The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis


The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’—A Critical Analysis

The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis

Introduction: ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is a beast fable in verse. Its characters are not human beings but birds and animals i.e. a cock by the name of Chauntecleer and a fox by the name of Sir Russel. The tale shows how the cock was deceived by the flattery of the cunning fox and how the fox lost its chance of eating the cock being arrogant and losing self-control. The tale teaches us two moral lessons as one who is induced by flattery fall into peril and one who boasts and speaks, while he should remain silent, loses his desired thing. The style of treating and representing the theme is mock-heroic wherein the elements of satire, humour, allegory and dramatic notes predominate.

Subject Matter: ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ may be distinctly divided into three sections — the Prologue, the tales told by the Nun’s Priests, and the Epilogue.

The Prologue serves the purpose of background and introduction to ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’. In this Section, the poet gives a brief account of how ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ happened to be told. The background of taking shape of the tale is that once a company of thirty pilgrims including the poet went to a journey from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas at Canterbury. To break the boredom of their long journey the pilgrims, under the leadership of the Knight and the Host of a tabard agreed to tell two stories each while travelling to Canterbury and two each while returning from there. Acting upon that agreement the pilgrims told their stories. Amongst the pilgrims, one was a Monk. He told a very pathetic story of how a man of prosperity had fallen down to adversity.

After hearing the Monk’s Tale the Knight commented adversely and said that the story told by the Monk was highly tragic which had filled the hearts of the pilgrims with pain. The Host also supported the comment of the Knight and said that there was no joy in the tale told by the Monk. Then the knight requested the Nun’s Priest, a fellow traveller to tell a story that might gladden the hearts of the company. The Nun’s Priest agreed readily to tell his tale (story).

Thus after the Prologue (the introductory speech), the tale of the Nun’s Priest begins. The tale of the Nun’s Priest is comprised of several episodes, as- the episode of a widow, the episode of a dream of Chauntecleer the cock, and the episode of the significance of the dream and the cock and the fox episode.

First, comes the episode of a widow, who was poor, and somewhat advanced in age. She lived in a small cottage that was situated close to a groove in a valley. Since she became a widow, she began to lead a very simple and moderate life. Her income was meager. But she was contended with whatever God gave her. With her small income, she managed her family and lived happily with her two daughters

Among her belongings, there were three large sows (female pigs), three cows, and a sheep called Moll. Her kitchen and bedroom were sooty. She took a scanty meal. She never felt the need for pungent sauce. No delicious morsel of food passed through her throat. Her diet was in accordance with her means. Overeating never made her sick. She was physically hale and sound and fit as she ate moderately and took exercise.

Her food items were milk, bread, eggs and bacon. She had a yard enclosed all round with sticks. There was a dry ditch outside the yard. In the yard, she had a cock by the name of Chauntecleer which lived happily with her seven hens who were his wives. In all the land there was no equal to Chauntecleer at crowing. His voice was merrier than the merry organ. His crowing in the cottage was more reliable than a clock or an abbey timepiece. He knew by instinct the beginning of each equinox. His comb was redder than fine coral. His bill was black and it shone like a jet. His legs and toes were sky-blue. His nails were whiter than lily and his colour was like burnished gold. His seven hens were wonderfully like him in colour. The one who had the best coloring on her throat was called the fair lady Pertelote. She was courteous, discreet and gracious. She was companionable. She was so beautiful that truly speaking, since the day when she was only seven nights old she won the love of Chauntecleer which was now locked in each of her limbs. He was in love with her and all was well with him. Every morning they sang in sweet harmony, ‘My beloved has gone away to the village.’

Here the poet attributes human qualities to the cocks and hens. From an allegorical view-point, the cock and hens represent human beings especially a couple of husband and wife.

After this, the dream episode comes. The poet says that one morning while Chauntecleer was sitting on his perch with all her hens (seven wives) then suddenly Chauntecleer began to groan in his throat like one who felt sorely troubled in a dream. And when Pertelote heard him rise in such a manner she feared and said to Chauntecleer what made him roar in that manner. She said that it was a matter of shame for Chauntecleer to groan in such a way.

Then Chauntecleer replied that he saw a dream last night. In his dream, he saw a beast resembling a hound that had seized his body and had him dead. The colour of the beast was yellow and red. His tail and ears were tipped with black unlike the rest of his body. His eyes were glowing and the snout was small. Chauntecleer said that he was almost dead on account of this fear of that beast’s look.

After hearing the description of Chauntecleer’s dreams, his wife Pertelote began to mock at him. She said that to be afraid of a beast was a matter of shame for Chauntecleer. She said him to be a coward. She, being insolent said to her husband Chauntecleer that she had lost her love to him because she did not want to love a coward. All women want that their husbands to be hardy, wise, generous and trustworthy. They never want a husband who is foolish, boaster and who is afraid of any weapon. She rebuked him saying that he had no manly heart.

After saying so Pertelote began to put forward his arguments against dreams that dreams are folly or fancy. Dreams are produced by overeating and often by vapour and by physical disorder when touches of humour are excessive in a person. She put forward her arguments against his dream saying that the dream seen by Chauntecleer was due to the superfluity of red bile in him The superfluity of red bile causes a man to be afraid of arrows, of fire with red flames, of red coloured beasts and of cubs large or small. In this way, the humour of melancholy causes many people to cry in their sleep for fear of black beasts or black bulls or the black devil. In favour of her arguments, she quotes from Cato that dreams are not to be afraid of.

Here we see that Pertelote persuades her best to convince her husband that dreams are nothing to be afraid of. After putting forward her argument, she puts forwards some suggestions to pursue of the bad effect of the humour in his body. Her suggestion is that he should purge himself by taking some laxatives. She persuades him that she will find some herbs like laurel, centaury, fumitory and some others from the yard and Chauntecleer should have them without delay.

Her suggestion to have the herbs is really medicinal. It shows that she has good knowledge of medieval ayurvedic medicine. Besides this, her suggestion is totally womanish as generally in our days it is seen.

Chauntecleer is very adamant about his views that dreams are not to be ignored. They have significance in real life. So Chauntecleer repudiates his wife’s advice and puts forwards some instances in favour of his view that dreams have meanings.

In his first instance (example), Chauntecleer quotes a story (probably from the writings of Cicero) as – once there were true friends who went on a pilgrimage with good intention. They went on and came into a town where there was such a scarcity of accommodation that they did not find a place or cottage to spend the night together. So the two friends, for the night, parted from each other for shelter. One of them was lodged in a stall with oxen and the other was lodged in another place comfortably.

Then the friend who was lodged well saw a dream in his sleep. In his sleep, he saw that his friend who was lodged in a stall had come to him and said that he was going to be murdered this night. So he asked for his help otherwise he would die. The man startled up of his sleep. But he gave no heed to the dream and thought that dreams are mere fancy. Thus in his sleep, he dreamed twice. The third time, he saw the same dream and then he saw that his friend, coming to him began to say that he is slain now. He asked his friend to look at her bloody deep wounds. Then the man said to his friend that his dead body had been hidden in a cart full of dung.

Even he directed his friend to rise up early in the morning and asked him to go to the west gate of the town where his body was laid gaping upward amid the dung in the cart.
The next morning the man got up and went to the place where his friend slept. When he called by his friend’s name, the hostler of the stall said that the man had left the place before it was morning. On hearing this, he grew suspicious and went to the west gate of the town as he was directed in his dream. Going there he found the cart and then he began to cry and call for vengeance and justice for that crime. He shouted loudly asking for help. Then people rushed out and overturned the cart and in the midst of the dung they found the dead body of the murdered man. Then the magistrate of the town arrested the cart man and the hostler and hanged them by the neck bone.

In the second instance in support of his view that dreams have significance Chauntecleer says that once two friends had to cross the sea for a distant country. But the wind was unfavorable. So they decided to spend the night at a town beside the sea coast and planned that they would begin their voyage the next morning. That night, while they were asleep, one of the two fellows had a dream. In his dream, he saw that a man came to him, stood by his bedside and commanded him to stay where he was and said to him that if he would go the next day on their voyage then they would be drowned. After dreaming so, he told his companion what he had dreamed and prayed for him to postpone their voyage. But his friend who lay in bed beside him began to laugh and scorn him. His friend commented that he did not care a straw for his dream as dreams were merely fancies and tricks. So being negligent of the dream, he bade goodbye to his friend and set out for his voyage the next early morning. But before he had sailed half his course, the bottom of his ship spilt accidentally and the ship with all its passengers went underwater in sight of other ships.

In this instance, Chauntecleer persuades Pertelote that there are some dreams which are sore to be dreaded.

After this Chauntecleer goes on to put forward some other instances from history and mythology in support of his views on dreams. Chauntecleer made an allusion that saint Kenelm, who was Kenelphus’ son, the noble King of Mercia dreamed that he was murdered. His nurse explained every detail of his dream and bade him guard himself properly against treason. But he was seven years old then and paid no heed to the dream. Consequently, he was murdered in treason.

Besides this, Chauntecleer brings forward some others who hold the view that dreams have significance. He told that Macrobius who wrote about the vision of Scipio in Africa also said that dreams are the warning of things that men meet afterward. Alone with this, Chauntecleer alludes to the names of Daniel, Joseph, Pharao, and Croesus who had held the views that dreams bore meaning. In his last instance, Chauntecleer says about the dream of Andromache the wife of Hector, a Trojan hero. One night Andromache dreamed that her husband Hector would lose his life in battle. She warned him but it did not avail. He went out to fight and was slain at once by Achilles.

From these instances, we see that Chauntecleer is wise enough to explain his views on dreams and admonishes his fair lady Pertelote that dreams should not be passed unheeded.

After persuading Pertelote, to be not negligent of dreams, Chauntecleer says about his amorous relationship with her dear wife Pertelote. In praise of Pertelote, he says that he is happy enough with her. Because he says, when he looks at her face, she becomes enamored of her matchless beauty as her face was so scarlet-red around her eyes that it makes all his fear come to an end. Then he cites a sentence from Latin in praise of his wife which means, ‘Woman is man’s joy and all his bliss.’ He says more that when he feels the soft side of her body at night, though he cannot mount her (for sexual intercourse) because of the narrowness of their perch. Yet he becomes full of joy and solace that he defies both vision and dream. And with that word, he flew down from the rafter, for it was already day. With him, all his hens also flew down. And with a cluck, he called his hens as he found some corn lying in the yard. Then he feathered Pertelote twenty times and trod on her as often before it was fully morning.

Here sacred relations (the sexual relationship) between husband and wife has got narration amorously.

After this, the episode of the Cock and Fox has begun. On the 3rd May morning, as he was crowning joyfully walking here and there with his wives, he suddenly happens to see a collfox who was full of cunning injustice. He had been living in the grove for three years. On that morning he was laying in a bed of herbs until it was passed mid-morning and was waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon Chauntecleer with the same joy which is felt by all murderers who lie in wait to kill their victims. Seeing the fox, he jumped up like one who was frightened in his heart. Chauntecleer, when he caught a glimpse of the fox, would have fled, but the fox immediately said, ‘Noble sir, alas, where would you go? Are you afraid of me who am your friend?” Saying so, the fox began to flatter the cock and said that he had come to him, not with any evil intention, but to hear his song. He praised the cock saying that he had a voice sweeter than anyone else. He sings as his father used to sing. Certainly, all that he sang came from the heart. By such sweet words, he incited the cock to crow shutting up her eyes and standing on his tip-toe stretching forth his long and slender neck. Being puffed off by the flattery of the fox, the cock stood high upon his toes, stretching his neck and closing his eyes began to crow. Then all of a sudden the fox pounced upon the cock and seized Chauntecleer by the throat and carried him on his back towards the woods. Then the hens began to make hue and cry. The poor widow with her two daughters, hearing the hue and cry, came out of doors and shrieked for help. Then other people in the locality rush out with sticks. The dogs, which were called Call, Talbot, Gerland, Malvin, and even the hogs and cows came out and all ran after the fox. They cried and shouted so noisily and sorrowfully that the wives of the Troy- heroes did not cry so louder when their husbands were killed in the war. Neither Hasdrubal’s wife nor the Romans made such an outcry while Rome was burnt by Nero.

Amid such a noisy and boisterous situation the cock designed a trick and began to flatter the fox by saying that if he had been in place of the fox, then he would have mocked at the chasing crowd that he had reached the edge of the woods and none could rescue the victim. I would eat him at once.

Being induced by the cock’s flattery the fox lost its self-control and said, “In faith, it shall be done! As soon as the fox gapped up to utter the words, the cock broke nimbly from his mouth and at once flew high up a tree. When the fox saw that the cock was gone he said, ‘Alas, O Chauntecleer, alas! I made you afraid when I seized you … but sir, I did it with no wicked intention …. Come down, I shall tell you what I meant ….” Then the cock said that he could never be deceived twice. Because God never lets him prosper who is moved by the flattery of somebody. Hearing this moral from the cock, the fox also draws a moral out of the incident and said that one should not speak while he should remain silent.

Thus with these two moral lessons, the fable of the cock and fox comes to an end.

The poet, after making an end to the tale, adds an ‘Epilogue’ (concluding speech) to the tale where he praises him (Nun’s Priest) and blesses him so that good luck befalls him for his good tale.

Style: The style of ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is heroic. The poet uses the characteristics of heroic poetry to the trivial theme of a cock and a fox. His style of treating the subject matter is realistic and detailed. He describes his characters as if his eyes were wandering over them noticing a detail here and a detail there. His narration is dramatic in nature; his device is ironical, allegorical, and poetic which is full of miscellaneous references and allusions from history mythology legends, and classical literature. There is an abundant use of similes also. 0 0 0.

The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis

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The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis

N. B. The article ‘The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis’ originally belongs to the book entitled ‘Critical Essays on English Poetryby Menonim Menonimus.

The Nuns Priests Tale—A Critical Analysis

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  15. A Brief History of Arabic Literature: Early Islamic Period (622 AD-661 AD) …

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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