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Chaucer, Geoffrey°


CHAUCER, GEOFFREY ° (1340?–1400), English poet. His major work, The Canterbury Tales, written during the final phase of his career (c. 1390), includes one story based on a *blood libel. The Prioress's Tale, which reflects contemporary prejudices, is the story of a widow's child murdered by Jews because he sings the hymn to the Virgin, "Alma redemptoris mater," when passing through the "Jewes Street" of some Asian city on his way to school. The Jews cut his throat and cast him into a pit, but he is miraculously enabled to continue singing, and in this way his body is discovered. The sequel is that all the Jews of the city are tortured and then massacred.

Chaucer refers in his tale to the story of *Hugh of Lincoln, one of the earliest blood libels in Europe, which was first heard of in the middle of the 12th century. However, Chaucer himself could not have known Jews in England, since they had been expelled a hundred years before his poem was written, though he may have visited some Jewish quarters on his travels to Italy in 1372–73. Elsewhere, in his Tale of Sir Thopas and in The Hous of Fame (c. 1380), he speaks of Jews with a degree of respect.


H. Michelson, Jew in Early English Literature (1926), 43–45; J.C. Wenk, in: Medieval Studies, 17 (1955), 214–9. add. bibliography: S. Delany (ed.), Chaucer and the Jews (2002), containing recent essays by literary critics and historians; odnb online.

[Harold Harel Fisch]

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