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The Prioress's Portrait
The Prioress
From the Ellesmere Manuscript

Audio Reading by Anniina Jokinen, ©2006.
Anniina studied Chaucer at UCLA under V. A. Kolve.


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Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;
Hire gretteste ooth was but by seïnt Loy;
And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
Ful weel she soonge the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely,
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly
After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,
For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.
At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle,
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe.
Wel koude she carie a morsel and wel kepe,
Thát no drope ne fille upon hire breste;
In curteisie was set ful muchel hir leste.
Hir over-lippe wyped she so clene,
That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte,
And sikerly she was of greet desport,
And ful plesáunt, and amyable of port,
And peyned hire to countrefete cheere
Of Court, and been estatlich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But for to speken of hire conscïence,
She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel breed;
But soore wepte she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte,
And al was conscïence and tendre herte.
       Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was;
Hire nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful smal, and ther-to softe and reed,
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;
It was almoost a spanne brood I trowe,
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke as I was war;
Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,
And ther-on heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after Amor vincit omnia.










[AJ Notes:]

119. smylyng... coy, was simple and modest in her smile.
120. Hire, her.
        ooth, oath; swearing exclamation.
        by seint Loy. "St. Eligius refused to take an oath which King Dagobert demanded of him,
so perhaps this means the Prioress did not swear at all." (Pollard).
121. cleped, called.
122. Ful weel, very well.
        soonge, sung.
123. Entuned... ful semely, resonating in her nose most splendidly.
124. ful faire, very well.
        fetisly, elegantly.
125. scole, school.
        After... Stratford-atte-Bow, "i.e. Anglo-Norman French, still at this time much used at Court.
        Some have thought that "French of Stratford" means English; but there was a Benedictine
        nunnery at Stratford-le-Bow, and Chaucer probably means that his Prioress was educated there."
126. Frenssh of Parys, Parisian French.
        unknowe, unknown.
127. At mete... with-alle, In table manners, she was well taught.
128. leet, let.
        hir lippes, her lips.
129. Ne, nor.
        wette... depe, dipped her fingers deep in her sauce.
130. Wel koude... and wel kepe, she knew how to carry a morsel to her mouth, taking care
131. no drope ne fille, not a drop fell.
132. curteisie, rules of courtesy; manners.
        ful muchel hir leste, very much of her pleasure.
133. over-lippe, upper lip.
134. coppe, cup.
        no ferthyng, not the tiniest bit.
135. grece, grease.
        dronken hadde, had drunk.
136. Ful semely... raughte, she reached for her meal very decorously; properly.
137. sikerly, certainly.
        desport, deportment.
138. port, demeanor.
139. peyned hire, took pains.
        countrefete, copy; imitate.
        cheere, manner.
140. been, to be.
        estatlich, stately.
141. to ben holden digne, to be held worthy.
143. pitous, full of pity; compassionate.
144. saugh, saw.
147. rosted flessh, roasted meat.
        wastel breed, cake or bread made of fine, white flour.
148. soore, sorely.
        oon of hem, one of them.
149. smoot, smote; struck.
        yerde, (yard) stick.
        smerte, smartly; sharply.
151. Ful semyly, very becomingly.
        wympul, wimple (a cloth worn by nuns, drawn in folds about the chin).
        pynched, pleated.
152. tretys, well formed; slender.
        eyen, eyes.
154. forheed, forehead.
155. spanne, span (9 inches).
        brood, broad; wide.
        I trowe, I trust; I believe.
156. hardily, surely; certainly.
        undergrowe, undergrown.
157. fetys, elegant; well fashioned.
        cloke, cloak.
        as I was war, lit. "as I was aware", i.e. "from what I could tell."
158. bar, bore.
159. peire of bedes, pair of bead bracelets.
        gauded al with grene, adorned with green "gawdies" (large beads,
        which stood for the Lord's Prayer).
160. heng, hung.
        gold ful shene, beautiful, shiny gold.
161. write, written.
162. Amor vincit omnia, Love conquers all.


Pollard, Alfred W., ed. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Vol I.
London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1907. 6-8.

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Copyright ©1996-2012 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Created on November 29, 1998 by Anniina Jokinen. Last updated on August 31, 2012.


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Wife of Bath's Tale
Reeve's Tale
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Friar's Tale
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