Chaucer: Melibee

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


This tale exemplifies the genre of moral apologue in prose and is Chaucer’s translation of a popular work. It involves moralizing and long catalogues of proverbs, basically a quotation collection tied to a skimpy narrative. Melibee and Prudence list authorities on various issues such as war and peace, themes of the Marriage Group, religious concerns, good advisers, etc. The material was probably taken seriously by the generic medieval audience, but is the work overly rhetorical and, as Thopas was a parody of a popular bastard genre, is this deadpan humor too? Thopas parodied courtly excesses and this parodies didactic excesses?

It’s like 17,000 words of the wit and wisdom of Polonius.

Melibeus desires to avenge himself on his enemies who beat his wife and killed his daughter Sophie (Wisdom), but he is argued into a peaceful demeanor by his wife Prudence.

This ends the ruling class metastructure which started with The Knight’s Tale, immediately mocked by the Miller and subject to more and more na├»ve, low-class, bourgeois eyes and perspective, unto the parody of Thopas. Richard II, Gaunt, Gloucester, Bolingbroke all could have profited from this work which takes us from the old feudal values to an emerging new national consciousness.

Chaucer seems to accept responsibility and sanction the “moralitee” here. Only in the Retraction does Chaucer reappear without irony (presumably). But Melibee is interlaced among the Canterbury Tales, so it’s not the last word.

The Host, of course, has missed the point: he wishes his wife had heard this story of the patient wife.


Brinton, Laurel J. “Chaucer’s ‘Tale of Melibee’: A Reassessment.” English Studies in Canada 10.3 (September 1984): 251-264.