A Beastly Origin: Journeys from the Oxes Stalle’ in Chaucer’s Poetry
Marino, John B.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 13 (1996)
“Sentence and “solaas” are concurrent in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The tale-telling contest is an earnest game in which all is written for our doctrine and our curiosity; tales teach as well as entertain. We are told both “men shal nat maken ernest of game” (I.3186), and “A man may seye ful sooth in game and pley” (I.4355). “Game” and “ernest” are not exclusive in the Tales. The inseparable, and often indistinguishable, play between game and earnest in Chaucer’s poetry draws the reader into participating in the pilgrimage, into a vicarious pilgrimage in which Chaucer plays an earnest game with us. In this way, sentence and solace are equivocally related in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and the pilgrimage framing the whole Canterbury Tales. An actual medieval pilgrimage, like the allegorical or metaphorical pilgrimage framing the tales, offers sentence as well as solace, curiosity and carnival. This paper examines the allegorical meaning of the Canterbury pilgrimage without, of course, dismissing the literal pilgrimage.