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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE CANON'S YEOMAN'S TALE

Two strangers ride up, one in black, assumed to be a Canon (a churchman connected with a cathedral) and his Yeoman (servant), who has an odd- colored face, he says, from blowing in the fire. It turns out that the Canon is an alchemist (who tries to turn other metals into gold, usually in fire, a process which early medieval society believed happened naturally over time). The Canon dashes away in shame, but the Yeoman rambles on about the technical jargon the alchemists use, about how none of the experiments work, and about how, at this rate, he'll never get out of debt.


The tale is about a crooked alchemist who fools a priest into thinking he really can turn baser (lower) metals into gold. Through a series of tricks, he makes gold and silver appear out of coals and wax in the fire, and the priest is so impressed he buys the alchemist's "secret" formula for forty pounds. Needless to say, the alchemist does one more "magic" trick-he disappears, fast. The Yeoman then knocks the field of alchemy and ends with a mess of technical nonsense.

The tale is hard going for anyone who isn't an expert in alchemist terminology. Even by Chaucer's day, alchemy was considered by most to be a fake science, and many clerics disapproved of it as contrary to God's will.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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