The Canterbury Tales


The Man of Law's Tale

The Host asks the Man of Law to tell his story. He uses legal language to implore the man to tell the story, which is his way of referencing that the Man of Law was an attorney. The Man of Law objects, saying that Chaucer has already told all of the good stories. He also explains that he is a man of plain language and that he will not be using poetry in his tale. He says that he heard this tale from a merchant, and that it is about merchants.

The story begins with a company of merchants from Syria, visiting Rome and hearing about the beauty of the Emperor’s daughter, Constance. They tell the Sultan about Constance’s beauty, and the Sultan determines that he will marry her. However, the Emperor refuses to accept the Sultan as a husband for his daughter unless the Sultan converts to Christianity. The Sultan agrees to be baptized and tells his people that they must convert to Christianity, as well. However, the Sultan’s mother is a devoted Muslim who would prefer death to converting to Christianity. She pretends to accept Christianity, but secretly plots with a group of people close to her to attack the Christians at the wedding feast, including her newly converted son and his people. The Sultan’s mother and her followers kill everyone at the wedding feast except for Constance, whom they place on a ship and set adrift.

After drifting for more than a year, Constance’s ship runs to ground in Northumberland. She is found by a constable and his wife, Hermengild. Constance keeps her Christian faith a secret because Northumberland is pagan, but Hermengild converts to Christianity and the two women perform a miracle, which inspires the constable to convert to Christianity, as well. A young knight begins to lust after Constance, but Satan begins to influence him, and he kills Hermengild, and then places the knife he used to cut Hermengild’s throat in Constance’s bed. The constable brings Constance before the king, Alla. The king initially sentences Constance to death for murdering Hermengild, but requires the knight to swear that...

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