February 13, 2000
On Chaucer's Placement and Description of the Manciple and the Reeve in the General Prologue
In the general prologue of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, the manciple and the reeve are described one after the other. Given the proximity of characters such as the prioress, the friar and the monk to each other, while the parson is hundred of lines away, Chaucer clearly grouped characters not only by social standing, but by character and attitude as well. This is shown in Chaucer's placement of the manciple and the reeve, as these two characters have similar occupations, social standing, though these are contrasted through their urban and rural viewpoints. However, each has similar attitudes towards their professions. They are crafty, but ultimately scrupulous. This ultimately accounts for the placement of their descriptions in the general prologue one after the other.
Both the manciple and the reeve fall somewhere within the small, poorly defined middle class of 15th century England. The manciple is described by Chaucer as "ay biforn and in good state (574)," meaning that his was on sound financial footing. The reeve was also well-off, and Chaucer reveals that "ful riche he was astored prively, His lorde wel coulde he plesen subtilly, to yive and lene him of his owene good (612)." In essence, the reeve was so well-off that he was able to give the lord of the manor, whose estate he was in charge of, gifts out of the reeve's own pocket.
Though inarguably both men were well-to-do, neither had any recognizable social standing in 15th century society. For though the manciple, "a lewed mannes, (576)" may have made fools of the lawyers and men of learning in London, he was still not a lerned man, and not entitled to that level of respect. The manciple, too, may have made every "bailiff, herde [or] other hine / as afreed of him as the deeth (605, 607)," with his craftiness and excellent managerial skills, yet he was...