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The Canterbury Tales

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This duk, of whom I make mencioun,
When he was come almost unto the toun,
In al his wele and in his moste pryde,
He was war, as he caste his eye asyde,
Wher that ther kneled in the hye weye
A companye of ladies, tweye and tweye,
Ech after other, clad in clothes blake;
But swich a cry and swich a wo they make,
That in this world nis creature livinge,
That herde swich another weymentinge;
And of this cry they nolde never stenten,
Til they the reynes of his brydel henten.
Now, when the happy and victorious Athenians were just outside the city, Duke Theseus noticed out of the corner of his eye that there was a group of women kneeling in the middle of the road. They were arranged in two columns, dressed all in black, and were crying and wailing at the top of their lungs. You never heard anything like it. They continued wailing until one of them grabbed the bridle of Theseus’s horse.



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‘What folk ben ye, that at myn hoom-cominge
Perturben so my feste with cryinge?’
Quod Theseus, ‘have ye so greet envye
Of myn honour, that thus compleyne and crye?
Or who hath yow misboden, or offended?
And telleth me if it may been amended;
And why that ye ben clothed thus in blak?’
“Who are you people who dare to interrupt my victory march home?” asked Theseus. “Are you so jealous of me and my success that you’re complaining like this? Or has someone else hurt or offended you? Tell me why you’re all dressed in black and if there’s any way we can make things better.”






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The eldest lady of hem alle spak,
When she hadde swowned with a deedly chere,
That it was routhe for to seen and here,
And seyde: ‘Lord, to whom Fortune hath yiven
Victorie, and as a conquerour to liven,
Noght greveth us your glorie and your honour;
But we biseken mercy and socour.
Have mercy on our wo and our distresse.
Som drope of pitee, thurgh thy gentillesse,
Upon us wrecched wommen lat thou falle.
For certes, lord, ther nis noon of us alle,
That she nath been a duchesse or a quene;
Now be we caitifs, as it is wel sene:
Thanked be Fortune, and hir false wheel,
That noon estat assureth to be weel.
And certes, lord, to abyden your presence,
Here in the temple of the goddesse Clemence
We han ben waytinge al this fourtenight;
Now help us, lord, sith it is in thy might.
The oldest lady in the group nearly fainted at hearing this. She looked almost like Death itself, and she looked so miserable that everyone pitied her. When she recovered, she looked at Theseus and said, “My lord, Fortune has favored you and made you victorious. We aren’t upset about your success at all. Rather, we ask for your kindness and your help. Even the tiniest drop of pity from you will make us poor women feel better. In fact, all of us women were once duchesses and queens. But now, as you clearly see, we are miserable nobodies. The goddess Fortune never promises anything to anyone, which is why we went from having everything to having nothing. We’ve been waiting for you in this temple for two weeks, and now that you’re here, we’re hoping you can help us since you have the power to do so.

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