The Nun's Priest's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Discuss Chaucer's narrative art in "The Nun's Priest's Tale".

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Chaucer's narrative style is marked by a certain art of aesthetic that is evident in "The Nonne Preestes Tale." One characteristic of Chaucer's art is the use of a light-hearted tone that employs subtle humor. This characteristic is evidenced in various parts of this tale, for example, when the fox says:

"Nay," quod the fox, "but God yeve hym meschaunce,
That is so undiscreet of governaunce,
That jangleth, whan he sholde holde his pees."

A defining characteristic is Chaucer's brilliance with description. He employs various theories of description in various instances. For example, when he describes the "povre wydwe" (poor widow), he begins with her habits and ways of living. Aside from saying she is "somdel stape in age" (a little old), there is virtually no physical description of her at all (a great difference from his description of the wife of Bathe).

A contrasting example is his description of Chauntecleer. He approaches Chauntecleer through the theory that asserts descriptions should be physical and start at the top and work down the person (the same theory he applies to the wife of Bathe). As a result we learn first about his chief quality, his voice ("His voys was murier than the murie orgon"), then move to the coxcomb atop his head and end with his "nayles" and his overall coloration of "burned gold."

In typical Chaucerian fashion, a long digression into discourse is used to introduce the thematic import of the tale. Pertelote debates (citing references!) with Chauntecleer in all honesty ("I kan nat love a coward, by my feith") about the validity and meaning of dreams. After this long digressio, the villain is introduced and the conflict unfolds. We see the conflict rests on the fox's art of flattery ("many a fals flatour"), which is the opposite of Pertelote's straight talking pronouncements. A final point on Chaucer's art is that he mixes Christian allusion with Classical, which he may use, as in this tale, to build suspense:

O newe Scariot! newe Genyloun!   461
False dissymulour, O Greek synoun
That broghtest Troye al outrely to sorwe!

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