In The Canterbury Tales, what does it mean when Chanticleer says to the fox: "For he who shuts his eyes when he should see, / And willfully, God let him ne'er be free!"

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huntress | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Context: Chanticleer is a widow's rooster and he has had a dream that a fox will capture him that day. His favorite hen chides him for believing in dreams, but Chanticleer is certain that his dream foretells disaster. The fox is hiding in the vegetable patch, and when Chanticleer spots him, he flies back to his roost, upon which the fox begins to flatter him. The fox tells him that he'd had Chanticleer's father to visit and sing to him, and he'd never heard such a fine voice. He asks Chanticleer, who he calls his friend, to stretch his neck and sing for him so that he may enjoy it. 

Chanticleer is overcome by the fox's flattery, so he beats his wings with pride, stretches his neck, and begins to sing. At once, the fox grabs him by the neck, throws him over his back, and runs toward the woods with the widow and all her farmyard creatures in hot pursuit. Chanticleer, keeping his wits about him, says to the fox that if he were the fox, he'd turn around and curse his chasers, announcing that "Now have I reached the edge of this wood / In spite of your efforts, the cock shall stay here; / I will eat him in faith, and that at once" (591-3). The fox responds, "In faith, it shall be done" (594), and as soon as he opens his mouth, the rooster flies up into the trees out of reach. 

The fox apologizes for frightening him because he meant no harm. He begs Chanticleer to come back down so they may talk. Chanticleer replies:

You shall not again, through your flattery,

Get me to sing and blink my eyes.

For he who blinks when he should see

Intentionally, God let him never prosper!"

In other words, if a man is foolish enough to be fooled twice, he deserves what he gets. 

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