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About The Canterbury Tales:|
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.
About The Nun's Priest's Prologue, Tale and Epilogue:
The Knight interrupts the Monk, who narrates about men that have fallen from grace. Instead the Knight likes to hear about men that rise in stature. The Host asks the Monk to tell another tale, however the Monk refuses at this time. The Host then asks the Nun's Priest to tell a tale.
The Nun's Priest's tale is a beast fable, which was a popular genre in medieval times and still popular in stories told and read to children. The plot is about a rooster called Chauntecleer that lives with seven hens (female chickens) and several other animals in the yard of a poor old widow and her daughters. The seven hens are the sisters and paramours of Chauntecleer (line 101). So Chauntecleer has an incestuous relationship with his seven sisters? Well, human relationships and obligations do not apply to animals, neither does family law. We may assume that Chauntecleer has seven wives, although the rooster and hens are not married. Maybe Chauntecleer has sex with his sisters. So what? He is a rooster. Maybe "sister" means "female friend". Anyway, Chauntecleer's favourite chicken is Pertelote (or Dame Pertelote). The narrator remarks that at that time beasts and birds could speak and sing (line 114-115). Beast fables could not exist without talking and singing animals. And of course the animals are able to recite and quote from works of Cato, Plato, Seneca, Greek and Roman myths, the Bible and more, if necessary.
One morning Chauntecleer wakes up frightened, Pertelote asks him what is wrong. Chauntecleer replies that he has had a bad dream in which he was nearly caught by an animal “lyk an hound” (line 134). The “hound’s” colour was somewhere between yellow and red and his tail and both his ears were tipped with black. Little spoiler here, Chauntecleer describes the coal fox that comes later in the story. Pertelote mocks him because dreams are meaningless visions caused by a disbalance of bodily fluids. She pulls in lenghty quotations from classical writers to make her point (and Chauntecleer replies with lenghty quotes). She advises him to find and eat some herbs to restore the balance of fluids in his body. Chauntecleer more or less thanks Pertelote for her advice. He finds some grain in the yard, calls all the hens to reveal the grain and jumps on Pertelote to copulate with her twenty times before prime (lines 411-412). Pertelote does not protest and the chickens happily have sex.
Some time later at the beginning of April Chauntecleer walks proudly through the yard and spots a coal fox who has broken through the fence. The fox addresses Chauntecleer and claims to be his friend who has even known Chauntecleers's parents. Chaunteleer's father was an excellent singer, says the fox, who stretched out before and during singing. The fox asks if Chauntecleer is able to sing likewise. Roosters are stupid, although they know classical writers and the Bible, so Chaunticleer stretches out, closes his eyes and starts to sing. Not so surprisingly the fox grabs him by the throat (line 569) und runs off with poor Chauntecleer.
The chickens start crying loudly alarming the widow and her daughters and the other animals and everybody runs after the fox, who carries Chauntecleer in his beak. Chauntecleer, who is grabbed by the throat, is however able to speak and he encourages the fox to address his pursuers, curse them and tell them he will eat the rooster (line 647). Talking foxes are also stupid. The fox opens his mouth to agree and Chauntecleer grabs the opportunity to escape and fly high into a tree (line 651). The fox tries to persuade Chauntecleer down, but Chauntecleer has learned his lesson and stays safely in the tree. Finally, the fox curses everyone that chatters when he should hold his peace (or speech, line 669). The narrator concludes with the remark that the audience should not take the story literally. Take the moral of the tale and not the plot. End of story.
Note that "time your silence and your speech" or "know when to open or close your mouth" is a recurrent theme in the The Canterbury Tales. See for instance The Manciple's Tale.
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