Write a note on the narrative art of Chaucer with reference to "The Nonnes Preestes Tale."

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Answer posted in two parts.]

Chaucer's narrative art is complex and very detailed. But in brief, his art of narrative comprises two avenues, his poetics--distinguished by twenty-five or more points alone--and his literary narrative techniques. In his poetics, Chaucer's work is distinguished by rhetoric, structure and humor.

In rhetoric, Chaucer makes a great deal of use of digressio, and descriptio. In structure, he is fond of dream-visions and variations of dream-visions. In humor, Chaucer makse a good deal of use of self-deprecating humor through the narrator's voice, and what some call mirthless humor, as is found in his Troilus and Cresyde.

In rhetoric, digressio (digression) in a narrative is a tangent away from--a departure from--the main or logical story line. In "The Noones Preestes Tale," a digressio is found in Lines 464 through 500, introduced by Lines 460 to 463, in which Chaucer digresses to two discourses concerning (1) the fixed occurrence of predestined things versus the free will to act and (2) the nature of women and their counsel (advice) due to their role in the Judeo-Christian creation story.

Descriptio (description) is a fine art in rhetoric that has many alternative structures. Two that Chaucer is fond of are prosopographia and effictio. The first is detailed description of someone's character or face. The second is a description of someone's body starting at the head and ending at the toe.

Chaucer employs both in his introductory description of Chanticleer (81 - 99). Begining with prosopographia, he describes Chanticleer's character: "In al the land of crowyng nas his peer," etc. In Line 93, he switches to effictio and describes Chanticleer's person, starting at his "coomb," and ending with "toon" and color, "burned gold was his colour."

In poetic structure, Chaucer is fond of dream-visions, as used by Plutarch and Boccaccio. Examples are The House of Fame and The Book of the Duchess. In "The Noones Preestes Tale," Chanticleer introduces a brief dream-vision during which he tells of the foreboding dream that introduces Chaucer's themes.

Chaucer's use of humor stands alone in his poetics because he innovated uses of self-deprecating humor and mirthless humor. Along with literary techniques of ironic humor in situations and verbal discourse, Chaucer allowed his narrators, usually himself, to laugh at their own foibles, allowing the audience to feel an affinity with the narrator's humanity and fallibility. Mirthless humor drives home Chaucer's points when they are painful yet true. Examples of both are in his Troilus and Cresyde.

Although the Knyght is insultingly humorous in his remarks to the Monk in "The Prologue to the Noones Preetes Tale," Chaucer deviates a bit from his pattern and uses less humor in "The Noones Preestes Tale." That which is nonetheless evident in this tale is that of the standard literary technique of situational and verbal irony, especially apparent in the resolution.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Part two of above Answer.]

Concerning literary narrative arts, Chaucer's character development incorporates choices and circumstances, which, according to Richard West (The Life and Times of the First English Poet), is a unique Chaucerian contribution to the art of narrative. This is apparent in Chanticleer: His character development, his lessons learned, are from circumstances and from choices he makes, i.e., encountering the fox and choosing to fall prey to his flattery; choosing to trick the fox and put himself in a circumstance of safety.

Chaucer also relies heavily on allusion as is seen in the discussion between Chanticleer and Pertelote when names of so many learned scholars are alluded to. A particular trait of Chaucer's is to combine Classical allusion to pagan gods with Biblical allusion to Christianity's God.

In his descriptive passages, Chaucer relies heavily on comparisons to color, often with references to flowers, such as "lylye." In Chanticleer's description, Chaucer mentions red, black, azure, white, and burned gold. In addition, Chaucer relies heavily on simile ("batailled, as it were a castel wal") and metaphor ("His voys was murier than the murle orgon"). Additionally, Chaucer gives great detail on his character's thoughts and feelings, such as in Pertelote's reaction to Chanticleer's bad dream when she tells him that he has lost her love, he is a coward and spiritless, and that dreams are visions due to bad bodily "fume and of complecciouns," and so much more.

[References you might like to look to are A Glossary of Rhetorical Terms and Devices, Silva Rhetoricae, and The Canterbury Tales with side-by-side Middle and Modern English texts and adjacent glossary.]

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