The Nun's Priest's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Who are Chanticleer and Pertelote in Chaucer's "The Nun's Priest's Tale"?

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In “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer adapts a traditional French folk tale that features a rooster and a hen. The story takes place in a barnyard.

Chanticleer is the rooster. By the time Chaucer wrote, this name and character was already established as a braggart figure, who was often a vain bully as well. That is his personality in this story, with his plumage and voice two elements inspiring his vanity.

While Chanticleer has seven wives, the hen Pertelote (also spelled Partlet) is his favorite. She initially offers a sympathetic ear when he tells her about a frightening dream about being eaten. She soon dismisses his fear, attributing it to something he ate, but later regrets the advice. The fox, Russell, flatters and fools the rooster, and then nearly does capture and eat him, but he escapes.

While Chanticleer’s vanity made him gullible, Perelote did not take him seriously and gave him bad advice; both factors combined to create a near-tragic end.

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In "The Nun's Priest's Tale," Chaucer constructs both a fable and a humorous mock epic that infuses many elements of human drama into the daily life of a barnyard. At the center of the tale is Chanticleer, a vain, proud rooster who reigns supreme over his realm (a relatively modest barnyard). However, by the end of the tale, Chanticleer's vanity gets him captured by the fox, Russell, and the rooster is forced to learn some well-deserved humility.

Pertelote is Chanticleer's favorite hen (the rooster enjoys the company of many of the hens in the barnyard), and she is depicted as if she were a noble lady at court. Thus, Chaucer gives the whole story a subtly satirical tone, as Pertelote and Chanticleer's relationship mirrors the relationship between a lord and lady at court. By rendering these relationships from the perspective of farm animals, Chaucer underlies his fable with a layer of humor. 

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