Chaucer presents characters in the Physician's and Pardoner's Tales who are very similar to each other in one important way. Although the characters seem on the surface to be mirror images of each other, they have an important underlying similarity: both the physician and the pardoner are not what they appear to be to most people. Both are hypocritical, although they show this hypocrisy in different ways.
One way of seeing this hypocrisy, in the case of the physician's tale, is to examine the way the similarities and differences between the knight Virginius and the physician himself in terms of what he sees as moral actions. It seems fairly clear that the physician identifies himself with Virginius during the telling of the tale. One of the main ways in which the physician identifies with Virginius is by sharing his concern for Virginia's future state of virtue. He shows his concern with Virginia's future by speculating on whether she will continue to be "a thousand foold moore vertuous" than she is beautiful -- as she is at the beginning of the tale -- when she "woxen is a wyf" (VI.40; VI.71). Virginius shows his concern for his daughter's virtue by killing her rather than allowing her chastity to be compromised; the physician shows that he believes it necessary for a father to guard his daughter's virtue in a long comment (VI.71-104) describing a father's duty to have his daughter watched over by governesses, or "maistresses" (VI.71).
The most important way in which Virginius differs from the physician -- and the physician clearly does not see this -- is in the moral application of the tale. The physician clearly intends for the ta...
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...uthority or to skim beneath the surface of the tale, as is shown by the hostility of the host. Harry Bailly does not respond to the pardoner's accusation that he is "moost envoluped in synne," but merely appeals to force in threatening the pardoner.
Neither achieves the result that he wants, and the reason for this failure in each case is his general failure to be honest, either with others (in the case of the pardoner) or with himself (in the case of the physician). For this reason, Chaucer pokes fun at both of them in subtle ways throughout their tales.
Benson, C. David. Explanatory Notes to "The Physician's Tale" in The Riverside Chaucer. General Ed. Benson, Larry D. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales in The Riverside Chaucer. General Ed. Benson, Larry D. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
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