The Monk's Tale
"The Monk's Tale" is one of The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.
The Monk's tale to the other pilgrims is a collection of 17 short stories, exempla, on the theme of tragedy. The tragic endings of these historical figures are recounted: Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Zenobia, Pedro of Castile, Peter I of Cyprus, Bernabò Visconti, Ugolino of Pisa, Nero, Holofernes, Antiochus, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Croesus.
Some literary critics believe that a large portion of the tale may have been written before the rest of the Canterbury Tales and that the four most contemporary figures were added at a later point. A likely dating for this hypothetical first draft of the text would be the 1370s, shortly after Chaucer returned from a trip to Italy, where he was exposed to Giovanni Boccaccio's Concerning the Falls of Illustrious Men, as well as other works such as the Decameron. The tragedy of Bernabò Visconti must have been written after 1385, the date of the protagonist's death. The basic structure for the tale is modeled after the Boccaccio's Illustrious Men, while the tale of Ugolino of Pisa is retold from Dante's Inferno.
The Monk, in his prologue, claims to have a hundred of these stories in his cell, but the Knight stops him after only 17, saying that they have had enough sadness. The order of the stories within the tale is different in several early manuscripts, and if the more contemporary stories were at the end of his tale, Chaucer may wish to suggest that the Knight has another motivation for interrupting than sheer boredom. In line 51 of the General Prologue, it is said of the Knight that: "At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne". If the Knight were at the capture of Alexandria, then the implication is that he was probably part of the crusade organised by Peter I of Cyprus and that the reader should presume that hearing of the tragedy of his former military commander is what prompts him to interrupt the monk.