451 Study Questions for
Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale
fable, oneiromancy, four humors
Useful Middle English terms: sweven
Who are what was the popular figure Reynard in French literature? How is
he connected to "Daun Russel" in this tale?
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
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
- 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
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
- When Chauntecleer first spies the fox, what does
- 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
- 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
- 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
I woly hym ete, in feith, and that anon!'"
G. "Allas!" quod he, "O Chauntecleer,
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
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. "