Geoffrey Chaucer ‘The Canterbury Tales – The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ the end

The fox continues complimenting the cock, telling him a story about a rooster who was hit with a stone by a priest’s son. The bird remembered it and when the young man grew up, one morning he didn’t crow on purpose, so that the young man overslept, which cost him his benefice and his career in the Church. (Standards of celibacy seem to be somewhat relaxed in the Middle Ages, and also, it was a one long-lived cock.) “But even this legendary rooster couldn’t compare to your father in terms of sagacity,: says the fox. “Now, could you sing for me so that I can compare you with your father?” Chauntecleer, deceived by the flattery, starts crowing with his eyes closed. The fox, naturally, uses this opportunity to seize him and run away to the forest. The narrator launches on a bathetic diatribe against Friday, the day of Venus. Chauntecleer, being the lover of sexual pleasure, was her servant, so why didn’t she protect him? Also he wishes for the skills of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, who wrote a poem against Fridays in memory of King Richard I, who was killed on a Friday. Chauntecleer’s wives, when they see what happened, start to lament like the maidens of Troy, when they saw Priamus slain, like Hasdrubal’s wife during the destruction of Carthage, like the wives of Roman senators seeing Rome burning. The widow and her daughters, alarmed by the noise, start to chase the fox, accompanied by their dogs. The whole farm is in turmoil, with ducks and geese flying and even bees flying out of the hive. Chauntecleer says to the fox “At this point I would tell these foolish churls that whatever they may try to do, they stand no chance and I am going to eat the cock anyway”. “That’s exactly what I am going to do”, says the fox, and as he opens his mouth, the cock breaks free and flies to the nearest branch. The fox tries to trick him once again, saying that he meant no harm, but Chauntecleer now knows better and he delivers the following moral: those who close their eyes when they should look sharp, will never prosper. And the fox follows with the message that the same will happen to those who speak when they should keep their mouths shut.

The story tails in very nicely (or so I am told by critics) with the Monk’s tale. It could be read as an exercise in “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” – you can tell the same story in a boring or entertaining way. The theme is similar to the Monk’s – the fall of great men through pride and flattery, but the mode is mock-heroic, because the victim is not a great king, but a lowly village rooster. The numerous historical and mythological allusions emphasize the contrast between the rustic characters and the elevated language that is used to describe them.

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