The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale Analysis
Not all scholars believe the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale is actually intended to be part of the Canterbury Tales, and the compiler of the Hengwrt manuscript actually left it out altogether. Its sudden introduction of two new characters is a major change in the flow of the Tales – so it is perhaps fitting that “transformation” or “change” is the theme of the tale itself.
The Canon’s Yeoman’s tale begins with a discussion of alchemy and uses the basic principles of alchemy as the basis for the magic tricks by which the canon in the tale steals money from others. Alchemy, the precursor to modern chemistry, had as one of its primary goals the discovery of a way to turn base metals, like lead, into gold. Another was to discover the fabled “philosopher’s stone,” which in addition to being able to turn things into gold, was supposed to produce a substance that would make human beings immortal. Although medieval alchemists did discover a number of useful facts about the properties of various chemicals via their experiments, they never achieved either of their stated goals.
Alchemy is described in the tale as the “sliding” science, in which all things are in a state of perpetual change. The Canon and Yeoman “change” in our estimation as well, seeming at first to be upright, courteous people, but soon being revealed as charlatans. Likewise, the moral of the tale is that nobody who has money can hold onto it, and that it is often lost when things are not what they seem.