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Free Study Guide-The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer-Free BookNotes
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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES

The Nun's Priest’s Tale: Prologue

Summary

The Knight stops the Monk from continuing since he can no longer bear the dismal tales of woe and sorrow. He says that it is more gratifying to hear a tale about the rise in fortune of a poor man. The Host heartily agrees with the Knight’s interruption and asks the Monk to tell something else. He adds that the Monk’s Tale was so boring that he would have long ago fallen asleep were it not for the jingling of his bridle bells. He asks the Monk to tell a story about hunting instead. But the Monk is in no mood to indulge in frivolities and says that somebody else should tell a story. The Host then asks the Nun's Priest to tell a pleasant tale.

The Nun's Priest’s Tale

Summary

Once upon a time there lived an old widow along with her two daughters in a small cottage near a meadow. The widow led a very simple life since her income was frugal. Her meadow was enclosed with a wooden fence. Here the widow kept a magnificent cock named Chaunticleer. In the entire land Chaunticleer was unsurpassed in crowing. His voice was mellower than the mellowest organ. He had an instinctive knowledge of equinoctial cycles and revolutions of the planet. He thus "told the hour better than any clock in abbey-tower". His comb was redder than the choicest coral and crenellated like a castle wall. He had a glossy black beak and a body of burnished gold. Moreover Chaunticleer was also blessed with the power of speech. This cock had seven hens at his disposal. The hen with the brightest feathered throat was the lovely and gracious Lady Pertelote. Her social poise and gentility had captivated Chaunticleer’s heart.

Early one morning when Chaunticleer was sitting with his wives on the perch with the lovely Pertelote sitting next to him, he began to lurch and groan like a man who was badly troubled with a dream. When Pertelote asked him the reasons for his groans, Chaunticleer recounted a ghastly dream he had in which a beast was about to seize him and then kill him. The description of the yellow-red beast with black tipped ears, narrow snout and glowing eyes fits the appearance of a fox.


Pertelote rebuked Chaunticleer for his cowardice in being afraid of dreams and declared that he had quite lost her love by showing fear. She firmly asserts that dreams are the result of overeating, flatulence and imbalance of bodily humors. She is certain that an excess of red bile or choler caused Chaunticleer’s dream. She quotes Cato in support who stated that dreams are meaningless. She urges Chaunticleer to take some laxative to purge himself of choler and prescribes him a diet of worms as a digestive.

Chaunticleer thanks Pertelote for her advice but maintains that dreams aren’t meaningless but rather they foreshadow the joys and tribulations that one undergoes in life. He then proceeds to quote a string of ancient authorities in support of his argument. He recites Cicero’s story of two friends on a pilgrimage who couldn’t find any lodging in a busy town. They are thus forced to part company. While one found room in an inn, the other had to sleep in a farmyard barn. At night in the first pilgrim’s dream his friend appeared and said that he was sleeping in an ox’s stall and would be murdered at night unless he came to his aid. The pilgrim ignored the dream and went back to sleep. However he had the same dream twice and at the 3 rd time his friend appeared and said that he had been murdered for his gold and his body had been tossed in a dung laden cart at the town’s western gate. The next day the pilgrim awoke early and went to the barn in search of his friend. The innkeeper informed the pilgrim that his friend had already left early at dawn. However when the pilgrim saw an ox-stall he became suspicious and went to the west gate and found his friend’s body in a dung cart.

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