The Nun's Priest's Tale  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Medieval literature, dream vision, flattery

The Nun's Priest's Tale is one of The Canterbury Tales by the 14th century Middle English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. The 625-line tale of Chanticleer and the Fox is a beast fable and a mock epic, which may have existed before Chaucer, but was at the very least popularized by him.

The tale follows the monk's depressing accounts of despots and fallen heroes and, as well as sharing these themes, the tale also parodies them. It also has ideas in common with earlier tales with the marriage between Chanticleer and Pertelote echoing the domestic lives depicted in tales like Franklin's and The Tale of Melibee. These different themes help to unify several tales. The "Nun's Priest's Tale" offers a lively story from a previously almost invisible character.

Like many of the tales, the date Chanticleer was written cannot be fixed with any accuracy, although 1392 is a frequently considered date. Chaucer based his adaptation on Del cok e del gupil, the work of the 12th century French poet Marie de France, and the 13th century French epic Le Roman de Renart. There are also echoes of several of Aesop's fables. This blend of fable and beast epic gives the tale much of its liveliness, but the extent to which Chaucer meant it to be an allegory or even to satirise allegorical animal stories is uncertain.


The fable concerns a world of talking animals who reflect both human insight and error. Its protagonist is Chanticleer, a proud rooster who dreams of his approaching doom in the form of a fox. Frightened, he awakens Mademoiselle Pertilote, the only hen among his seven wives with whom he is infatuated. She assures him that he only suffers from indigestion and chides him for paying heed to a simple dream. Chanticleer recounts stories of prophets who foresaw their deaths, dreams that came true, and dreams that were more profound (e.g. the "Dream of Scipio"). Chanticleer is comforted by Pertilote and proceeds to greet a new day.

Unfortunately for Chanticleer, he predicted his doom correctly. A sly fox, Sir Russell who has tricked Chanticleer's father and mother to their downfalls, now awaits Chanticleer. Sir Russell plays to Chanticleer’s inflated ego, insisting that he would love to hear the rooster crow as his amazing father did, with his neck outstretched, his eyes closed, and standing on his tiptoes. When Chanticleer sticks his neck out and closes his eyes, he is promptly snatched from the yard in the fox’s jaws. As the fox flees through the forest, Chanticleer (all the while dangling from the fox’s mouth) suggests that the fox should pause to tell his pursuers to give up their chase.

Now the fox's haughtiness is his undoing: as the fox opens his mouth to taunt his pursuers, the rooster falls out and proceeds to fly up the nearest tree. The fox tries in vain to convince the wary Chanticleer, who now prefers the safety of the tree and fails to fall for the same trick a second time.

The Nun's Priest elaborates his slender tale with epic parallels drawn from ancient history and chivalry and spins it out with many an excursus, showing his learning, then wraps up his story with a moral, admonishing his audience to be careful of reckless decisions and of "truste on flaterye," ending with an "Amen!"


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Nun's Priest's Tale" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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