The Physician Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

The Physician is a wealthy man who relies on astrology and medications to treat his patients. In this lesson, we will examine the character of the Physician from Geoffrey Chaucer's ''The Canterbury Tales'' by looking at quotes about him.

Background Information

How do you feel about astrology? While many feel that fortune-telling in this way is contrary to their religious beliefs, doctors during this time were known for putting their scientific beliefs ahead of religion. The Physician in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales mixes his science with astrology when treating patients. The Canterbury Tales is a collection of stories told by a group of people from various backgrounds that find themselves on the same journey to Canterbury. Let's learn more about the Physician from this collection.

The Prologue

During the Prologue, the narrator introduces each of the characters. About the physician, he says:

  • 'With us there was a doctor of physic; In all this world was none like him to pick For talk of medicine and surgery; For he was grounded in astronomy.'
  • 'He often kept a patient from the pall By horoscopes and magic natural. Well could he tell the fortune ascendent Within the houses for his sick patient. He knew the cause of every malady, Were it of hot or cold, of moist or dry, And where engendered, and of what humour; He was a very good practitioner.'
  • 'Ready he was, with his apothecaries (pharmacists), To send him drugs and all electuaries (medicines mixed with sweets); By mutual aid much gold they'd always won?'
  • 'In diet he was measured as could be, Including naught of superfluity, But nourishing and easy. It's no libel To say he read but little in the Bible.'

From these quotes, we learn that the Physician is an intelligent scientist that relies heavily on astrology to treat his patients. He does not, however, put much stock in the Bible. He is well-respected and successful, much of which comes from his relationship with the person who makes and sells drugs. Their support of one another benefits both of them as they have both become wealthy. Although the Physician displays his wealth in other ways, he eats a modest, nutritious diet.

The Physician's Tale

The Physician's Tale is one of the strangest and most disjointed. It is the story of Judge Appius who falls for Virginia, the daughter of the knight, Viginius. In order to gain access to her, he enlists the help of Claudius, who falsely accuses Virginius of stealing his servant girl, Virginia, as a child. Appius orders Virginius to bring Virginia to court, saying, '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.' When Virginius explains to Virginia that she will be dishonored by living 'in lechery' with the judge, Virginia chooses to die. Her father cuts off her head and brings it into court. The Judge orders Virginius to be hanged. The townspeople arrest the Judge, who kills himself in jail. Claudius is hanged. Virginius is exiled instead of hanged. The moral of the story is 'Forsake your sin ere sin shall you forsake.'

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