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The Physicians Tale (Fragment VI)

The Physician's Tale is one of the Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century.
This is a domestic drama about the relationship between a daughter and her father and it is one of the earliest
extant poems in English about such subjects and relationships. The tale comes from the Histories of Titus
Livius and is retold in The Romance of the Rose, John Gower's Confessio Amantis which Chaucer drew on for
inspiration along with the biblical story of Jephtha. Most of the other versions of the story focused on the cruel
and arbitrary officials but Chaucer was far more concerned with the daughter as the central figure.
Although difficult to date like most of Chaucer's tales, the Physicians tale is usually regarded as an early work
of Chaucer probably written before much of the rest of the Canterbury Tales was begun. The long, and rather
distracting, digression on governesses possibly alludes to a historical event and may serve to date it. In
1386 Elizabeth, the daughter of John of Gaunt, eloped to France with John Hastings, 3rd Earl of Pembroke.
The governess of Elizabeth was Katherine Swynford who was also Gaunt's mistress and later wife. Chaucer's
very careful, mollifying words on the difficult job and the virtues of governesses seem to be a very canny
political move.
The story is considered one of the moral tales, along with the Parson's tale and the Knight's tale. However, the
fate of Virginius renders questionable the moral assertion at the story's end. The Host enjoys the tale and feels
for the daughter but asks the Pardoner for a more merry tale. The Pardoner obliges and his tale has a similar
but contrasting moral message

Characters
Virginius- the father of the fourteen-year-old Virginia and a knight, kills his only daughter rather than
give her up to the corrupt judge Appius. Virginia- the daughter of Virginius; not wishing to give
herself to Appius, consents to her fathers plan. Appius- a corrupt judge and the main antagonist of
the tale. Lusts after Virginia and concocts a plan in order to acquire her through legal means.
Claudius- A "churl" under Appius's employ; instructed to claim in court that Virginia is actually a slave
that Virginius abducted. Unnamed but mentioned characters include Virginias mother and the
citizens who rise up against Appius.

Plot
The tale is a version of a story related both by the Roman historian Livy and in the 13th-century
Roman de la Rose (Merriam Webster). The story opens with a description of the noble Virginius and
the beautiful, virtuous Virginia. One day, Virginia accompanies her mother to the city on an errand
and is spotted by a judge, whose name is later revealed to be Appius, who decides he must have
her to himself. It is then that Appius concocts a scheme to take her legally: he contacts a local
peasant, named Claudius, who has a reputation for being both bold and cunning and asks for
assistance in the matter. Claudius accepts and is rewarded handsomely. Some time later, Claudius
appears before Appius in court to file a complaint against Virginius, saying he has witnesses of his
misdeeds. Appius declares that he can not try Virginius without him being present. Virginius is called
to the court and Claudius begins his accusation: Virginius stole of Claudius servants one night while
she was young and raised her as his daughter. He then implores Appius to return his slave to him to
which Appius agrees, refusing to listen Virginius defense. Following the sentence, Virginius returned
home with a deathlike face and called his daughter into the hall. He then informed Virginia of the
events that transpired and offered her two choices: to be shamed by Appius or to die at her fathers
hand. Virginia laments her position for a moment before consenting to death by her fathers blade.
Virginius then beheads Virginia and brings her head to Appius in court. Upon seeing Virginias
severed head, Appius ordered that Virginius be hanged immediately. However, at the moment a
thousand people burst into the room and defended Virginius. They had heard of Claudius false
charges and reasoned that Appius had put him up to it based on the judges lecherous reputation.
The crowd arrested Appius and threw him prison where he committed suicide. Claudius was set to
be hanged with the others who had helped Appius in his scheme but Virginius, in a moment of
clemency, asked that the peasant be exiled instead. The tale then ends with the Physician warning
of sin and repercussions.