The Man of Law's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Prologue & Summary

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

In this Tale, we have the story of a young girl who is at the mercy of her beauty. This lesson tells how she is saved by the goodness of her Christian heart, which she uses to convert those around her.

Can love, true love, conquer anything? That is the question that this Canterbury Tale tackles. The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories by Geoffrey Chaucer. Though unfinished, they stand as one of the greatest works of English literature. This lesson will focus on the Prologue and Summary of 'The Man of Law's Tale.'

The Prologue

The Host asks the Man of Law to tell a tale
The Host asks the Man of Law to tell a tale.

The Host, Harry Bailey, tells the pilgrims that the day is passing them by. He tells the Man of Law that he needs to tell his story. The Man of Law tells him that Chaucer already told everything that was good, and left him nothing. He also mentions that he cannot use rhyme, so he will tell his story plain.

He tells us that he is going to tell a story that he heard from some merchants, so it will be a story about merchants.

The Man of Law's Tale: The Sultan and the Beauty

The Tale starts with the story of Constance, the most beautiful woman ever. Her father is the Emperor of Rome. Tales are told of her beauty, and some merchants from Syria bring home the news that she is the most amazing woman ever. The Sultan decides he must marry her. So, he agrees to a marriage contract with her on the condition that he (and all his subjects) convert to Christianity. They get married...but definitely don't live happily ever after.

The mother of the Sultan, who is furious that her son has rejected Islam, hatches a plan. She pretends to accept the marriage but murders the Sultan and most of the other Christians at the wedding. Constance survives and is cast out to sea on a boat.

A Christian in a Pagan Land

Constance floats for more than a year but ends up crashing on the coast of Northumberland. She is taken in by the constable and his wife, named Hermengild. Constance manages to convert both to Christianity. But, a young knight falls for Constance. He murders Hermengild and leaves the weapon in Constance's bed.

Constance is tried for the murder. She is sentenced to death, but the king, Alla, makes the knight swear on a holy book that he is telling the truth. The knight dies, and Constance is set free. She marries Alla, and they have a son, but again, she is not destined for happily ever after.

Whatever happened to Constance?

Donegild, the king's mother, falsely tells Constance that Alla wants their son killed. Constance takes her son and sails away, and Alla has his mother executed when he learns what she has done.

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