Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Chaucer, the Liturgy (Again), and Constance's Ever-Increasing Pathos: 'The Man of Law's Tale' II ^B(super 1)! 846-47

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Chaucer, the Liturgy (Again), and Constance's Ever-Increasing Pathos: 'The Man of Law's Tale' II ^B(super 1)! 846-47

Article excerpt

There is an additional liturgical allusion, previously unnoted, to the liturgy of Holy Week in The Man of Law's Tale. More than 50 years ago, Mary-Virginia Rosenfeld pointed out that Constance's prayer to the Cross when she is set adrift by her Moslem mother-in-law -

"Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe, That oonly worthy were for to bere The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe, The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spere, Flemere of feendes out of hym and here On which thy lymes feithfully entenden, Me kepe, and yif me myght my lyf t'amenden." (II [[B.sup.1]] 456-62; Benson 93-94)

- was a free translation of several antiphons for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), and of a complete hymn sung in the Mass of the Presanctified on Good Friday (Rosenfeld 357-60).

This prayer is just one of a series of apostrophes that Chaucer added to Nicholas Trivet's account of Constance, his source, to increase the pathos of The Man of Law's Tale (Block 572-616). Another occurs later in the tale when Constance is set adrift again by her second, equally cruel mother-in-law, law, this time in the company of her infant son. In this latter prayer, Constance addresses the Virgin and recalls her role as the Mater Dolorosa. To underscore her plea that the Virgin protect her child, Chaucer has Constance echo a popular Marian hymn, "O vos omnes," in her prayer:

"Mooder," quod she, and mayde bright, Marie, Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement Mankynde was lorn, and damned ay to dye, For which thy child was on a croys yrent. Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;

Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene Thy wo and any wo man may sustene." (II [[B.sup.1]] 841-47; Benson 99; emphasis added)

"O vos omnes" is itself part of the liturgy for Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday (Feria V in Cena Domini), it occurs in the third lesson for Matins. On Holy Saturday, it is a response to the fifth lesson at Matins and an antiphon at Lauds. …

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