Explanation Of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale By Chaucer

This gentil cok…..every lith.

In these lines taken from Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’, the family of the cock Chanticleer is described. The description is in the mock-heroic style. The poet says that Chanticleer, the cock had a harem of seven wives and beloveds. They were all beautiful hens of different colours and feathers. The most beautiful and fascinating amongst them was his chief wife Dame Pertelote whom he called his principal queen. She was really most courteous, prudent, far-sighted, loyal and affectionate lady. She had disciplined and trained herself to grow into a highly refined and sophisticated damsel ever since she was only seven days old. The result was that she grew into such a refined and cultivated young lady that she captured the heart of Sir Chanticleer. She became his principal queen.

I kan nat…..han a berd.

The cock had seen a dream and was terribly afraid of it. Pertelote, the hen did not believe in dreams. She made fun of the cock for his fear on account of the dream. She called him a coward and jeeringly said that she could never love a timid and superstitious fellow like him. No hen could ever love a cock timid and cowardly like him.

So, Pertelote said that no hen could love a cowardly cock like him. By God. Whatever a woman may say, the fact remains that woman can never love a coward. Nor can they ever love a fool or a miser, and certainly not a braggart. How dare you say, for shame, to your beloved that you are afraid of a trifle? Have you not a man’s heart in spite of your beard?

Certes this dreem…..wol hem take.

Pertelote does not believe in the truth of dreams. She gives a physiological explanation of the dreams and says that dreams only point to indigestion and other effects of over-eating.

She says that undoubtedly the dream that Chanticleer saw was the product of excess of red choler resulting from over-eating. This red choler makes people see frightening dreams of arrows and flames of fire dashing towards them. People would also see dreams of red beasts rushing at them to attack them. Dreams of conflicts and strife, of red wasps, great and small, would also haunt them in their sleep. These dreams may even cause people cry out in their sleep for fear of attack by bulls and bears and black devils ready to seize and devour them. This is how Pertelote convinces Chanticleer that he should not be alarmed or feel frightened on account of the dream seen by him.

Madame’, quod…..in dede.

Now chanticleer gives his argument and refers ancient authority to prove that dreams are not entirely meaningless or absurd. Dreams are indicative or foreshadows of the events to come.

However, Chanticleer thanks Pertelote for her advice and consolation. Cato, who did not believe in the authenticity of dreams, was indeed a great scholar and philosopher, but there were many greater scholars and philosophers who contradicted him in the explanation of dreams. Many ancient scholars gave their views on dreams on the basis of their personal knowledge, experience and conviction. Their opinions were well-founded in history and philosophy. They held the view that dreams warn us against misfortunes and calamities, and also point to coming fortunes and happiness that are in store for us. This view does not require any arguments for its proof. It springs from life’s experience and carries conviction beyond any argument or logic.

  1. Lo, hi the lyf….his herte.

Chanticleer gives further arguments to support his view that dreams are not entirely meaningless. He gives instances from history and holy scriptures that dreams are indicative of future events, both good and bad. Chanticleer refers to the life of St. Kenelm which he had read. St. Kenelm saw a dream that he had been murdered. He saw this dreams before he was actually killed. The life of Kenelm, which he had read, was written by Kenulphus, the son of the noble king Mercenrike. The writer gave a vivid account of how the noble St. Kenelm came to be murdered. He saw a dream a little before he was murdered. His nurse expounded to him every detail of the dream and warned him to take caution against any act of treason of conspiracy. But as he was then only seven years old, and his heart was pure and innocent, he did not pay any heed to the caution or warning given to him by the nurse on the basis of the dream seen by him. The result was that he was murdered just a little later. The life and death of St. Kenelm only show that dreams should not be taken casually or indifferently. They have a serious meaning in them.

  1. Dame Pertelote…….any vanitee.

Chanticleer goes on to argue that dreams are not to be derided as fumes of over-eating or indigestion. Dreams are the forebodings of the future. He quotes the authority of Macrobius, a great scholar and philosopher who wrote a book on the meaning and significance of dreams. It was Macrobius who interpreted the dream of young Scipio Africanus. He held the view that dreams ate the premonitions of coming events. The premonitions of the dreams often come true. Then there is the authority of the Old Testament too. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament deals with dreams and visions. Daniel gave much credence and value to dreams. He did not consider dreams as mere fumes or vanities.

  1. O false mordrour…..certein clerkis.

Pertelote was able to convince Chanticleer that dreams should not be taken seriously. They hold no forebodings about the coming dangers. She told him to shed off all fears and behave and act, normally as all brave men should. But soon after Chanticleer fell into the jaws of a cunning fox that lay in wait for him behind the bushes. The poet bemoans the fate of Chanticleer.

Alas, the cunning murderer, the fox, lay hidden to capture his victim, the cock. The fox appeared in the form of a new Judas Iscariot (who was responsible for the crucifixion of Christ) or Genelon who betrayed Roland in the Charlemagne romances. The fox was the new version of the Greek Sinon whose treachery led to the defeat and complete destruction of the city of Troy, a Chanticleer, evil fate overtook you that morning when you flew down from your perch into the yard. You had been warned against your misfortune in the dream but you’ did not pay heed to it. You acted under the influence of your wife. But, in any case, this misfortune could not have been averted because, as all scholars say, what has been ordained by God must happen. You not have changed the chain of events by any means possible.


Certes, swich cry……. stedefast herte.

The poet describes the scene of Chanticleer’s capture by the fox in a remarkably mock-heroic tone and style. He says that the scene of the Cock’s capture reminded him of the capture of Priam in the history of Troy.

Pyrrhus, the great hero and victor captured the city of Troy and held the old king Priam by the beard. Pyrrhus dragged the old king Priam by his grey beard and slew him by his fearful sword. Seeing this scene of brutal murder the ladies of the king’s household raised unbearable clamour of cries and lamentation. But the wives and other hens of Chanticleer’s household raised clamorous cries louder than the ladies of Priam’s household. Pertelote cried loudest amongst them. In fact. Pertelote’s lamentations were louder than the lamentations of the wife of Hasdrubal at her husband’s death when the Romans set fire to the city of Carthage. So full of fury and agony was the noble wife of Hasdrubal that with firm resolution she plunged herself into the blazing flames of fire and made an offering of herself to her husband. Pertelote, the wife of Chanticleer, was no less furious and agonised at the capture of her husband by the treacherous fox.

Nay, thanne’…..never thee.

Chanticleer acted boldly and intelligently when captured by the fox. He flattered the fox to the extent that the fox foolishly opened his mouth for a moment. Instantly the cock flew up to the perch and looked down at the fox victoriously and mockingly. The fox was sorry to have been befooled by the cock. However, the fox made one more desperate effort to lure back the cock into his trap. But the cock bluntly said that he would have curses fall upon both of them if he ever fell into his trap again. He would never fall into the trap of flattery, or even wink his eyes. He would ever keep his eyes open and remain fully cautious against a treacherous enemy like him.



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