The Physician's Tale This story was a fable. Apius, a judge, sees the beautiful Virginia and lusts for her. His accomplice Claudius, invents the story that Virginia is a thrall or slave, rather than Virginius' daughter, and he has unlawfully stolen her from Claudius. Apius, the "judge" rules that Virginius must immediately turn over Virginia to Claudius. Virginius tells his daughter she has only two options, death or shame, and they decide that she should sooner die then meet this fate. He cuts off her head and presents it to Apius, who orders Virginius hanged.
The mob prevents this and throws Apius in jail where he kills himself. Claudius is sentenced to hanging but Virginius asks the citizens to pardon him. The last line proclaims, "Forsake your sins before your sins forsake you." I can kind of see how this line applies to Apius, who, for his evil doings, ended up in prison and committing suicide. Still, what about Claudius? He lied in a courthouse and the death of an innocent virgin was his fault. Those qualify as sins in my book. And though he never abandoned these sins, they didn't forsake him.
Why does the moral of the tale only apply to one of the characters? Let's explore why Claudius seemed to be exempt from this punishment. There is no specific prologue to the Physician's tale, but he is mentioned in the General Prologue. It is said that he was very educated in his field: "The cause of every malady you'd got/ He knew, and whether dry, cold, moist or hot." Although he was very intuitive in detecting disease and ailments, he took advantage of his patients. He was in league with the local apothecary. It is implied that he would prescribe unnecessary medications and both he and the apothecary would benefit from this exploitation. In the Physician's Tale, Virginius has mercy on Claudius in the end, and when the people want to execute him, Virginius steps in and tells them not to.
I wonder if since the physician has not always been completely honest, and gotten away with it, part of his message is that you can get away with wrong-doings and deceitfulness. One of the requirements for this storytelling contest was to tell a tale with a moral. I think that the message he really wanted to get across is that being dishonorable is okay. He really was saying to everyone on the pilgrimage- "Look! Claudius, with all his sins, was pardoned and even an old pedophile like Apius was only thrown in jail, and not killed." I think he just slapped that moral about forsaking your sins on at the end so that it would seem like a moral tale. Although it kind of applies, judging from the physician's character, it seems that the moral "forsake your sins before your sins forsake you" isn't a great representation of what the physician really intended his audience to take from his tale. However, does the physician mean to align himself with Claudius? Probably not, he probably is trying to represent himself like the knight Virginius, noble and merciful.
In actuality he is very similar to Claudius, though, because they are both involved in conspiracies with only one other person, and succeed are not punished for reaching these dishonorable ends. It's ironic that their likeness is so apparent yet the physician still allies himself with the honorable knight. Additionally, after the physician tells his tale, the host is sufficiently disgusted that he says, "[Your story] gave me heart disease, or very near/ By corpus bones! I'll need a dose, I fear... I'm lost in pity for that poor girl dead." Is it possible that he tells such nauseating tale to do exactly that- Nauseate the listeners? Maybe this influences the style of his tales- and he can actually physically sicken his audience. Has it become so much a part of him to make people sick, or believe that they are sick? The tale was pretty short and not terribly deep, so maybe storytelling isn't really the physician's strength. Basically, the story focuses on the schemes of Apius and Claudius, who are no more than one-dimensional villains.
Some sources said that the Physician's Tale was extremely similar to two other stories from the Canterbury Tales- The Clerk's Tale and the Man of the Law's Tale- just shallower, and some went so far as to say it was the worst Canterbury Tale. The prologue says that the physician was brilliant in medicine and astronomy, and that he spent hours watching the stars. It seems that he was sort of a hermit when not treating his patients, so maybe his storytelling skills aren't quite up to par with the rest on the pilgrimage. Additionally Chaucer was definitely bias: he didn't put the knight on the same level as the miller, and from the prologue, it is obvious that he didn't see the physician as a very morally reputable character. I think Chaucer consciously made the Physician's Tale short, simple, and grotesque. If the other tales were so much better (and just from hearing the plots in presentations, I think it is fair to say that they are), I think that it reflects his interpretation of these figures in medieval society, not his talent (or lack thereof) for writing.
The Physician's Tale is a satire of the medieval physician. It portrays the doctor as dishonest and deceitful. The tale itself, through it's telling, indirectly portrays the physician as shallow and, although he is well read, small-minded. In comparison with, for example, the Knight's Tale or the Man of the Law's tale, which are intellectual and complicated, with many characters and parts, the Physician's Tale is a good representation of the Chaucer's cynical views of much of medieval society.