Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Although Chaucer's concern with problems of authority is widely recognized by scholars, the Tale of Melibee, which he assigned to his persona in the Canterbury Tales, is equally widely regarded as an unambiguous assertion of moral authority. The allegory is transparent, its moral clear, and the tale a slavishly literal translation of Renaud de Louens' Livre de Mellibee et Prudence, critics argue. Though its placement in the Canterbury context raises questions of interpretation--Chaucer prefaces the tale with overt stress on the matter of the tale's sentence, and the tale is followed by Harry's misreading of it--most critics accept the view that the tale is to be taken seriously, and at face value.;However, if we examine the tale in terms of its allegory, its status as translation, and its place in the Canterbury Tales, its apparent acceptance of Prudence's authoritative readings can be qualified. Prudence's allegoresis of events is problematic in its insufficient accounting for all factors, such as her role in the allegory, and in its misrepresentation of others, such as Sophie's wounds. Similarly, Chaucer's Melibee differs from Renaud's in small but significant ways that serve to modify Prudence's authority and to undercut the moral certainty of the tale. And looking at the tale in the Canterbury context reveals that it is concerned with the issues of authority prevalent therein to a greater extent than its apparent moral certitude suggests.;The tale is not an unambiguous assertion of the reliability of authority. Instead, the tale shows that even a very good advisor can err in her readings and can employ questionable persuasive techniques, that even the best authorities can be used at cross purposes, and that even an act of Christian charity can be compromised by the motivations underlying it. The Tale of Melibee is not a simplistic assertion of one's ability to interpret authority wisely but rather a subtle exploration of the difficulty of doing so, even when one has prudence on one's side. The tale, then, is not an anomaly within the Canterbury Tales but rather part of its broad and complex tapestry.



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