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451 Study Questions for Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale

Vocabulary: beast fable, oneiromancy, four humors

Useful Middle English terms: sweven (dream)

Lecture Questions: Who are what was the popular figure Reynard in French literature? How is he connected to "Daun Russel" in this tale?

Character Identifications: the Nun's Priest, Harry Bailey, the Monk, (from the tale itself): the poor widow, her two daughters, Malle, Chauntecleer, Pertalote, Daun Russell the Fox

(From "The Prologue of the Nun's Priest's Tale," lines 2769-2820)

  • Who or what interrupts the Monk in his series of tragedies? What excuse is given for this interruption?
  • Why do you suppose the Knight would find the Monk's tales particularly disturbing?
  • How does Harry Bailey react to the Knight's statement about tragedy? What does Harry Bailey say the Monk's tales lack in line 2791?
  • The Host turns to the Monk and tries to get him to tell a second tale. What does he want the Monk to talk about?
  • How does the Monk react to this?
  • When the Monk refuses to play further, Harry Bailey turns to whom next for a tale? Note how Geoffrey describes the Host's wording in line 2808-15. Why is the Host being so rude? [Hint: Review the problems Harry has had with earlier ecclesiastics like the Prioress (7.446+) and the Parson in (2.1170+). What is Harry Bailey's attitude toward religious authority figures generally?]

The Nun's Priest's Tale

  • What animals does Chaucer catalog as belonging to the poor widow?
  • What does Chaucer mean when he says, "she eet ful many a sklendre meal"?
  • Although the widow has gout, this doesn't prevent her from doing what fun activity?
  • Note that the widow keeps her yard "enclosed al aboute" (i.e., in a circle) and surrounded by a fence of sticks and a ditch. This ordered, circular structure is intended to remind us of what structure in The Knight's Tale?
  • What is the name of the widow's prize rooster?
  • There is no match in all the surrounding land for Chauntecleer when it comes to one talent. What talent is that where he has no peer?
  • Chauntecleer is obviously well educated! How does he determine when it is time to crow?
  • The description of Chauntecleer in lines 2858-2865 mimics the description of what figure in courtly literature?
  • How many paramours does Chauntecleer have?
  • What is the name of the fairest hen in the henyard?
  • What power do birds and beasts have in the old days, according to the Nun's Priest?
  • What nightmare does Chauntecleer have that makes him groan and cluck in his sleep?
  • What is the beast that Chauntecleer sees in his sleep? (Hint: Examine the description to figure it out.)
  • What is Pertalote's reaction to seeing her handsome knight Chauntecleer terrified of a dream?
  • When Pertalote describes what wives want out of husbands, who is she quoting from earlier in The Canterbury Tales? What's funny about Pertalote chastizing her husband for cowardice? (I.e., what is he--and she?)
  • In lines 2919 and onward, Pertalote explains her theory of dreams. What do they mean and from where do they come, according to her?
  • What figure from classical antiquity does Pertalote quote as an authority to prove that dreams are meaningless?
  • What remedy does Pertalote offer to "purge" (hint!) Chauntecleer of his nightmares?
  • How does Chauntecleer say he will prove "al the revers" of Cato's doctrine?
  • In Chauntecleer's story of two men on pilgrimage, who does he quote as his source in line 2984?
  • In Chauntecleer's first story, where has the body been hidden? How does his companion learn of its location?
  • In Chauntecleer's second story, what source does he cite for its origin in lines 3064-65?
  • In the second story, the two travelers sailing by boat are warned in a dream about what? How does the dreamer react to this warning?
  • In lines 3106-145, Chauntecleer lists six more examples in which dreams proved to be prophetic. Who are these six people and what is each one's story?
  • After arguing with his wife, Chauntecleer quotes the Latin proverb, "In principio, Mulier est hominis confusio." ("In the beginning, woman was the destruction [or confusion] of mankind." However, he offers a quite different translation to Pertalote. What does he tell her the Latin means? Why do you suppose he has altered the translation?
  • After "winning" the argument with Pertalote, what does Chauntecleer assert about his fear of dreams?
  • The next day, how many times does Chauntecleer "feather" (i.e., have sex with) Pertalote?
  • The Nun's Priest describes our rooster as he "looketh as it were a grym leoun"--stealing a line from Homer. What's the humor of his epic hero-style description?
  • The Nun's Priest compares the fox to Scariot, Genylon, and Greek Synon. Explain these three allusions. Who is Judas Iscariot, Ganelon from The Song of Roland, and Sinon from Homeric writings?
  • According to the Nun's Priest in lines 3250-66, there is a difference between his own attitude toward women and Chauntecleer's attitude. What is that difference?
  • Think for a moment about the Nun's Priest and his job as a confessor to a group of Nuns in a nunnery. What is the connection between our storyteller and Chauntecleer?
  • When Chauntecleer first spies the fox, what does he do?
  • The fox comes up with a cunning lie. Why does he say he has come to see Chauntecleer?
  • How does the fox Russel get Chauntecleer to stretch out his neck and close his eyes?
  • When the Nun's Priest calls out, "Allas, his wyf [Pertalote] ne roghte nat of dremes!" what is the irony here? Who else (in addition to Pertalote) ignored the warning of the dream?
  • In an irony reversal of theodicy, the narrator asks why Chauntecleer had to die potentially. What god does the narrator pray to here? Why is that deity particularly appropriate for a rooster? What services has the rooster rendered in honor of this divine being? Why does the day Friday seem especially inappropriate for this? (Hint: Look up the etymology of Friday and see what divine being it is linked to--the Norse equivalent of the deity addressed in line 4532.)
  • The fate of Chauntecleer and the accompanying lamentation is compared to the Iliad, the Aeneid, Hannibal's attack on Rome and the Roman destruction of Carthage, Nero's destruction of Rome, and so on. What is the intended effect of applying this comparisons to the possible death of a chicken?
  • What three humans chase the fox in an attempt to rescue Chauntecleer? Who follows them in pursuit in line 3382? Who joins them in lines 3383-86? Who joins in the hot pursuit in line 3390-91? Finally, what group of insects joins the pursuit?
  • If we wanted to do a theological reading of the poem, we have three beings in charge of the circled, ordered, wall enclosure who own or who are in control of the other creatures therein. What would these three women represent? Why three of them? If we continue with this line of reasoning, the trickster Daun Russel would be who or what spiritual being? What is the significance of the entire farm (including ducks and bees) pursuing the fox to rescue Chauntecleer?
  • How does Chauntecleer trick the fox into opening his mouth so Chauntecleer can escape?
  • As soon as the fox opens his mouth, how does Chauntecleer ensure he will not be easily seized again? (i.e., to what place of safety does he fly?)
  • How does the fox attempt to lure Chauntecleer down again?
  • What is Chauntecleer's response?
  • The rooster earlier made a moral point about events in lines 3190-205. However, he offers a better moral to the story in lines 3426-3431. What moral does Chauntecleer offer?
  • The fox, however, sees a different moral to the story. What moral or lesson does Russell draw from past events? Which moral do you like better--Chauntecleer's or Russell's?
  • What effect does the Nun's Priest's Tale have on Harry Bailey? How does he change in the way he addresses the priest? What does the Host say would have been the case if the Priest had been "seculer"?


A. Me mette how that I romed up and doun
Withinne our yeerd, wheer as I saugh a beest
Was lyk an hound, and wolde han maad areest
Upon my body, and wolde han had me deed.
His colour was bitwixe wyelow and reed,
And tipped was his tayl and bothe his eeris
With blak, unlyk the remenant of his heeris:
His snowte smal, with glowyng eyen tweye.

B. And therefore, faire Pertelote so deere,
By swiche ensamples olde maistow leere
That no man sholde beent o reccheless
Of dremes; for I seye thee, douteless,
That many a dreem ful soore is for to drede.

C. "For al so siker as In principio,
Mulier est hominis confusio
Madame, the sentence of this Latyn is,
'Womman is mannes joye and al his blis.'
For whan I feele a-nyght your softe syde--
Al be it that I may nat on yow ryde,
For that oure perche is maad so narwe, allas--
I am so ful of joye and of solas,
That I diffye both sweven and dreem."

D. "Gentil sire, allas, wher wol ye gon?
Be ye affrayed of me that am youre freend?
. . . I am nat come youre conseil for t'espye,
But trewely, the cause of myu ccomynge
Was oonly for to herkne how that ye synge.
For trewely, ye have a smyrie a stevene
As any aungel hath that is in hevene.

E. This Chauntecleer stood hye upon his toos,
Strecchynge his nekke, and heeld his eyen cloos,
And gan to crowe loude for the nones.

F. "Sire, if that I were as ye,
Yet sholde I seyn, as wys God helpe me,
'Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle!
A verray pestilence upon yow falle!
Now I am come unto the wodes syde;
Maugree youre heed, the cok shal heere abyde.
I woly hym ete, in feith, and that anon!'"

G. "Allas!" quod he, "O Chauntecleer, allas!
I have to yow," quod he, "Ydoon trespas,
In as muche as I maked yow aferd
Whan I yow hente and broghte out of the yerd.
But, sire, I dide it in no wikke entente.
Come doun, and I shal telle yow what I mente."

H. "Nay thenne . . .
If thou bigyle me ofter than ones.
Thou shalt namoore thurgh thy flaterye
Do me to synge and wynke with myn ye;
For he that wynketh, whan he shold esee,
Al wilfully, God lat him nevere thee!"

I. "Nay," quod the fox, "but God yeve hym meschaunce,
That is so indiscreet of governaunce,
That jangleth whan he sholde holde his pees."

J. "But ye that holden this tale a folye,
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,
Taketh the moralite, goode men.
For Seint Paul seith that al that writen is,
To oure doctrine it is ywrite, ywis;
Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille. "


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