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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Nun’s Priest’s Tale Summary

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Last Updated November 10, 2022.

The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue

The Knight interrupts the Monk’s catalog of Fortune’s victims, for such tales make him greatly uneasy, and they do not mention all the men who have risen from poverty to prosperity, something much more pleasing to hear about. The Host agrees that the Monk has chattered noisily and annoyed the company. The Host is ready to fall off his horse in boredom. The Monk refuses to tell another story, so the Host calls on the Nun’s Priest, who agrees to relate a merry tale.

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

A poor widow and her two daughters live a simple life on a little farm. They have several animals, including the rooster Chauntecleer and his seven hen wives, including his favorite, Pertelote. Chauntecleer is a fine, beautiful, noble bird, and Pertelote is gracious and beautiful, and they sing appealingly together as they sit on their perch.

One night, Chauntecleer wakes from a disturbing dream, in which an orange animal with black-tipped ears and tail captures him. This causes the rooster a great deal of fear, but Pertelote scolds him for being a coward. She then argues that there is no reason to be frightened of dreams, for they mean nothing. They are caused by overeating and an imbalance of humors, and Chauntecleer simply needs a laxative.

Chauntecleer responds that many great men have attributed deep meaning to dreams. Dreams can show the future, he asserts, telling the stories of a murder revealed in a dream and the sinking of a ship predicted in a dream. Both the classical authors and scripture, the rooster explains, have treated dreams with seriousness. Chauntecleer then leaves off the topic, praises Pertelote, and enjoys her company.

Time passes, and one day a fox enters the farmyard and hides in the cabbage patch. Chauntecleer soon encounters the fox, and his dream comes true, in spite of Pertelote’s scoffing. The fox flatters the rooster, attracting him with kind words and compliments about his beautiful voice. The fox knew the rooster’s father and mother, who many times have been at his house, so there is no danger for Chauntecleer. The fox asks Chauntecleer to sing as his father used to, and the rooster closes his eyes, stretches out his neck, beats his wings, and sings. The fox grabs the bird by the throat and starts to carry him away.

When the hens realize what is happening, they cry out. The widow, her daughters, and all the farm animals begin to chase the fox. Chauntecleer speaks to his captor, inviting him to challenge those giving chase, but when the fox opens his mouth to do so, the rooster flies up into a tree. They have now both been tricked, one by flattery, the other into speaking when he should have held his tongue.

The Nun’s Priest’s Epilogue

The Host has greatly enjoyed the tale of Chauntecleer, and he thinks that the Nun’s Priest would make a good rooster. He is a fine fellow indeed and would attract many hens if he were not a religious man.

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