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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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THEMES

DREAMS

The relevance and importance of dreams, like the relevance of astrology and dreams/visions in the Miller's Tale, still provoke lively debate today. Is Chanticleer's dream valid in the Freudian sense-dealing with anxiety and wish-fulfillment-or is it, as some would still believe, a psychic way of revealing the future? Chanticleer gives us plenty of ammunition for believing that dreams can tell the future, but do you believe his stories? Does the fact that his dream does come true give more weight to the psychic idea? Or is the dream another way of showing that everything in the world is predetermined and man's actions are pointless?

DESTINY AND FREE WILL

This is a complex issue that is brought up in the tale but not resolved. We are told two contradictory things: that man is free to make his own choices (as Chanticleer is free to accept or reject Pertelote's advice), and that he is not free because everything is already destined (which means the fox will attack no matter whose advice Chanticleer follows). Both ideas are right, but neither is completely right. That's the problem of being human.

HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY

This ties in with destiny, as all the themes interweave in this tale. Man is responsible to a divine plan and, on a romantic level, responsible to love and honor. Chanticleer feels he must answer to his wives as well as take care of his own business of crowing and sovereignty over the barnyard.

LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE

This is what separates humans from animals since, in this sense, Chanticleer and Pertelote and the fox are as human as they come. The wisdom that the rooster and fox learn from experience goes beyond the natural order of things into the higher realm of God's good, where they, like we, learn a "moral." As the end of the tale states, all that is written is written for our "doctrine" (learning, and also church doctrine).


KINDS OF LOVE

The language of courtly love emphasizes the sensual animal love that Chanticleer has for Pertelote. According to courtly tradition, this is the love through which a knight perfects himself and wins grace from his lady. But at the same time we get scattered references to woman as man's destruction and responsible for Adam's fall. Even where the narrator thinks better of his attack on women (after all, he's speaking in front of his "boss," the Prioress, the other nuns, and the imposing Wife of Bath), the words are there for us to consider. The kinds of love can't be resolved, but they're both there.

DECEPTION AND PRIDE

Chanticleer allows himself to be deceived by the fox because he is flattered and proud of his singing ability, which he believes even makes the sun rise (line 38). He also deceives Pertelote, in mistranslating the Latin saying about women, to impress her and boost his estimation in her eyes (at least, this has been argued). Because of pride he falls and learns his lessons the hard way.

ATTITUDES TOWARD WOMEN

Are women the cause of the Fall, as Chanticleer and the narrator hint, however jokingly, or are they indeed "man's bliss"? We are given indications of both attitudes, since Chanticleer does "fall" by following the urgings of his practical wife, but he also attributes all the joy in his life to her love. He is called a servant of Venus, because he follows love with such devotion, but he also follows God, believing that his dream is sent from heaven. Each belief would indicate a different attitude toward women.

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Barron's Booknotes-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free Book Notes
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