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The Canterbury Tales | The Nun's Priest's Tale | Summary

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Summary

A poor widow keeps a few animals, including a rooster named Chanticleer—a fine specimen with a loud crow—and his seven hens. One dawn Chanticleer begins to groan as if having a bad dream. When Lady Pertelote, his favorite hen, asks him what's wrong, he tells her his nightmare: A great beast with glowing red eyes had entered their yard and tried to kill him. Pertelote tells him that he is a coward and that the dream is meaningless. She prescribes some medicinal herbs.

But Chanticleer feels that he should pay attention to the dream, pointing out that dreams often have meaning. As support, Chanticleer tells several stories he's read in books. After this discussion Chanticleer refuses the herbal remedies. The presence of Pertelote next to him makes him feel better.

Later Chanticleer is outside, singing, when he sees a fox in the yard. Startled, Chanticleer prepares to run away, but the fox reassures him that he is friendly and has only come to listen to Chanticleer's beautiful singing. Chanticleer is flattered and begins to sing again when the fox springs on him and carries him off toward the woods. At this the hens make such an uproar that the widow and her daughters come rushing. They see the fox and race after him, accompanied by all their animals, including a swarm of bees.

Chanticleer suggests to the fox that he turn around and shout insults and curses at his pursuers. The fox does this, and Chanticleer takes the opportunity to fly into a tree. The fox then says he didn't mean any harm, so Chanticleer should come down. But Chanticleer now knows that the fox is trying to trick him, so he refuses.

At the conclusion of the story, Harry Bailey compliments the Nun's Priest and turns to another storyteller.

Analysis

As a fable, this story is in keeping with other types of stories in the genre, many of which involve a tricky fox and some sort of prey that ultimately gets the better of the fox. The legacy of this story line can be seen in modern times, in cartoon characters such as Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner.

Only a small percentage of lines in this tale actually advance the story. For example, a large number of lines are given to Chanticleer's argument for the importance of dreams. He relates in detail many stories in which dreams and their meanings were significant, such as those from the biblical book of Daniel. Despite his own argument, Chanticleer takes no action based on the dream and is quite surprised when a fox does enter the yard. Chaucer may be poking fun at people who engage in debate for the sake of argument, not for a practical purpose. He may also be mocking the Monk, whose own tale was nothing but a tedious list of exempla.

Most fables end with a single lesson or moral; this story does not have just one but several. Chanticleer learns to be wary of tricksters who want you to close your eyes when you should keep them open. The fox learns that he should keep his mouth shut. The Nun's Priest adds that people should be on guard against flatterers and invites listeners to learn from this seemingly silly tale: "And if you think my story is absurd. ... Take hold upon the moral, gentlemen." With these words the Nun's Priest suggests his audience might see themselves in both the proud but gullible Chanticleer, the skeptical and disdaining hen, and the tricky and flattering fox.

The Nun's Priest's fable meets with great approval. By setting the story in a barnyard, the Nun's Priest seems to be preparing to tell a simple fable. Like the Monk, the rooster Chanticleer gives a long list of illustrative examples that reveal an astonishing breadth of learning. But unlike the Monk Chanticleer does it in a wildly entertaining way. Chaucer seems to say that this is what learning combined with a true talent for storytelling looks like.

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Read this excerpt from "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. O new Iscariot, O new Ganelon! O false dissimulator, Greek Sinon That brought down Troy all utterly to sorrow! O Cha
Read this excerpt from "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales . O new Iscariot, O new Ganelon! O false dissimulator, Greek Sinon That brought down Troy all utterly to sorrow! O Ch
Read this excerpt from "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales . O new Iscariot, O new Ganelon! O false dissimulator, Greek Sinon That brought down Troy all utterly to sorrow! O Ch
Read this excerpt from "The Nun's Priest's Tale" in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales . O new Iscariot, O new Ganelon! O false dissimulator, Greek Sinon That brought down Troy all utterly to sorrow! O Ch
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