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Thesis (M.A.)—University of Nebraska—Lincoln, 1960. Department of English.


Copyright 1960, the author. Used by permission.


Most critical works about the Prioress and “The Prioress’ Tale” attempt to discuss either her character as it is developed in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales or some aspect of her tale, but they seldom discuss one in the light of the other.Many condemn her because she does not obey the letter of the law, they condemn her for her attitude toward the Jews, or they are content to discuss the meaning of particular words in her tale.Few attempt to discuss both the portrait and the tale in order to resolve the seeming inconsistency between the teller and her tale.Yet it would seem that an author like Chaucer would avoid the rather obvious inconsistency between a rather worldly nun and an intensely devout take.

The procedure in the paper is attempting to resolve the inconsistency had been this.First it was necessary to define the religious tradition in which such a person as the Prioress would be found in order to see how her character followed or deviated from the ideal, in this case the ideal of the contemplative life.After she had been established within her religious tradition, the second step was examining those contemplatives writing at approximately the same or an earlier time than Chaucer to see if her tale evidenced any influence from contemplative theology.Only the major mystics of fourteenth century England—Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, Juliana of Norwich, and the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing—were considered since their writings represent the major body of contemplative theology of the time.The last step consisted of bringing contemplative theology to bear upon “The Prioress’ Tale” to see if contemplative thoughts were embodied in it in order to interpret the tale so that conclusions could be reached not only about the content and effectiveness of her tale but also about the character of the Prioress herself.

Advisor: Paul A. Olson