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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THE NUN'S PRIEST'S TALE

PLOT

In the introduction to the tale, the Knight interrupts the Monk and tells him to stop telling his tragic tales-they're annoying. The monk refuses to tell a different one, so the Host turns to the Nun's Priest, Sir John, and asks him to tell a merry tale. The priest obliges.

The story begins with a poor widow who supports herself and her two daughters as best she can by raising a few animals. She's contented because her desires are moderate; she wants no more than what she has.

The scene shifts to the yard, where Chanticleer the rooster, the best crower you've ever heard, rules over his seven hens. His favorite is Pertelote, who sings with him (this story takes place in the days when animals could speak and sing, we're told) and sits next to him on his perch at night.

Pertelote wakes before dawn to hear Chanticleer moaning in his sleep because of a nightmare. She asks what's wrong. He's afraid of the dream, in which a doglike animal wants to kill him. Pertelote taunts him for being afraid of a stupid dream, which doesn't mean anything. Bad dreams come from eating too much, she says, and offers to make him a laxative that will cure his nightmares.

Chanticleer launches into a long defense of dreams that foretell what will happen. But he ends by saying that with his fair lady by his side he is so filled with joy that he's not afraid of nightmares or dreams.

It's now daylight, so he ignores his fears and flies into the yard, mounting Pertelote twenty times by midmorning. But's it's unfortunate that he took his wife's advice to dismiss his dream, for the fox is waiting for him in the bushes to carry him off.


The rooster is terrified, but the fox tells Chanticleer he doesn't mean to harm him. He has heard that he's a marvelous crower, as good as his father was. Chanticleer's father and mother, the fox says slyly, were once guests at his house. Could Chanticleer imitate his father's crowing?

Big headed from the flattery, Chanticleer closes his eyes to crow. As he stretches his neck, the fox grabs him, throws him across his back, and dashes off. The hens, cackling madly, begin the world's sorriest lament, which brings out the widow and her daughters. A chase scene ensues.

As they're running, Chanticleer tells the fox that if he were the fox, he'd turn and tell the crowd that it's too late, the bird is his. Good idea, says the fox, and of course as soon as he opens his mouth, Chanticleer escapes up into a tree. The fox tries to lure him down, but Chanticleer vows not to make the same mistake twice. The tale ends with the narrator warning that even though this is just a story about animals, there's a moral in it for people too.

In the epilogue the Host praises Sir John, not only for his tale, but for his manhood, making cracks about the hens he would need if he were a layman instead of a priest. The priest remains silent.

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