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451 Study Questions for Chaucer's "Cook's Tale"

Vocabulary: fabliau, fragment

Useful Middle English terms: whilom (once upon a time), bode (lived) swink (copulate)

Review the Cook's Portrait in the General Prologue:

  • Who does the Cook apparently work for in the pilgrimage company?
  • What does the Cook have on his shin? What does this indicate about the Cook's health or hygiene?
  • [Lecture: what color is the seepage coming from a "mormal" according to medieval medical books?]
  • What normal color is the "blankmanger" that the Cook fixes? [Hint: this dish comes from the French words blanc and mangere (to eat), which provides a clue] Why is this particularly gross, given earlier details about the Cook's health?

Identify the following characters:

Prologue: The Host (Harry Bailey), Hodge of Ware (alias The Cook of London)
Tale Itself: Perkin Revelour

Lecture: "Hodge" is a shortened version of what common English name today?
Why were hostellers and cooks economic rivals in the 14th century?
Where is Ware located? (I.e., it is a suburb of a larger city today--what city?)

Reading Questions:

(From "The Cook's Prologue"):

  • What pilgrim is so amused by the Reeve's Tale that "he clawed him on the bak" (i.e., he slapped the Reeve's back repeatedly)?
  • The Cook, however, seems to miss the point of the Reeve's tale. The Reeve concludes the moral of his tale by stating, "a gylour shal hymself begyled be." What practical (rather than ethical) conclusion does the Cook draw from "The Reeve's Tale" in lines 4331-34?
  • According to Hodge of Ware, where will his story be set, if he is allowed to tell the next tale?
  • Who grants Hodge of Ware permission to continue?
  • What does Harry Bailey declare about Hodge's cooking (i.e., how does he insult the Cook?)
  • What is a "stubbel goose"?
  • Why does the Cook get cursed by pilgrims, according to Harry?
  • Food for thought: Why do you suppose Harry Bailey attacks the Cook's food? Does he have an economic incentive here? Is is professional rivalry?
  • Alternatively, what have the Miller, the Reeve, and the Cook each done in terms of Harry's organization for the storytelling game? Why is that likely to make Harry cranky?
  • How does Harry Bailey try to soften the blow of his earlier words immediately after attacking the quality of the Cook's food? Why does he tell him "be nat wroth"?
  • How does Hodge turn Harry Bailey's admonition around? (i.e., why does the tell Harry Bailey not to be upset?)
  • What occupation is going to feature prominently in "The Cook's Tale" according to the conclusion of the "The Cook's Prologue"? Why is this likely to anger Harry Bailey the Host?

(From "The Cook's Tale" itself):

  • What is our protagonist's name in this tale?
  • What does "revelour" mean?
  • What is this "shop" that Perkin doesn't like as much as the tavern?
  • What are three of Perkin's favorite activities?
  • Why would "dicing" be so scandalous in the fourteenth-century?
  • With whom does Perkin "bood" (live) in the opening section of our story?
  • How does Perkin fund his partying?
  • Why does Perkin get kicked out of his living quarters?
  • What does Perkin's master fear will happen to the other apprentices if he keeps Perkin in his employment/training?
  • After being kicked out of his apprenticeship, Perkin settles in with two people--a married couple. What is the husband's occupation? What is the wife's occupation?


A. "For many a pastee hastow laten blood,
And many a Jakke of Dovere hastow soold
That hath been twies hoot and twies coold.
Of many a pilgrym hastow Christes curse,
For of thy percely yet they fare the wors,
That they han eten with thy stubbel goos,
For in thy shoppe is many a flye loos."

B. "Now telle on, gentil Roger by thyname
But yet I pray thee, be nat wroth for game:
A man may seye ful sooth in game and pley."

C. A prentyce whilom dwelled in oure citee,
And of a craft of vitailliers was hee.
Gaillard he was as goldfynch in the shawe,
Broun as a berye, a propre short felawe,
With lookes blake, ykembd ful fetisly.
Dauncen he koude so wel and joily
That he was cleped Perkyhn Revelour.

D. Anon he sente his bed and his array
Unto a compeer of his owene sort,
That lovede dys, and revel, and disport,
And hadde a wyf that heeld for contenance
A shoppe, and swyved for hir sustenance.

Concluding Thoughts:

Why does the Cook use an apprentice to a vitailler as his protagonist? (What is a vitailler?)

How does this tale reveal something of the Cook's own character?

How does this story fulfill (or not fulfill) the conventions of the fabliau? If it were finished, could it be some other sort of genre? (V. A. Kolve, for instance, points out that the introductory elements may not match the later unfinished elements in tone, mood, and subject.)

One of the two most significant manuscripts, the Hengwyrt, leaves the last page blank with a note saying, "Of this cokes tale maked Chaucer na moore."

Some scholars such as M. C. Seymour argue that Chaucer finished the Cook's Tale, but that the bulk of the tale was lost before it began being copied (See his 1990 article in Chaucer Review). Most scholars, however, assume Chaucer never finished the work. Why do you suppose Chaucer never finishes the Cook's Tale? Did he simply run out of time and good health? Or has he in Fragment I somehow "painted himself into a corner" by focusing on the theme of "quyting" and revenge"? Could Chaucer continue this theme indefinitely?

John Bowers shows that several later scribes in the 1400s and 1500s added their own conclusions to this tale--the Bodley Manuscript 686 being a prominent example. Why do you suppose so many later scribes wanted to add their own endings to this tale when they made less effort to add endings to other incomplete tales?

Alternatively, could this tale be complete as it currently stands? Professor Stanley in Poetica 5 argues that the story is a sort of ellipsis. The idea is that Chaucer wants to suggest that things just get "dirtier" and more "vengeful" in a non-ending spiral, so he gracefully drops the curtain and moves on to another set of stories. What do you think?




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