The Nun's Priest's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What was the reaction when Chanticleer was captured by the fox in "The Nun's Priest's Tale"?

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A poor widow and her daughters live on a farm in "The Nun's Priest's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer; they do not have much, but they do have some animals. Among them is a magnificent rooster named Chanticleer (which means "sings clearly" in French). He is glorious in every way, and he crows every hour, keeping time more accurately than any clock. Such a magnificent specimen of roosterdom obviously has many females who love him, but his heart is reserved for the fairest and wisest hen of all, Pertelote.

One day Chanticleer shares with Pertelote a dream he has of a reddish-orange creature which tries to kill him here in his own yard. Pertelote is sensible and practical, dismissing Chanticleer's dream and blaming his wild vision on something he ate. Chanticleer tries to convince her of the importance of dreams by citing famous examples of men whose dreams came to pass. Pertelote is unmoved.

Chanticleer is content for a time, but one night he feels a shadow of sadness pass over him. As he goes to bed sad,

A brant-fox, full of sly iniquity,
That in the grove had lived two years, or three,
Now by a fine premeditated plot
That same night, breaking through the hedge, had got
Into the yard where Chanticleer the fair
Was wont, and all his wives too, to repair;
And in a bed of greenery still he lay
Till it was past the quarter of the day,
Waiting his chance on Chanticleer to fall,
As gladly do these killers one and all
Who lie in ambush for to murder men.

The next day, Chanticleer sees the fox lying in wait, but the fox manages to persuade Chanticleer that he means no harm and flatters the rooster until he agrees to sing for him. When the vain rooster does so, the fox strikes, capturing the rooster by the neck and running off into the woods. No one sees this happen, but when Pertelote realizes what has happened, she is full of torment was, and rage,

She voluntarily to the fire did start

And burned herself there with a steadfast heart.

She burns herself in the fire. The other hens also begin wailing mournfully over the loss of their beloved Chanticleer. (These passages expressing their grief is full of references to grand examples of mourning, but of course they are just simple hens crying over a rooster.) Their caterwauling has alerted the humans on the farm that something is wrong. 

This simple widow and her daughters two

Heard these hens cry and make so great ado,

And out of doors they started on the run

And saw the fox into the grove just gone,

Bearing upon his back the cock away.

The women then also begin to cry and wail before running after the fox; men from neighboring farms appear with pitchforks and run after the fox, as well. Then all the animals on the farm also begin to make noise: the dogs, the cow, her calf, the hogs. The humans were all making such a racket that the animals

...all ran so they thought their hearts would break.

They yelled as very fiends do down in Hell;

The ducks they cried as at the butcher fell;

The frightened geese flew up above the trees;

Out of the hive there came the swarm of bees;

So terrible was the noise, ah ben'cite!

...It seemed as if the heaven itself should fall!

A chain reaction of wailing grief happens on the farm once the hens and then the humans realize that Chanticleer has been taken. After that, the animals simply react to their wailing cries of grief and follow the noise. This living train of crying, yapping, and flapping humans and animals must have been quite a sight.

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