This essay argues that Chaucer’s much- unloved “Monk’s Tale,” rather than being a failure or misfire on Chaucer’s part, actually constitutes a high- water mark of the bold and experimental literary theory that characterizes much of Chaucer’s later career. In this case, the Monk proves himself to be not only an able and fluent reader and interpreter of tragic theory and tragic practice, but also a savvy critic of the very idea of tragedy — a critic whose final commitment is more to Christian revelation than to any classical notion of tragic experience. The Monk’s massive and somewhat unrewarding concatenation of “tragedies” proves a kind of mise-en-abyme meditation on the idea of tragedy itself. For the Monk, “tragedy” is a category for thinking critically in, not a category to fetishize.

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