Death in Chaucer's Tales

After reading the tales for today, the key themes to me seemed to be death and betrayal. In The Physician’s Tale, The Pardoner’s Tale, The Shipman’s Tale, and The Prioress’Tale, one or both of these themes are present during the stories. To start with The Physician’s Tale, death occurs with Virginia after her father “smote off her head.” She would rather “die a Maid” than to be shamed from losing her virginity. What I found stunning about her death is that it was her father who performed the execution.

This reminded me of Abraham and Isaiah in Bible when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Now, the sacrifice never actually took place, but this tale reminded me of the Bible story because it shows that the father was willing to sacrifice his daughter to remain pure to God.

Out of all of the tales, The Pardoner’s Tale is most closely related to death, as “Death” is actually a character in the story.

After asking an old man to show them where Death is located, the man tells the three lads that Death is in a tree. After finding a plethora of gold in the tree, the men become filled with greed. All three of the men end up dead because of the gold, as each of them secretly plotted to kill one another. The older men stabbed the youngest in the back while he was retrieving the gold, and the youngest had poisoned the wine that the two oldest had drank after they killed the youngest.

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Death, betrayal and greed are all the main themes of this story told by the Pardoner.

The Shipman’s Tale does not focus on death, although betrayal is a huge theme in this story. The wife of the merchant asks the merchant’s best friend, the monk, to “Lend me these hundred franks/By God, I will not fail to give you thanks/For a certain day I will pay you/And do to you whatever pleasure and service/That I can do, exactly as you please to command.” (187 192). The monk agrees to help out the wife in order to have sex with her, even though he is close friends with the merchant. Although the merchant isn’t the greatest of husbands, did he really deserve the betrayal of his wife and best friend? At least he still has tons of money from all of his accounting.

The Prioress’ Tale is perhaps the most brutal of the tales concerning death. A boy simply trying to learn a Jewish song to sing to the Virgin Mary has his throat slit by an assassin sent by the Jews. You could also argue that betrayal is in this tale as well with God betraying the boy’s trust in him by allowing the Jews to murder him. This seems like a vicious tale coming from a prioress, but the content is not surprising as the Christians and Jews had a very on-edge relationship during this time period. All the boy wanted to do was sing!

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Death in Chaucer's Tales. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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