Pearsall defines the fabliau as "a comic tale of lower bourgeois life, involving trickery,
often obscene, with a coarse sexual motive," and, more broadly, speaking of the comic tales in
general, he stresses what I have called their essential amorality: "The common understanding of
author and reader is that there are no values, secular or religious, more important than survival
and the satisfaction of appetite" (The Canterbury Tales, pp. 166, 167). Moreover, the
fabliaux in The Canterbury Tales rely on one plot: the older husband is duped by his
younger or more sexual wife and her younger lover. The humor (and/or crudity) lies in how this
is achieved. The injection of children as significant characters into such a plot would alter the
formal structure and would complicate the amoral compact Pearsall describes as having been
made between author and reader. Significantly, Chaucer seems to think children appropriate to
tales which are highly moral and which investigate and affirm Christian values.
9. Robert Worth Frank, Jr., "The Canterbury Tales III: Pathos," in The Cambridge Chaucer Companion, ed. Piero Boitani and Jill Mann (Cambridge, 1986), 143-158, at p. 149.
10. C. David Benson's note to VI.207-53 in The Riverside Chaucer, p. 903, points out that Chaucer changes Virginia's death from its depiction in his sources. Originally Virginia is beheaded publicly under extreme pressure, while Chaucer makes the beheading private and deliberate.
11. As Brian S. Lee points out in "The Position and Purpose of The Physician's Tale," Chaucer Review 22 (1987), 141-160, readers of The Physician's Tale have had difficulty with "the appalling facility with which Virginius decapitates his daughter sooner than allow her to forfeit her chastity" (p. 142), but he argues that Chaucer's intention is to make the reader face an "intellectual dilemma" (p. 157), the choice between chastity and death.
12. Jill Mann, "Parents and Children in The Canterbury Tales," in Literature in Fourteenth Century England, ed. Piero Boitani and Anna Torti (Tübingen, 1983), pp. 165-83.
13. Mann, "Parents and Children," p. 165.
14. Francis Lee Utley, "Five Genres in The Clerk's Tale," Chaucer Review 6 (1972), 198-228, at p. 224.
15. Sister Rose Marie, "Chaucer and His Mayde Bright," The Commonweal 33 (1940), 225-27.
16. James I. Wimsatt, "The Blessed Virgin and the Two Coronations of Griselda," Mediaevalia 6 (1980), 187-207, at p. 192.
17. Mann, "Parents and Children," p. 177.
18. See also Sherman Hawkins, "Chaucer's Prioress and the Sacrifice of Praise," Journal of English and German Philology 63 (1964), 599-624; Summer Ferris, "The Mariology of the Prioress's Tale," Benedictine Review 32 (1981), 232-254; and Beverly Boyce, "Our Lady According to Geoffrey Chaucer: Translation and Collage," Florilegium 9 (1987), 147-54.
19. Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales, p. 248; Frank, "Canterbury Tales III," p. 154.
20. Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales, p. 248.
21. Wilhelm Schneemelcher and Edgar Hennecke, eds., New Testament Apocrypha, trans. R. McL. Wilson, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1959), pp. 404-8.
22. According to Montagu Rhodes James, in his edition The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford, 1969), the infancy gospel Pseudo-Matthew was "the principal vehicle by which . . . [the infancy stories] were known to the Middle Ages and the principle source of inspiration to the artists and poets of the centuries from the twelfth to the fifteenth" (79). Many of the stories regarding Jesus as a child have to do with miracles He performs, sometimes cruel ones, to demonstrate His power and His special status and to indicate to His parents that the usual parent/child relationship is, in their case, reversed. For example, in Chapter XVIII Joseph, Mary and Jesus come to a cave inhabited by dragons. Jesus subdues the dragons and informs His astonished parents, "Fear not, neither conceive that I am a child, for I always was and am a perfect man, and it is necessary that all the beasts of the forest should grow tame before me" (75).
23. All quotations from the lyrics are from Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology, ed. R. T. Davies (Evanston, 1963). "The Mother and her Son on the Cross," p. 86.
24. "Mary Suffers with her Son," Medieval English Lyrics, p.119.
25. "The Mother and her Son on the Cross," Medieval English Lyrics, p. 87.
26. "Mary Complains to Other Mothers," Medieval English Lyrics, p. 211.
27. All quotations from the drama are from Medieval Drama, ed. David Bevington (Atlanta, 1975).
28. Herod the Great, in Medieval Drama, pp. 448, 449.
29. Christ's Death and Buria l, in Medieval Drama, p. 585.
30. Passion Play I, in Medieval Drama, p. 519.
31. The Scourging, in Medieval Drama, p. 564.