The Cook's Tale

(The Cook extends a dish in one hand and holds a meathook in the other.)

Wel koude he rooste, and sethe, and broille, and fry,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
But greet harm was it, as it thought me,
That on his shin a mormal hadde he.
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.




[Perkyn Revelour, a dissolute apprentice of London, is discharged by his master for theft. He moves in with a fellow thief whose wife runs a shop as a front and swyved for her livelihood.]
(Students reading this text for the first time may find an interlinear translation helpful.)


The Cook's Tale ends with the wife who swyved for her sustenance, and the Hengwrt manuscript has this notation at the end of the tale: "Of this Cokes tale maked Chaucer na moore." The scribe had written nothing more on the page where the Cook's Tale ends, leaving room for the continuation of the tale should the rest of it be found. Having made a search, he (or his director) was satisfied that the tale was never finished and wrote that notation. That is the received opinion on the unfinished state of the Cook's Tale. (For further discussion see E. G. Stanley, Poetica 5, 36-39.)

At least one scribe supplied a conclusion to the Cook's tale.

Some early scribes thought that the Tale of Gamelyn, a rousing popular romance (and the ultimate source of Shakespeare's As You Like It) should come next, and a spurious link was provided:

Fye therone, it is so foule! I wil nowe tell no forthere
For schame of the harlotrie that seweth after.
A velany it were thareof more to spell,
Bot of a knighte and his sonnes, my tale I wil forthe tell.
And therefore listeneth and herkeneth this tale ariht,

(The last line above is the opening line of Gamelyn) This is one of a number of spurious links composed by scribes to provide connections between the tales as Chaucer left them or as they came (often disordered) into their hands. For an edition of such links (including the above) by John M. Bowers see Spurious Links.

Older critics assumed that the appearance of Gamelyn in some of the manuscripts shows that Chaucer intended to cancel the scurrilous Cook's Tale and give him instead this lively narrative. There is no factual basis for this assumption.

But The Tale of Gamelyn is fun to read:

The Tale of Gamelyn.

For a bibliography of critical and scholarly works on the Cook's Tale click here.



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Last modified: June 12, 2000
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