April 10th: The Nun’s Priest Tale

The article by Alex Mueller that we read for today engages with the question of genre in the Nun’s Priest Tale. Which genre would you classify the tale as; allegory, fable, epic, epic romance, fabliau or other? Does it even have only one genre, or can it be a mix of several? Provide evidence from the texts to support your answers.

4 thoughts on “April 10th: The Nun’s Priest Tale

  1. The tale works as a fable in some ways, as Mueller explains that the Chaucerian fable is “full of playful embellishments that do not seem to address anything serious at all.” The beginning of the tale deals largely with characterizing the rooster and describing his relationship with his wife, which has little to do with the moral of the story, only presented through the rooster’s encounter with the fox. Granted it does have a clear and digestible moral at the end to “never trust a flatterer” and it is presented through animals, it also suffices modern connections to the fable genre. Mueller also considers the tale as an allegorical text saying, “we witness the Nun’s Priest struggling with the allegorical meaning of the fox’s arrival, which seems to point to the conflict between divine foreknowledge and human freewill.” Mueller ultimately contends that, since fables were used originally in the classroom setting for educational purposes, it makes sense that their are several genres and morals being depicted at once, unlike in the simplistic fables of modern times.

  2. I agree with Keleigh that, in several ways, the Nun’s Priest’s tale acts as an animal fable. Mueller states that a fable centers around entertaining its audience while teaching them a moral lesson, which Mueller states the tale shows three – be aware of your surroundings, don’t fall into flattery, and don’t talk too much. The entertainment aspects of the tale are seen when we have elaborate descriptions of Chauntecleer and the daily farmyard life. However, Chaunteecleer and Pertolete become less playful and more serious when they begin to debate about dream significance, and start to cite various academics to support their arguments. This debate, Mueller states, is more similar to the beast epic, which he argues one, “Roman de Renart”, was a source for Chaucer. However, one can also see how the tale represents an allegory as well as a fable, as it does contain hidden meanings to be conveyed to the audience. All in all, I think the tale is a complex combination of genres, and cannot really be stuck to just one.

  3. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale seems to be an attempt at a fable, but there are some struggles with this identification. The tale seems to struggle to get to the moral of the story and there are a few digressions in the text. It really isn’t until the very end where the rooster is captured by the fox. Mueller further encourages this view by stating that “the absence of a clear moral has led generations of readers to place this tale squarely within the ‘entertainment’ category.” She then goes on to argue that there are at least three morals provided. The Nun’s Priest seems to be struggling with telling the story in general, which I think was purposeful on Chaucer’s part. It is interesting that a priest is telling the tale because you would think it would likely be a religious allegorical tale.

  4. I think we have seen by now that Chaucer does not seem overly concerned with conforming to a certain genre or another. While I think you could qualify the tale as primarily a fable – it’s hard to separate that from the courtly aspects present (such as the description of the rooster and hen falling very firmly in the realm of a courtly romance). I would also say that there seems to be passing references to dream visions, particularly the narrator invoking the image of Scipio, who we also see in Chaucer’s dream vision Parliament of Fowls, though only in the context of the interpretation of dreams (and clearly this story is not explicitly a dream vision). Reading Chaucer has actually made me largely skeptical of the concept of genre: just because something conforms to certain generic conventions does not necessarily place it solely within that genre.

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