The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Tale of the Doctor of Phisik

When that this yeoman his tale ended hadde

Of this false chanon whiche that was so badde

Oure oste gan sayen, “truly and certayne

Thys preest was begylèd, sothely for to sayne,

(He wenynge for to be a phylosófre)

Tylle he no golde lefte had in hys coffre;

And sothely this preest met a sorry jape,

Thys cursed canoun put in hys hood an ape.

But al this wil I passe overe as nowe.

Sir Doctour of Phisyke we prayen you,

Telle us a tale of some honéste matére.”

“It shal be done, yf that ye wille it here,”

Sayde this doctoúr, and hys tale began anon.

“Nowe, gode men,” quoth he, “herken every oon.”

Ther was, as telleth Titus Lyvius,
A knight, that clepèd was Virginius,
Fulfild of honours and of worthiness,
And strong of frendes, and of gret riches.
This knight a doughter hadde by his wyf,
And never hadde he mo in al his lyf.
Fair was this mayde in excellent beautee
Aboven every wight that men may see;
For Nature hath with sovereyn diligence
I-formèd hir in so gret excellence,
As though she wolde say, “Lo, I, Natùre,
Thus can I forme and peynte a crèatùre,
When that me list; who can me counterfete?
Pigmalion? No, though he alwey forge and bete,
Or grave, or paynte; for I dar wel sayn,
Apelles, Zeuxis, shulde wirche in vayn,
Either to grave, or paynte, or forge or bete,
If thay presumèd me to counterfete.
For He that is the Former principal
Hath made me his viker general,
To forme and peynte al erthely créatúre
Right as me list, al thing is in my care
Under the moone that may wane and waxe,
And for my werke no thing wil I axe;
My lord and I be fully at accord.
I made hir to the worship of my Lord;
So do I alle myn other créatúres,
What colour that thay be, or what figures.”
Thus semeth me that Nature wolde saye.
This mayde was of age twelf yer and twaye,
In which that nature hadde suche delite.
For right as she can peynte a lili white
And ruddy a rose, right with such peynture
She peynted hath this noble créatúre
Er she was born, upon her limbes free,
Where as by right such coloures shulde be;
And Phebus deyèd hadde hire tresses bright,
I-lyk the stremes of his burning light.
And if that excellent was hir beautee,
A thousand fold more vertuous was she.
In hir there lakketh no condicioun,
That hath ben praysed by mens discrecioun.
As wel in body as soule chaste was she;
For which she flourèd in virginitee,
With alle humilitee and abstinence,
With alle temperaunce and pacience,
With modest look and bearyng and array.
Discret she was in answeryng alway,
Though she were wis as Pallas, dar I sayn.
Hir spekyng was ful womanly and playn;
No countrefeted termes hadde she
To seeme wys; but after hir degree
She spak and alle hir wordes more and lesse
Sounyng in vertu and in gentilesse.
Shamefast she was in maydenes shamfastnesse,
Constant in hert, and ever in besynesse,
To dryve hir out of ydelle slogardye.
Bacchus had of hir mouth no maistrye;
For wyn and youthe doon Venús encrece,
As when men in the fyr caste oyle or grece.
And of hir owne vertu unconstreined,
She hath ful ofte tyme sikness feyned,
For that she wolde flee the companye,
Wher likly was to treten of folye,
As is at festes, reveles, and at daunces,
That be occasiouns of daliaunces.
Such thinges maken children for to be
Too soone rype and bold, as men may see,
Which is ful perilous, and hath ben yore;
For al too soone may she lerne the lore
Of boldenesse, when that she is a wyf.
And ye maystresses that older are in lyf
Who lordes doughtres have in governaunce,
Take ye not of my word no displesaúnce;
Thinke that ye be set in governynges
Of lordes doughtres, only for tuo thinges;
Either for ye have kept your honestee,
Or else for ye have fallen in freletee,
And knowe wel y-nough the olde daunce,
And conne forsake fully suche meschaunce
For evermo; therfore, for Cristes sake,
Kepe wel those that ye undertake.
A theef of venesoun, that hath ylaft
His theevishness, and al his wikked craft,
Can kepe a forest best of any man.
Now kepe them wel, for if ye wil ye can;
Loke wel, that to no vice ye assente,
Lest ye be damnèd for your wikked entente,
For who-so doth, a traytour is certayn;
And take keep of that that I shal sayn;
Of al tresoún the sovereyn pestilence
Is, when a wight bytrayeth innocence.
Ye fadres, and ye modres eek also,
Though ye have children, be it one or mo,
Yours is the charge of al their sufferaunce,
Whiles thay be under your governaunce.
Be war, that by ensample of youre lyvynge,
Or by your negligence in chástisynge,
That thay ne perishe; for it is wel sayd,
If that thay do, ye shul ful sore abide.
Under a shepherd softe and negligent,
The wolf hath many a shep and lamb to-rent.
Sufficeth one ensample now as here,
For I moot turne agein to my matére.

This mayde, of which I now my tale expresse,
So kept hir self, hir nedede no maystresse;
For in hir lyvyng maydens mighte rede,
As in a book, every word and dede,
That longeth unto a mayden vertuous;
She was so prudent and so bounteous.
For which the fame outsprong on every syde
Bothe of hir beautee and hir bountee wyde;
That thurgh the lond thay praysèd hir each one,
That lovèd vertu, save envye allone
That sory is of other mennes wele,
And glad is of his sorwe and his ill.
(The doctor made this descripcioun.)
This mayde wente on a day into the toun
Toward the temple, with hir moder deere,
As is of yonge maydenes the manére.

Now was ther then a justice in the toun,
That governour was of that regioún.
And so bifel, this judge his eyen caste
Upon this mayde, consideryng hir ful faste,
As she cam forby where the judge stood.
Anon his herte chaungèd and his mood,
So was he caught with beautee of this mayde,
And to him-self ful privily he sayde,
“This mayde shal be myn for any man.”
Anon the feend into his herte ran,
And taughte him sodeinly, that by a slighte
This mayde to his purpos wynne he mighte.
For certes, by no fors, nor by no mede,
Him thought he was not able for to speede;
For she was strong of frendes, and eek she
Confermèd was in such soveráyne bountee
That wel he wist he might hir never wynne,
As for to make hir with hir body synne.
For which with great deliberacioun
He sent after a clerk was in the toun,
The which he knew for subtil and for bold.
This judge unto the clerk his tale hath told
In secret wyse, and made him to assure,
He shulde telle it to no créatúre;
And if he dede he shulde lose his heed.
When that al plotted was this cursed deed,
Glad was the judge, and made him goode cheere,
And gaf him giftes precious and deere.

When shapen was al this conspiracye
Fro poynt to poynt, how that his lecherie
Parformèd sholde be ful subtilly,
As ye shul here after-ward openly,
Hom goth this clerk, that highte Claudius.
This false judge, that highte Apius —
(So was his name, for it is no fable,
But knowen for a storial thing notáble;
The story is al soth it is no doute) —
This false judge goth now fast aboute
To hasten his delit al that he may.
And so bifel, soone after on a day
This false judge, as telleth us the story,
As he was wont, sat in his consistory,
And gaf his doomes upon sondry case;
This false clerk com forth a ful good pace,
And saide, “Lord, if that it be your wille,
So do me right upon this piteous bille,
In which I pleyne upon Virginius.
And if he wile seyn it is nought thus,
I wil it prove and fynde good witnesse,
That soth is that my bille wil expresse.”
The judge answerd, “Of this in his absence
I may not give diffinityf sentence.
Let do him calle, and I wil gladly here;
Thou shalt have alle right, and no wrong heere.”
Virginius com to wit the judges wille,
And right anon was red this cursed bille;
The sentence of it was as ye shul heere.

“To you, my lord sir Apius so deere,
Sheweth youre pore servaunt Claudius,
How that a knight callèd Virginius,
Ageins the lawe, agens alle equytee,
Holdeth, expresse ageinst the wille of me,
My servaunt, which that is my thral by right,
Which fro myn hous was stolen on a night
Whiles she was ful yong, that wil I preve
By witnesse, lord, so that ye you not greve;
She is his doughter nought, what-so he say,
Wherfore to you, my lord the judge, I pray,
Yelde me my thralle, if that it be your wille.”
Lo, this was al the sentence of the bille.

Virginius gan upon the clerk byholde;
But hastily, ere he his tale tolde,
He wolde have provèd it, as shold a knight,
And eek by witnessyng of many a wight,
That al was fals that sayde his adversarie;
This cursed judge wolde no lenger tarye,
Nor heere a word more of Virginius,
But gaf his judgement, and saide thus;
“I deme anon this clerk his servaunt have.
Thou shalt no lenger in thin hous hir save.
Go bringe hir forth, and put hir in oure warde.
This clerk shal have his thral; thus I awarde.”

And when this worthy knight Virginius,
Thurgh the assent of this judge Apius,
Moste by force his deere doughter give
Unto the judge, in lecchery to lyve,
He goth him hom, and sette him in his halle,
And leet anon his deere doughter calle;
And with a face deed as asshen colde,
Upon hir humble face he gan byholde,
With fadres pitee stiking thrugh his herte,
Though wolde he from his purpos not depart.
“Doughter,” quoth he, “Virginia be thy name,
Ther be tuo weyes, eyther deth or shame,
That thou most suffre, alas that I was bore!
For never thou deservedest wherfore
To deyen with a swerd or with a knyf.
O deere doughter, ender of my lif,
Which I have fostred up with such plesaúnce,
That never wert out of my rémembraúnce;
O doughter, which that art my laste wo,
And in this lif my laste joye also,
O gemme of chastitee, in pacience
Tak thou thy deth, for this is my sentence;
For love and not for hate thou must be deed,
My piteous hond must smyten off thin hed.
Allas that ever Apius thee saw!
Thus hath he falsly judgèd of the law.”
And told hir al the case, as ye bifore
Have herd, it nedeth nought to telle it more.

“Mercy, my deere fader,” quoth this mayde.
And with that word she bothe hir armes layde
Aboute his nekke, as she was wont to do,
The teeres brast out of hir eyen tuo,
And sayde: “Goode fader, shal I dye?
Is ther no grace? is ther no remedye?”
“No, certeyn, deere doughter myn,” quoth he.
“Than geve me leve, fader myn,” quoth she,
“My deth for to compleyne a litel space;
For pardy, Jephthah gaf his doughter grace
For to compleyne, er he hir slew, allas!
And God it wot, no thing was hir trespás,
But that she ran hir fader first to see,
To welcome him with gret solemnitee.”
And with that word aswoun she fel anon,
And after, when hir swownyng was agon,
She riseth up, and to hir fader sayde;
“Blessed be God, that I shal deye a mayde.
Geve me my deth, ere that I have a shame.
Do with your child your wille, a goddes name!”
And with that word she prayèd him ful ofte,
That with his swerd he shulde smyte hir softe;
And with that word on swoune doun she fel.
Hir fader, with ful sorwful hert and fel,
Hir heed off smoot, and by the top it caught,
And to the wikked judge anon he broughte,
As he sat in his doom in consistory.
And whan the judge it saw, as saith the story,
He bad him take anon and honge him faste.
But right anon the people rose in haste
To save the knight, for ruthe and for pitee,
For knowen was the fals iniquitee.
The poeple anon hadde súspect in this thing,
By maner of this clerkes fals claimíng,
That it was by the assent of Apius;
They wiste wel that he was lecherous.
For which unto this Apius thay goon,
And casten him in prisoun right anon,
Wher as he slew himself; and Claudius,
That servaunt was unto this Apius,
Was doomèd for to honge upon a tree;
But this Virginius of his gret pitee
Prayde for him, that he was banisshèd,
And elles certes he hadde lost his heed.
The remenaunt were a-hangèd, more and lesse,
That were consented to this cursednesse.

Her may men see how synne hath his merite;
Be war, for no man wot how God wil smyte
In no degree, nor in which maner wise
The worm of conscience wol arise
In wicked lyf, though it so pryvy be,
That no man wot of it but God and he;
Whether that he be foolish man or wise,
He may not know how soon will come justice.
Therfore I rede yow this counseil take,
Forsake synne, ere synne you forsake.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52