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The Guilt of the Baron in Canterbury Tales

Updated on January 14, 2015

O benevolent judges, lend me thine ear, to tell the grievous tale of a devious and nefarious Baron, who by the laws of our great land, hath committed the crime of theft, and assault with a weapon of death. He is being charged with these crimes for the malevolent assault on the beautiful and innocent Belinda—he, without the permission of said victim, removed her hair in an odious fashion, for mere greed and obsession.

To begin the prosecution of said offender, it is important to read closely the introduction to the tale. “Say, what a strange motive, Goddess! could compel/ A well-bred lord to assault a gentle belle?/ Oh, say what a stranger cause, yet unexplored,/ Could make a gentle belle reject a lord?” (7-10). Here, we see two instances of guilt—the first, being with the mere language being used. Assault. A very specific word to be used in such an instance, an instance of guilt. The second fact of guilt in this passage is his direct motive. The object of his desire, the “gentle belle”, rejected him. What better motive than rejection? His not being able to have her pushed him to act out, to acquire any part of her he could. In the first few passages of the poem, we see clear signs of guilt.

Source

Moving on to Canto 2, we see further obsession with the innocent woman, with the unending desire to acquire her hair by any means necessary. “The adventurous Baron the bright locks admired,/ He saw, he wished, and to the prize aspired./ Resolved to win, he meditates the way,/ By force to ravish or by fraud betray;/ For when success, a lover’s toil attends,/ Few ask if fraud or force attained his ends” (29-34). Here we see further guilt, even with the language. There is an increased severity to the crime with the fact that it was pre-meditated—that is why there are distinctions between crimes of passion and those planned. He devised a way to complete this task, heightening the crime’s severity. The following sentences continue this trend, with language such as “force to ravish” and “by fraud betray”, both clearly sets of language that denote something less than noble, and in this case, a crime.

The next passage in question is where we see both of the crimes finally committed—theft, and assault with a deadly weapon. After the game of cards, the coffee vapors remind the Baron of his desire for Belinda’s hair. This is where we see the deadly weapon. “Just then, Clarissa drew with tempting grace/ A two-edged weapon from her shining case:/ So ladies in romance assist their knight,/ Present the spear, and arm him for the fight” (127-130). The language clearly portrays a weapon—not a tool, not a device. A weapon. Even going so far as to compare it to a weapon a knight brandishes, this alone is enough to convict him of assault with a deadly weapon, when, in the following passages, he removes Belinda’s hair without her consent. So the Baron is in fact guilty of two crimes—theft, and assault with a deadly weapon, and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

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