The Prioress's Tale

Jillian MacFarlane


A young Christian boy hears a song being sung in Latin. Curious, he asks the meaning and finds out that it is praising the Virgin Mary. The boy decides to memorize it. Once he learns it, he sings it everyday to and from school. He has to pass through a Jewish community to get to his school, and they are not happy about having to listen to him sing about Mary. To solve this problem, his throat is cut and he is thrown into a pit.

Obviously his mother is worried when he doesn't come home, so she goes to look for him. It seems like she will never find him, but finally she is able to locate his body because he miraculously starts singing. The boy is brought to a monk, where it is revealed that he is allowed to continue singing to glorify Christ and His mother, and he will continue singing untill a grain (placed by Mary) is removed from his tounge. Finally, the child dies. The Jewish people responsible for his death recieve justice and are put to death.

The Prioress

  • Has very good manners
  • Cheerful and pleasant
  • Charitable
  • Takes very good care of her dogs
  • Well dressed


The Prioress wants to teach the listerner that bringing glory to Christ and His mother will bring eternal rewards. This reveals not only her religious background, but also that she is well meaning but ignorant. She paints the death of the boy to be peaceful and a miracle, showing sometimes inappropriately cheerful mindset.

Little Young Hugh of Lincoln (1245-1255)

"O young Hugh of Lincoln, also slain by cursed Jews..." (Chaucer 197).

The story of Hugh of Lincoln is extremely similar to the story told by the Prioress. Hugh was found dead in a well at the age of nine. It was said that he was thrown into a well because the earth refused to cover him. His friends accused a Jew named Koppin of his death. They said Hugh was imprisoned for over a month and finally crucified. This lead to the arrest of over ninety Jews as well the execution of about twenty. Like the child who continued to sing although it was physically impossible in the Prioress's story, there were miracles associated to Hugh after his body was found.

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Shrine of Little Saint Hugh at the Lincoln Cathedral


  • Benignity A good deed, kindness
  • Lucre Monetary gain
  • Succor To help or relieve
  • Evangelist A preacher of the gospel
  • Provost The chief dignitary of a cathedral or collegiate church

Essential Questions

  • What message is Chaucer trying to convey by giving the well mannered and somewhat silly Prioress a more dark and brutal tale to tell?
  • Do you think Chaucer personally was anti semetic, or was he using this tale to criticize the descrimination of Jews during this time period?