The Monk's Tale  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Monk's Tale is one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

The tale is a collection of seventeen short stories, exempla, on the theme of tragedy. The tragedies of the following people are included in the tale: Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Zenobia, Pedro of Castile, Peter I of Cyprus, Bernabò Visconti, Ugolino of Pisa, Nero, Holofernes, Antiochus, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Croesus.

The majority of the tale is thought to have been written before the rest of the Canterbury Tales with only the four most recent people within the tale added when it was given to the Monk to tell. It may have be written in the 1370s shortly after Chaucer returned from a trip to Italy but the tragedy of Bernabò Visconti must have been written after 1385 for this is when he died. The basic structure for the tale can be found in Giovanni Boccaccio's Concerning the Falls of Illustrious Men and the tale of Ugolino of Pisa comes from Dante.

The monk in his prologue claims to have a hundred of these stories in his cell but the Knight stops him after only seventeen saying that they have had enough sadness. The order of the stories within the tale is different in several early manuscripts and if the more modern stories were at the end of his tale it may be that the Knight did not interrupt merely through boredom. As it says of the Knight in line 51 of the General Prologue:

At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne.

If the Knight was at the capture of Alexandria then he was probably part of the crusade organised by Peter I of Cyprus and hearing of the tragedy of his former military commander may have been what prompted him to interrupt.


Tragedy in The Monk's Tale is not that argued in Aristotle's Poetics (not yet recovered), but the medieval idea that the protagonist is victim rather than hero.


The metrical form of the Monk's Tale is the most complex of all the pilgrim's: an eight-line stanza rhyming ababbcbc. There is usually a strong, syntaxical link between the fourth and fifth lines which some literary theorists feel prevents the stanza from breaking in half. This metrical style gives an elevated, spacious tone to the Monk's Tale that is not always evidenced in the diction. In fact, the language is often simple and direct except in those instances of moralizing, whether discussing God or Fortuna, when the vocabulary becomes weighter.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Monk's Tale" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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