VAGANTES: “That is a Long Preamble of a Tale”: Mobile Narratives in Fragment III of the Canterbury Tales

Panel 13: Movement, Space, and Authority in the Canterbury Tales

Chelsea Avirett, Department of English (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Summary by

This paper is a discussion of mobility and access. The narrative is told while moving in space – does the pilgrim’s movement matter? The connection between mobility and narrative is not just seen in Chaucer.  The reader and the pilgrimage audience are crucial to understanding how mobility and movement differentiate the two in fragment three. There is constant interruption; the Pardoner interrupts the Wife of Bath and his interruptions are not benign. The Friar does not wish to negotiate but wishes to reposition the way the wife moves her narrative. The Friar attempts to replace her – he constrains her narrative strategies, and replaces her authoritative voice. The Friar limits her ability to author the text without his authority. He creates a hierarchy of mobility. The Friar’s emphasis is on the mobility of preambles and he seeks to control the discourse. He asserts that because he physically accompanies the Wife on her journey, he has the right to decide how she tells her tale. The Summoner criticises the Friar’s interruption and attempt to control and patrol her tale. He challenges the Friar’s limitation of mobility in line 832. The Summoner’s larger critique of the Friar points to his insistence not just on interpreting texts for himself but policing the narrative for others. He rejects the claim that the Friar should control the narrative boundaries and he does not attempt to prohibit the Friar’s movement. The Summoner’s final command to the Friar is to limit himself and not others. Finally, the fragment offers two ideas: it provides a way for authors to guide audience members along a set path or audience members to attempt to restrict the author’s mobility.


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