11: The Nun's Priest's Tale Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1001

Summary
The Knight interrupts the listing of tragedies by the Monk, saying that such grim recitals are making everyone sad. The Host immediately agrees, commenting that the long narration has almost put everyone to sleep. He begs the Monk to tell them something different. When the Monk declines, Harry calls upon the Nun's Priest to tell a happy story. The Priest laughingly agrees, seeing that the clever Monk has revenged himself on Harry Bailley by nearly boring him to death.

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He begins his tale about a poor old widow who owns a remarkable rooster named Chanticleer. For crowing exactly on time he has no equal, and the splendor of his colored feathers and his coral comb is amazing. Chanticleer has seven hens, all of whom are his wives and sisters, but the one he loves the most is called Demoiselle Partlet.

One day at dawn, Partlet hears Chanticleer moaning strangely. When she inquires in alarm about this clamor, Chanticleer reveals that he has had a strange and terrifying dream. In the dream, a yellow-red beast with black-tipped ears and tail grabbed him and intended to kill him. Partlet scorns Chanticleer, saying it is only a dream and he is truly a coward to be frightened by it. She recommends he find herbs to purge his system; she is convinced nightmares are no more than a symptom of indigestion.

Chanticleer then defends his fear by recounting several stories in which very important and learned men were warned of impending disaster in their dreams. Those who heeded the warnings, taking the dreams seriously, were saved; but those who ignored the warning perished. Therefore, he concludes, he has every right to take the dream seriously. Furthermore, he tells Partlet that he puts no stock in laxatives. Then Chanticleer resorts to his usual cheerfulness and amorousness with his beloved. He appears to forget all about the dream.

Unknown to the family of fowls, that same night when Chanticleer was having his horrible nightmare, a sly yellow-red fox with black-tipped ears and tail had crept into the yard and is lying low among the herbs, waiting for his chance to attack Chanticleer. As the rooster is walking in the yard, he spies the fox and almost has a fit he is so frightened.

The fox tells Chanticleer not to be afraid, for he has come to listen to Chanticleer sing his remarkable songs. He flatters Chanticleer so lavishly that the vain fellow is completely disarmed and begins to crow. While the rooster is thus distracted, Sir Russell, the fox, snatches the bird in his mouth and begins to run, intending to kill and eat Chanticleer.

Partlet and the other hens begin to shriek madly, raising such a din that the widow, her children, the dogs, and then the entire neighborhood begin to chase the fox. All the barnyard animals run around, scream, and add to the chaos.

When Sir Russell reaches the edge of the forest, he stops a moment to rest. At this point, the clever Chanticleer says that the fox should just tell the pursuing crowd to give up since the marvelous fox is so much faster at running than they are. It is obvious Sir Russell cannot be overtaken. The proud fox opens his mouth to utter the boast suggested by the rooster, and Chanticleer flies out of his mouth up into a tree beyond the fox's reach.

The fox again tries to trick Chanticleer by flattery, but the rooster has learned his lesson. He refuses to succumb again to the fox's flattery and deception. Sir Russell skulks away and Chanticleer is saved.

The Host enthusiastically congratulates the priest on an excellent tale, adding comments about the priest's surprising vigor and manliness to the commentary.

Discussion and Analysis
The Host is greatly relieved when the Monk is prevented by the Knight from recounting any more of his ponderous recital. When the Priest agrees to tell a merry tale, the entire company is delighted.

The Nun's Priest's Tale of Chanticleer is one of the finest beast fables in the English language. In this format, beasts personify humans and exaggerate Man's characteristics, usually for the purpose of teaching a lesson. The characters, as in this case with Chanticleer, often make use of classical learning to solidify their moral instruction.

Chaucer probably based this story on the French Roman de Renart and the German Reinhart Fuchs; but, as was his custom, the author of The Canterbury Tales dramatically altered the plots. In the European models, the rooster is a self-centered idiot who repeatedly refused to listen to warnings. As the reader has observed, Chaucer's Chanticleer, although somewhat vain, is a victim of love. He overrides his own better judgment and goes into the yard to please Partlet whom he loves very dearly. It is, therefore, for love of Partlet that Chanticleer becomes the fox's victim.

The obvious moral lesson of the foolishness of succumbing to empty flattery diverts attention from a more subtle warning to beware the advice of women. This was a popular medieval theme. Woman, the original seductress, was the source of much of Man's sinfulness. As the weaker and less intellectually endowed of the two sexes, Woman was not a reliable counselor. This theme is in deliberate stark contrast to the Tale of Melibeus, whose central figure, Prudence the wise wife, counsels patience and prevents a war.

The tale is suitable to the teller when one considers the position of the Nun's Priest. He is the servant of the Prioress who appears to be silly and sentimental. His work forces him to live in a community of women drawn by her to the convent; it is likely that they are as silly as their mistress, in which case, the Priest would naturally have a somewhat low opinion of women.

In the Epilogue to the tale, the Host is once again in high good humor and full of bawdy teasing for the Priest. He next invites the Wife of Bath to tell her story.

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10: The Monk's Tale Summary and Analysis

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12: The Wife of Bath's Tale Summary and Analysis

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