The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Nun's Priest’s Tale Analysis

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is perhaps the best-known of all the Canterbury Tales. It is a “beast fable,” in the same genre as Aesop’s fables – a tale that uses animal characters to teach a human moral lesson.

The tale returns to the same question raised in The Tale of Melibee about whether men should take the counsel of women. Here, the question is whether Chanticleer should take Pertelote’s advice about how to interpret his dreams. Should he take his dreams seriously and change the way he lives his life based on what he thinks they are telling him, or should he ignore them and go on with his life?

The fact that Chanticleer is going about his daily business when the fox catches him implies that Pertelote was wrong and that Chanticleer should have taken his dream seriously. However, it doesn’t take a prophetic dream to tell us that foxes like to hunt and eat chickens; this is a fact that Chanticleer probably should have known well. The tale seems to imply that one should not expect un-chickenlike behavior from a chicken, but the contradiction lies behind the entre genre of beast-fables.

Interpreting dreams is also a favorite activity in Middle English literature, even spawning a whole genre of poetry known as “dream poems.” Chaucer’s own dream poems include the Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowles, and The Legend of Good Women. Often, the dream forms the basis of the text itself, asking whether dreams are any more or less real than tales. If we can find a moral in a story, can we find one in a dream as well?

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