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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES

Introduction to the Sergeant at Lawís Tale

The host realizes that one-fourth of the day had already passed away and urges the pilgrims not to waste any more time. He then asks the Sergeant at Law to tell a story and reminds him in a legal sounding language of his to do so. While the Sergeant at Law has no intention of dishonoring his commitment, he complains that Chaucer has already written all the good stories that can be told. He further announces that he will speak in prose and tell his story plainly.

The Sergeant at Lawís Tale

Summary

Once upon a time a group of wise, sober and honest traders lived in Syria. They exported spices, gold, satins, etc far and wide. It so happened that the leading traders of this prosperous group made up their minds to go to Rome for business purposes. During their stay in Rome the Syrian traders came to know about the incredible beauty of Constance, the daughter of Roman Emperor Tiberius Constantinus. Constance was commended for her remarkable beauty, humility, strength of character, holiness, generosity and graciousness. After finishing their business these merchants sailed back home to .

They were on good terms with the Sultan and after every foreign trip they would inform him of the news of various countries and the wonders that they had either heard of or seen. The merchants, among other things, told the Sultan about Lady Constance. The Sultan was captivated by Lady Constanceís description and resolved to make her his wife. The Sultan sent for his Privy Council and quite plainly told them that he would die if he could not win her over.

The Sultanís problem engendered a great debate on the issue. Nothing except marriage seemed feasible. But the councilors foresaw that no Christian ruler would be willing to let his heir marry a Muslim. The Sultan was so much in love with Constance that he dismissed this religious objection and declared that he would convert. Soon all his Syrian subjects also converted Christianity.

The Roman emperor made magnificent preparations for his daughterís wedding. When the day of departure finally arrived Constance was overcome with sorrow and wept at being sent away to a strange land and being distanced from her friends. An unhappy Constance tearfully set sail for Syria.

In the meanwhile the Sultanís mother, who was very angry at her sonís renunciation of the teachings of the holy Koran for the sake of Constance, summoned some of her counselors and made them pledge that they would rather die than renounce their Muslim faith. The She told them to make a pretense of accepting and to kill all the Christians at the end of the banquet that she would arrange to celebrate her sonís wedding. The Sergeant at Law denounces the evil maliciousness of the Sultanís mother.

Part 2

Summary

The Sultan received Lady Constance and the accompanying her with great joy. A splendid crowd of the Syrian subjects had turned out for the occasion. After the wedding ceremony, the Sultan, Constance and all the Christians went to the banquet hosted by the Sultanís mother. Suddenly her conspirators entered and hacked all the Christians including the Sultan to pieces. Even the Syrian subjects who had converted to Christianity were not spared. Only Lady Constance was left alive. The widowed Constance was captured and set adrift in a well-provisioned sailing vessel. Her little boat tossed upon the stormy waves for more than three years and by divine grace finally landed in Northumberland.


The constable of the castle found the worn out Constance in the wrecked vessel and took her home to his wife. They took care of her and soon enough Constanceís tirelessness won everybodyís hearts. The and his wife, Hermengild, like the rest of the inhabitants of Northumberland, were heathens. Under Constanceís influence secretly converted to Christianity. One day Constance miraculously cured a blind man and converted the heathen constable to Christianity.

However this peaceful state of affairs was too perfect to last long. Satan made a young Northumbrian knight fall in love with Constance who spurned him. One night the knight burning with the desire to take revenge murdered and put the blood stained knife in Constanceís bed so as to implicate her. The grief stricken constable found the murder weapon in Constanceís bed and produced her before Alla, the King of Northumberland. Nobody in court could believe that Constance could have perpetrated such a foul act. The knight however publicly testified that Constance had killed . At this moment a mysterious voice was heard which condemned the knight for falsely defaming a disciple of Christ. This marvel astonished those present in court and everybody including King Alla embraced Christianity. The knight was sentenced to death for his perjury and King Alla married Constance. However Donegild, the Kingís tyrannical mother, didnít approve of this marriage.

Constance gave birth to a beautiful son while the King had gone on an expedition to Scotland. The child was christened Maurice. The constable sent a message to Alla to inform him of the happy news but the Kingís evil mother interfered with the message and instead wrote a false letter saying that Constance had given birth to a horrible and fiendish creature. Although Alla was grief stricken he reconciled himself to his fate and accepted it as Godís will. The King wrote a message instructing the constable to keep the child and Constance safely until his return. However once again intercepted the message and wrote a letter commanding the constable to set Constance and her child adrift in a boat within 3 days. Accordingly Constance along with her son had to once again endure hardships to prove the strength of her faith.

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