Study Guide

The Canterbury Tales: the Man of Law's Tale Lines 535-602

By Chaucer, Geoffrey

Lines 535-602

Lines 535-581

  • The Constable and Dame Hermengyld, his wife, are pagans, as is everyone in that land.
  • Hermengyld loves Custance as much as her own life. And Custance spends so much time in tearful prayer that Jesus converts Dame Hermengyld to Christianity.
  • Apparently, all the Christians have fled to Wales from Northumbria. Why? Because the pagans from the north have conquered it.
  • But hey, there are still a few Christian Britons around. They privately worship Christ, much to the chagrin of all the so-called heathens.
  • There are a couple of these Christians near the castle. One of them is blind, but he can still see. How? His mind's eye, of course.
  • One day—a nice summer one—the Constable, his wife, and Custance are all out for a stroll by the sea.
  • They stumble upon the blind man, who cries out, "In the name of Christ, Dame Hermengyld, give me my sight again!"
  • Awkward. He just outed the Dame as a Christian to her oh so pagan husband. She's a bit freaked out that he'll kill her, but Custance steps in and convinces Dame to work Christ's will.
  • Needless to say, the Constable's a wee bit confused. He asks what's going on, to which Custance replies, "Sire, this is the power of Christ, who delivers people from the devil."
  • He's so convinced that he, too, hops on the Christianity train.
  • Oh, and by the way, this Constable is not lord of this land, but keeps it as a vassal of Alla, King of Northumberland, who is wise and worthy to be ruler of it. So keep that in mind.

Lines 582-602

  • Shmoopers, meet Satan. According to the Man of Law, he's always trying to beguile us. And Custance's perfection really has his knickers in a knot. He wants to get some sort of revenge on her for all her moral goodness.
  • So here's what he does: he causes a young knight who dwells in that town to love her so lustfully that he thinks he will die if he cannot have sex with her.
  • This knight then courts Custance to no avail. She's not about the sexy times, thank you very much.
  • Out of spite, the knight decides to kill her shamefully. Because this was the Middle Ages, and that was apparently a thing.
  • He waits until the Constable is away, and creeps one night into Hermengyld's chamber while she is sleeping.
  • Exhausted by waking often for prayers, Hermengyld and Custance are sleeping very deeply.
  • The knight creeps up to the bed and slits Hermengyld's throat, laying the bloody knife next to Custance.
  • Then get get's the heck outta Dodge.