Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.16): The Prioress’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)
Are you an anti-Semite? Let me rephrase that—are you an Alt-Right supporter? If so, then you will love the tale of the Prioress.
Long story short, this is a despicable tale. It concerns a little boy—obnoxious, in my opinion—who very loudly and ignorantly sings an Latin holy song every morning to the chagrin of his Jewish neighbors. Well, his neighbors don’t take kindly to such antics and hire a murderer to dispatch the little boy; so, one morning, as he is signing, the little boy is caught from behind and has his throat slit. His body is then hurled into a literal pit of human waste—non-Christian waste! —and left to rot. Now, this is where the tale takes on supernatural inflections. The little boy, evidently, is healed by the Virgin Mary and walks in to a church where he tells the congregation of what happened. In retaliation for this assault, the Christians slaughter all the Jews. The end.
As I said, if you are an Alt-Right sympathizer, then you will find much to love about this tale. If you are anything other than human garbage, however, then this tale probably won’t tickle your funny bone unless you have a deep love affair with the anti-Semitic macabre.
Obviously, this is a tale worth more to study than to enjoy. Though you can obviously praise its grotesque, horror-like elements, one can’t go far beyond that; you can argue that it steals the glory of Body Horror films by usurping them by a thousand years, but you can’t argue that this tale has much in the way of morality (unless you happen to think that Hitler is unfairly demonized).
For the modern adaptation, then, we go to “Missy Eglantine Prior”. She prepared a song recounting the terrible tragedy.
As a musical text, Miss Prior’s song reminds me of Black Gospel. There is this hinting at racial violence not unlike Black men and women suffered at the hands of Southern lynch mobs (in the U.S.). Though Jews in this incarnation has been removed, a more modern boogeyman has taken itself—Gay people; indeed, Miss Prior’s invokes the lines “those men loved men not Jesus” prior to describing the vicious assault “Billy” suffered, an attack which connotes sexual assault in this instance.
As a swap, it hits home immediately. Though it is absurd to speak of the idea that somehow anti-Semitism is no longer an issue in contemporary Western societies, anti-Semitism doesn’t quite have the same public awareness that homophobia does in the public unconsciousness, if only for the fact that debates around Gay Marriage, and what it means to be homophobic, have taken precedence.
Such an exchange is well received, in my thought. It brings to light an issue relevant in the here and now and frames it in terms the audience can understand. Aside from that, if we are to believe the interpretation that Chaucer’s Prioress Tale represents a cautionary tale against anti-Semitism, then the inclusion of sexual characteristics makes Miss Prior’s reinterpretation warmly thought-out.
Song has not been a medium yet used in this contest but I found its inclusion here welcomed all the same. With everything said previously in mind, though, I give this tale a 7.5/10.