The Nun's Priest's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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What idea is Chaucer conveying in "The Nun's Priest's Tale" and its relation to The Canterbury Tales?

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Chaucer does not appear to have a very high opinion of women in general, but he does show that one should be careful not to be taken in by flattery.

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In Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Nun's Priest's Tale," a story in The Canterbury Tales , the priest tells of a rooster, Chanticleer, who has beautiful plumage and a wonderful voice. He lives on a farm (owned by a widow and her kids) along with his seven hens (wives...

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and sisters), and he crows to begin each day.

One day Chanticleer has a terrible dream that portends disaster for him as a monster grabs and eats him, and he tells Demoiselle Partlet, the hen he loves the most, of his dream and his fears. She scoffs at his tale and tells him that there is no danger, but that indigestion must have caused the dream. She suggests medication, but Chanticleer chooses does not agree; however, talking to Partlet has made him feel better. He forgets about the dream and goes about showing his love for Partlet.

In truth, a fox matching the "monster's" description is waiting for his chance to capture and devour the rooster. Chanticleer sees him and is at first frightened, but the fox (Sir Russell) calms the fowl's fears, charming Chanticleer with empty praise regarding his voice. Chanticleer is so taken by the fox's words, that he starts to crow and immediately the fox makes off with him, intending to feed himself at Chanticleer's expense. When the rest of the barnyard realizes what has happened (Partlet and the other hens shriek wildly), the animals, and the household members and neighbors give chase. Chanticleer, rather clever himself, tells the fox to inform those chasing him that they will never catch the fox for he is much too fast. Falling for the same ruse Sir Russell has used on Chanticleer (appealing to the fox's vanity), the fox opens his mouth to talk and drops Chanticleer—who flies into a tree to safety. The fox tries to flatter Chanticleer again, but the rooster knows better, so the fox must go without his supper.

There are thought to be two morals in this story, one more obvious than the other. The first is that one needs to be careful not to be tricked by empty flattery. The second, however, may be directed toward men to avoid the advice of women. In Chaucer's day, society gave no credence to the words of women: had Chanticleer ignored Partlet's words, he would have been better off. In fact, it is his love for her that makes him ignore the "warning signs" he has received in his dream. The eNotes source on this tale suggests that the Nun is not really an admirable woman; in fact, the Priest is the servant to a seemingly silly woman and her silly nuns: there can be little doubt that the Priest has little respect for the Nun.

In terms of The Canterbury Tales in general, this tale points out wisdom that should be heeded (a moral), but it also provides the glimpse of a cross-section of members of medieval society from all walks of life. While the Church is powerful at the time, we find most of the servants of the Church (in the tale) thinking more about themselves and less about God: in fact, it is only the Parson who presented as a truly admirable member of the cloth.

One of the major themes of Chaucer's tales is that you shouldn't judge a person by looks or profession, but by his or her actions. This is also the Wife of Bath's message: though people are quick to tell you "who" they are, watching them gives one a better sense as to what is really important to a person.

In "The Nun's Priest's Tale," Partlet may not be very wise, but Chanticleer is devoted to her, and is to be admired for his love and dedication.

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