The Prioress's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Prologue & Summary

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you are reading Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales,' you will eventually get to the Prioress's tale. You can get the scoop on her story and find out what is important to her by reading on.

Goody Two-Shoes

If you have ever known someone who always behaves well and seems to never a make mistake, you will find familiar traits with the Prioress in 'The Canterbury Tales'. Most of the stories before hers include things like sex jokes and fart humor (including the description of a fart so powerful it sounded like thunder and almost blinded someone). Conversely, the Prioress tells a story about a sweet choir boy.

The Prologue

The prologue to the Prioress's tale is a prayer to The Virgin Mary. As a Prioress is the head of a group of nuns, beginning her story with a prayer should not come as a surprise. Interestingly, however, she ends her prayer with ''therfore I yow preyer Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye.'' In other words, she asks The Virgin Mary to guide the story she is about to tell.

The Jewish Quarter

The setting for the Prioress's story is the Jewish quarter of town which contains a small school for Christians. One of the students in this school is a well-behaved young boy, who is the child of a widow that likes to sing Ava Maria even though he doesn't quite know what the words mean. One day, he hears a song called Alma Redemptoris. He is mesmerized by it and asks an older boy what the song means, learning that it is a song worshiping The Virgin Mary. At this point, the boy vows to learn the entire song in Latin before Christmas, singing and practicing it every day - even on his walks home from school.

The Murder

When the boy passes through the Jewish quarter, one of the people living there suggested that the boy's songs were offensive. In response, the Jewish people hire someone to kill the boy. The murderer finds the boy, cuts his throat, and tosses his body into a sewage pit.

When the boy does not return home, his mother runs to the school and searches for him. She looks high and low until someone tells her that he was seen near the Jewish quarter. She begs everyone there to tell her where her son is, but they do not help her. Finally, she gets a message from Jesus to stand near the cesspit and sing Alma Redemptoris. When she does this, her dead son, with his throat still slit, begins to sing.

The Boy Goes to Heaven

Everyone is amazed and eventually the provost of the town decides to punish as many Jews as he can. He draws and quarters some of them and hangs others. When the boy is asked how it is possible for him to sing even though he is dead, he explains that even though ''My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,'' he can sing because The Virgin Mary put a special seed on his tongue. The priest then pulls the seed out of the boy's mouth so that he can die in peace and go to heaven.

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