The Manciple in The Canterbury Tales: Physical Description & Personality

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  • 0:03 The Manciple's Appearance
  • 0:35 The Manciple's Personality
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Celeste Bright

Celeste has taught college English for four years and holds a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature.

The Manciple in ''The Canterbury Tales'' draws a lot of attention to the folly of others, which he most likely tries to avoid himself. In this lesson, we'll learn about the Manciple's physical appearance and personality.

The Manciple's Appearance

In medieval times, a manciple was in charge of buying and storing food for an institution. Poet Geoffrey Chaucer's use of this term in his story collection The Canterbury Tales appears to be one of the first in the English language. While we don't get a physical description of the Manciple in the General Prologue or his own prologue, a painting in the Ellesmere manuscript (an illustrated medieval manuscript of the Canterbury Tales) depicts him as a rosy-skinned man with light brown hair and beard. He wears blue robes and has a red cap.

The Manciple's Personality

The Manciple apparently doesn't mind drawing attention to the flaws of others, as we find out in the prologue to his tale. The Host asks Roger the Cook to tell a tale, but as the Manciple explains, Roger is too drunk and sleepy to do so. Rather than putting this politely or succinctly, the Manciple comically dramatizes the Cook's drunkenness. Exaggerating, he says that Roger's yawn is so big it will swallow them all and claims that his smelly breath will spread disease. He also calls Roger a swine and an ape, and makes him drink even more wine to mock him.

From this display, we might reasonably guess that the Manciple doesn't often get drunk himself, and probably doesn't act like a fool in public. However, the Host alludes to some dubious dealings on the Manciple's part, so it seems that this character may be both dishonest and crafty. We don't know exactly what he's done, but one possibility is that he may have reported some food supplies as being more expensive than they really were. He might have made an illicit profit somehow in the course of his work.

The Host tells the Manciple he shouldn't mock Roger lest the Cook find out about and/or report his dishonest dealings. We know that the Manciple is anxious not to let this happen, and he promises not to make Roger angry.

The Manciple calls himself a vulgar man and ''not textual,'' which means that he's not well-educated. Rather than a tale of chivalry, such as his audience would expect of an upper middle class man or nobleman, his tale concerns adultery. Part of the tale's moral is that sinful behavior exists across all social classes and levels of wealth and power. He says that a noble lady who commits adultery is no better than a wench from the peasantry who does the same.

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