The Nun's Priest's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Start Free Trial

Consider the rhetorical features of "The Nun's Priest's Tale." Discuss in particular the similes.

Positive similes in "The Nun's Priest's Tale" help characterize Chanticleer as a likable rooster with whom we identify. Hyperbolic similes also add a light-hearted tone to the tale. Other rhetorical features Chaucer uses are foreshadowing, suspense, and comparison. All of these put the reader on the side of Chanticleer, a classic trickster underdog.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, while similes are comparisons that use the words like or as.
In the context of this tale, the host has grown tired of depressing stories about wealthy people who have lost it all and wants something more upbeat, perhaps about a little person who has good luck. The Nun's Priest, John, offers to tell such a tale—and delivers the goods beautifully.
This story depends on readers being invested in the comic but noble, clever, self-assured, and lusty Chanticleer. Therefore, John uses rhetorical devices to persuade us to see this trickster rooster as a likable, worthy fellow. Similes, for example, are an important tool for characterizing the rooster. John offers a string of similes about Chanticleer that cast him in a positive light. In fact, most of the similes in the story refer to the rooster.
We learn, for instance, that
His vois [voice] was merier than the mery orgon [merry organ].
and that
His comb was redder than the fyn [fine] coral,
And batailed, as it were a castel-wal [high like a castle wall].
His nayles [talons] whytter than the lilie flour [lily flower].
All of these positive comparisons, that show the rooster to be very handsome and with a fine voice, help build up our good feelings towards him.
At the same time, John also uses some hyperbole or exaggeration to poke a little good hearted fun at this creature, who is after all just a rooster. John jokingly compares his reign of the henhouse as
royal, as a prince is in his halle.
John also uses a simile to comically point out how fictitious his story is by comparing it to the fantasy story of Launcelot:
This storie is al-so trewe, I undertake,
As is the book of Launcelot de Lake.
The similes work, thus, to create both a light-hearted, upbeat tone for the tale and to characterize Chanticleer as a good guy.
Similes also come into play in the hyperbolic flattery the fox uses to trick Chanticleer. The fox says to him:
For trewely [turly] ye have as mery a stevene [singing voice]
As eny aungel hath, that is in hevene.
Beyond similes, John uses the rhetorical devices of foreshadowing and suspense to pull us into the story. Having persuaded us to identify with Chanticleer, he also makes it clear that the nightmare the rooster had was a premonition of something bad happening. When our lovable rooster meets the fox, we therefore have a sense of dread and suspense about what will happen.
The story employs as well the rhetorical device of comparison. By placing Chanticleer's wide ranging and more charming discourse about dreams next to his wife's somewhat peevish dismissal of his nightmare as being due to "gas," we are more than ever taken in by Chanticleer. By the time the fox has him in his jaws, Chanticleer has become so alive for us that we are fully rooting for and hoping the jaunty rooster can escape.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Nun's Priest's Tale" is a satire that takes a low subject—the story of Chanticleer the rooster—and compares it to "high" literature, such as Virgil's Aeneid and the Bible. Simile is a key rhetorical device used in the tale.

One aspect of the use of simile is to compare the rooster to things of great beauty: this is why, for example, Chanticleer's comb is "redder than fine coral" and "notched with battlements as if it were a castle wall," his beak is "like the jet," and his nails "whiter than the lily." The exaggerated language of these similes serve to exalt Chanticleer in ways usually reserved for epic heroes (or heroines: much is made of his physical beauty, and indeed Chanticleer is prettier than his wife, Pertelote).

Another use of simile involves Chanticleer comparing his dream, or the importance of dreams, to many different examples in classic literature. This is another example of the low being compared to the high, and it also makes a satirical point about the uses of learning. It's funny enough that a rooster would know so much about the classics, but it is doubly funny that all his "knowledge" does not prevent him from being caught by the fox in the end.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team