THE MAN OF LAWES TALE: THE STORY
Once upon a time a company of Syrian merchants, who bore a high character for uprightness and generosity in the transaction of their business, and who in consequence were welcomed and held in honour wherever they went, came to the city of Rome, and abode there for a time. During their stay, the common subject of conversation was the beauty and goodness of the Emperor's daughter, the Lady Constance, who was dearly beloved, both by her parents and by all her father's subjects; for
“In her was high& beauty without pryde,
The worthy merchants transacted their business in the ordinary way, and then returned home. Their sovereign, the Sultan, was a magnanimous and wise ruler, and he was specially fond of conversing with merchants, and learning from them the manners and customs of the peoples of the lands they had visited in the course of their wan- derings. These particular merchants were held in special honour by him; they consequently told him everything they had learned regarding the Lady Constance; and the Sultan was so impressed with what they told him, that he could think of nothing except her beauty and her goodness. He fell to “sighing like a furnace,” as all true lovers do, and he called his council together to consult with them as to what should be done to ease his pain. They discussed various schemes, magical and otherwise, but all were equally unsatisfactory; and it was soon seen that the only way out of the difficulty was to grant their master the desire of his heart, and to allow him to offer himself and his kingdom for her acceptance. There were various difficulties in the way, however—the differences of nationality, laws, and especially religion; but so deep was the love of the Sultan for Constance, and so great was the regard felt by his subjects for himself, that he and they agreed to become Christians, if thereby they might obtain her for their queen. An embassy was sent to Rome to arrange the terms of the contract, and the Emperor, seeing the advantage that such an alliance would be to his country and his religion, received the ambassadors with all honour, and gave his hearty consent to