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What is an example of Chaucer discussing the role of an author and of poetry in the...

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ilovecats2 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted December 10, 2011 at 11:29 PM via web

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What is an example of Chaucer discussing the role of an author and of poetry in the tales via a metaphor in The Canterbury Tales?

Please answer from one of the following tales:

The General Prologue

The Knight's Tale

The Miller's Prologue and Tale

The Reeve's Prologue and Tale

The Cook's Prologue and Tale

The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

The Clerk's Prologue and Tale

The Clerk's Envoy

The Merchant's Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue

The Squire's Introduction and Tale

The Franklin's Prologue and Tale

The Pardoner's Introduction, Prologue, and Tale

The Prioress's Prologue and Tale

Sir Thopas (Prologue, Tale, and the Host's Interruption)

The Nun's Priest's Prologue, Tale, and Epilogue

The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue and Tale.

The Parson's Prologue

The Parson's Tale

Chaucer's Retraction

1 Answer | Add Yours

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:32 PM (Answer #1)

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Nonnes Preest's Tale (Excerpt)

Now have you lost my heart and all my love;
I cannot love a coward, by my faith.
For certes, what so any woman saith,
We all desiren, if it mighte be,
To have husbands, hardy, wise, and free,
And secret, and no niggard nor no fool,
Nor him that is aghast of every tool,
Nor no avaunter, by that God above.
How durst you say for shame unto your love
That anything might maken you afeared?
Have you no man's heart, and have a beard?
Alas! and can you be aghast of swevenes?
Nothing, God wot, but vanity in sweven is.
"Swevens engender of repletïons,
And oft of fumes and of complexïons
When humours be too abundant in a wight. (modified Middle English)

While this question is open to much interpretation, it might be argued that the dream, the swevene, in the "Nonnes Preest's Tale," had by Chauntecleer is a metaphor for the role of an author and the role of poetry. In this extended metaphor, the author and his poetry are compared to Chauntecleer and his reaction to his swevene.

The situation is that Chauntecleer has had a nightmare about a monster of "a beast, / Was like a hound" that would have attacked and "have had [Chauntecleer] dead." He unfortunately tells his best beloved hen, Pertelote, about this swevene and his frightened reaction to it. Pertelote then scolds him and tells him quite clearly that a woman wants a brave husband. She says she rejects him and withdraws her love from him who is frightened by a swevene.

Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love!
I kan nat love a coward, (Middle English)

The metaphor for the author's role works out through Pertelote's reprimanding remarks to Chauntecleer. While Pertelote tells Chauntecleer the responsibility that a rooster has to his hens, it may be interpreted that Chaucer is expressing his views of the responsibility an author--and the poetry--has to his readers. It is necessary to expound on the 14th century understanding of the concept of the "author's readers." Then it was believed and held that poets were inspired instruments of the Divine whose words and ideas were inspired to represent in human terms the divine truths of pure, spiritual truth and reality. So to say Chaucer addresses the idea of responsibility of an author to readers is synonymous with saying Chaucer addresses the responsibility of conveying inspired spiritual truth to the larger community.

In the metaphor, Pertelote tells Chauntecleer he mustn't be a coward and be fearful of what confronts him. He must be wise and hardy and no fool who is aghast at mischance. If an interpretation in terms of the metaphor is applied, Chaucer might be seen as saying that authors, or poets (prose fiction was yet to be developed), must be brave, not cowards, and fulfil their role of divine messengers to their kings, dukes, and common communities. They must not be fools who are fearfully aghast at their calling to impart divine truth. Authors must be wise and hardy and ready to fulfill with their poetry their tasks as inspired intermediaries between Divine truth and human yearning after goodness and truth.

We alle desiren, if it myghte bee,
To han housbondes hardy, wise, and free,
And secree, and no nygard, ne no fool, (Middle English)

Interestingly, Chaucer addresses this general concept directly in the "Retraction" that closes The Canterbury Tales:

For our Book says, All that is written is written for our instruction; and that was my intention. (Modern English)

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