The Canterbury Tales: the Man of Law's Tale Lines 99-133
By Chaucer, Geoffrey
The Man of Law's Prologue
Shmoopers, you're probably wondering why we're starting on line 99. And don't worry—we're not trying to pull one over on you. Lines 1-98 are the introduction to this particular tale, but as it turns out they don't have much to do with the tale at all. So we thought we'd spare you 98 lines of Middle English and skip to the good stuff. And here we are.
The tale begins with a railing against poverty of all things.
The Man of Law basically says something like, "Oh poverty, you hateful, harmful thing, all mixed up with thirst, cold, and hunger..."
To ask for help shames you; if you don't ask for it, you are wounded so severely that your need publicizes your poverty to everyone.
Even if you don't want to, you must beg, borrow, or steal to make a living.
You blame Christ, and say very bitterly that he distributes earthly wealth unequally.
You envy your neighbor, saying that you have too little and he has everything.
"By God!" you say, "some day he'll be in trouble too: he'll go to hell because he doesn't help the needy."
Listen to what the wise say about poverty:
"It is better to die than be poor."
"Your own neighbor will despise you. If you're poor, so long, respect."
Listen to what else the wise man says about poverty:
"All the days of poor men are bad." So you'd better be careful you don't get poor.
And if you are poor, your own brother hates you, and all your friends flee from you.
Rich merchants, on the other hand, are very happy. And so are noble and prudent people.
Why? Because their bags are not full of worthless things, but with something that's going to make their fortune. So at Christmas, they can party it up with good reason.
Noble and prudent people travel all over for their winnings, and just like wise people, they're familiar with different kingdoms. Which means they get to tell news and tales of peace and war.
And right now, our dear Man of Law would be without a tale had not a merchant, who has long-since died, spun him a yarn, which he's about to tell you.