What is the idea Chaucer wishes to convey in "The Noones Preestes Tale" and how does it relate to "The Prologue to the Noones Preestes Tale"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tale preceding "The Noones Preestes Tale" is "The Monkes Tale." The Monk is interrupted by the Knyght. In "Prologue to the Noones Pressetes Tale," the Knyght explains his interruption by declaring that he has had enough "hevynesse" and "‘Tragedie’" and is about to fall asleep off his horse into the mud. The Knyght opines that listening to a tale in which a prosperous man has a sudden fall causes misery: "it is a greet disese / .../ To heeren of hir sodeyn fal, allas!" He declaims further that to hear a tale of a poor man who climbs up in wealth, prosperity and fortune is joy and solace : "joye and greet solas, / As whan a man hath been in povre estaat, / And clymbeth up... / ...in prosperitiee."

The Hoost agrees with the Knyght and summons the Noones Preest, sir John, to deliver his tale. His tale has a long introduction and many digressions, but, as is true of Chaucer's general aesthetic of poetics, the digressions hold vital information to the general meaning of his writing. The tale is a debate between the rooster Chanticleer and his favorite wife Pertelote about whether dreams have inherent meaning and importance, as Chanticleer contends, or are the empty fantasies caused by imbalance of humors in body and mind, which are remediable through herbs, as Pertelote contends. The debate leads to digressions wherein Chaucer, through the Noones Preestes narration, discusses, 1st, the soundness of advice given by women in reference to woman's role in Judeo-Christian creation stories and, 2nd, the problem of free will versus ordained predetermined events.

The end of the tale has Chanticleer in the jaws of an escaping fox which entered the chicken yard, as he foresaw in his dream. On the brink of a fatal fall from high "estaat," Chanticleer applies his wisdom and tricks the fox into dropping him after which Chanticleer wastes no time in taking opportunity to "clymbeth up" to safety, declaring that the fox's flattery had tricked him once but would no more.

In the resolution of "The Noones Tale," Chaucer ties the importance and truth of dreams together with acts of wisdom, like shunning flattery and shunning advice that goes contrary to what you know based on evidence. Chaucer also draws a comparison in this tale between what he casts as women's propensity to give bad advice and men's propensity to flatter for their own ends. Chaucer shows that while women may lead astray with unsound, insufficiently learned and reasoned advice (Pertelote does quote Catoun [Cato], but Chanticleer quotes upward of a dozen sources), men may lead astray with flattery that has no purpose other than to distract so the flatter's ends can be achieved at the other's expense.

Chaucer further shows that while women's advice and men's flattery may be equally dangerous, women advise with love and good intent while men flatter with selfishness and bad intent. Chaucer may be representing this quality about women's advice as the absolution for the blame levied against them for the original downfall of humanity in the Judeo-Christian creation story, as is indicated by the introduction about the "povre wydwe."

The tale ties to the Prologue because the Noones Preest tells a tale with both "'Tragedie'" and "joye": Chanticleer is near death then saves himself and learns a lesson about not listening to flattery and is reunited with Pertelote, thus accommodating the Knyght while making the additional point that lessons of import can be learned from tragedies--and dreams--establishing an analogy between them.

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