The Nun's Priest's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What are some satirical points in "The Nun's Priest's Tale"?

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In the pompous, self-important figure of the cockerel Chauntecleer, "The Nun's Priest's Tale" satirizes scholasticism. This is the name given to the dominant school of philosophy in Medieval Europe. Scholasticism is incredibly difficult to explain—and even harder to understand—but it was characterized by a style of theorizing that critics regarded as pedantic, hair-splitting, and overly concerned with narrow, precise definitions of seemingly abstract concepts. To its critics, scholasticism said nothing about the world around us; it simply told us what was going on in the minds of monks and scholars isolated from the outside world in their monasteries and universities.

In his lengthy digression on the subject of dreams, Chauntecleer parades his shallow learning by invoking numerous biblical, mythical, and academic sources. But his scholastic style of argument is then completely undermined by his sexual desires—he is a rooster, after all—which makes him forget his fear of dreams. In other words, the pedantic, abstract logic of scholasticism has collided with the real world, showing itself to have little or nothing to say about life as it is actually lived.

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The main point, or moral, of this beast fable is to beware of empty flattery.  Chanticleer, to please his wife, goes into the barnyard and listens to the fox's flattering words.  The fox grabs Chanitcleer and is about to make a clean get-away when Chanticleer reverses the flattery role and is able then to escape from the fox.  Some of the satire comes into play when Chanticleer's wife, Pertlet, dismisses Chanticleer's dream.  His dream was a clear predictor of what happened when the fox grabbed him, but Pertlet says it is just indigestion causing a bad night's sleep and he should simply purge his system.  She goes on to ridicule him for even thinking there might be something to the dream.  There is some satire, too, in another moral that might be taken from this story and that is to think for oneself rather than be tempted to go against one's better judgement.  Chanticleer lets his love of Pertlet guide him and squelches his instinct to stay away from the fox when he should have followed that instinct.

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