The Manciple's Tale

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The Manciple's Tale is part of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It appears in its own manuscript fragment, Group H, but the prologue to the Parson's Tale makes it clear it was intended as the penultimate story in the collection. The Manciple, a purchasing agent for a law court, tells a fable about Phoebus Apollo and his pet crow, which is both an etiological myth explaining the crow's black feathers, and a moralistic injunction against Gossip.

In the tale's prologue, the Host tries to rouse the drunken Cook to tell a tale, but he is too intoxicated. The Manciple insults the Cook, who falls semi-conscious from his horse, but they are reconciled by the Host and the Manciple offers the Cook another drink to make up.

In the main plot of the tale, Phoebus has a crow, which is all white and can speak. Phoebus also has a wife, whom he treasures but keeps shut up in his house. The Manciple digresses to say that one cannot tame a creature to remove its essential nature; no matter how well-fed a tame cat may be, it will still attack mice instinctively. Similarly, Phoebus's wife takes a lover of low estate; the crow reveals their secret, and Phoebus in rage kills his wife. In his grief afterwards, he regrets his act and blames the crow, cursing it with black feathers and an unmelodious voice. The Manciple ends by saying it is best to hold one's tongue, and not to say anything malicious even if it is true.

The ultimate source for the tale is Ovid's Metamorphoses; adaptations were popular in Chaucer's time, such as one in John Gower's Confessio Amantis.

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