Language and Perspective in the Physician's Tale


  • Diane Speed


Two recent reviews of criticism of the Physician's Tale suggest that a continuing unease exists amongst readers as to how the tale should be apprehended. In the Variorum edition of the Physician's Tale Helen Corsa reports a 'general indifference to, or devaluation of, the tale'. Then, in The Riverside Chaucer, C. David Benson reports that the majority of critics have found the tale 'poorly written and motivated', while some have actually gone on to apologize for its failures as intentional on the part of the poet, functioning to cast an ironic light either on the Physician or on the literary premises of the tale.  Briefly, the tale concerns a worthy knight called Virginius and his beautiful but chaste daughter, Virginia. A judge called Appius conspires with a fellow called Claudius to have her made a ward of court so that he can possess her, but Virginius, after explaining matters to his daughter, with her willing participation beheads her instead of handing her over. The people rise against Appius, he is imprisoned and commits suicide, and Claudius is exiled. The Physician draws the lesson that whoever sins will be punished, and he urges the audience to forsake sin. In the following link passage the Host observes that the girl's beauty was the cause of her death.