Critically comment on The Nonne Preestes Tale

"The Nun's Priest's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" is a rich tapestry of storytelling that warrants deep critical analysis. This narrative, nestled within the larger framework of the pilgrimage to Canterbury, is a masterpiece of medieval literature, blending elements of humor, satire, allegory, and moral instruction. In this comprehensive commentary, we'll delve into various aspects of the tale, including its structure, themes, characters, literary techniques, historical context, and enduring significance.


Geoffrey Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" is a landmark work of English literature, written in the late 14th century. It comprises a collection of stories told by a diverse group of pilgrims as they journey to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Among these tales, "The Nun's Priest's Tale" stands out for its wit, charm, and intricate storytelling.

Historical Context

To fully appreciate "The Nun's Priest's Tale," it's essential to understand the socio-cultural milieu of Chaucer's time. The late Middle Ages in England were characterized by a complex tapestry of feudalism, religious fervor, and emerging literary traditions. Chaucer himself was a product of this era, serving as a courtier, diplomat, and poet in the court of King Edward III and later Richard II. His experiences and observations of medieval society infuse his writings with a nuanced understanding of human nature and societal dynamics.

Structure and Narrative Technique

"The Nun's Priest's Tale" follows the tradition of fabliaux, a genre of medieval French literature characterized by its humorous and often bawdy stories featuring ordinary people in everyday situations. Chaucer adapts this tradition to create a tale that is both entertaining and morally instructive.

The narrative unfolds within a framing device, as the Nun's Priest, one of the pilgrims, is invited to tell a story by the Host, Harry Bailey. This framing device not only provides a context for the tale but also allows Chaucer to comment on the art of storytelling itself and the diverse perspectives of the pilgrims.

Within the tale, Chaucer employs a linear narrative structure, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. The story revolves around the rooster, Chanticleer, his favorite hen, Pertelote, and their encounter with a cunning fox named Reynard. Through a series of events, Chanticleer learns valuable lessons about the dangers of pride and the importance of heeding warnings.

Themes and Allegory

At its core, "The Nun's Priest's Tale" explores timeless themes that resonate with readers across centuries. One of the central themes is the folly of pride, as exemplified by Chanticleer's boastfulness and subsequent fall from grace. Chaucer uses the character of Chanticleer to caution against hubris and the dangers of underestimating one's adversaries.

Moreover, the tale serves as an allegory for the human condition, with the various characters representing different aspects of society. Chanticleer embodies the proud and arrogant individual who is brought low by his own vanity, while Pertelote symbolizes the voice of reason and moderation. The fox, Reynard, represents cunning and deception, preying on the weaknesses of others for his own gain.

Characters and Characterization

Chaucer's skillful characterization breathes life into the inhabitants of his tale, making them relatable and multidimensional. Chanticleer is portrayed as a proud and majestic rooster, whose beautiful crowing voice fills the farmyard with joy. However, his vanity and susceptibility to flattery ultimately lead to his downfall.

Pertelote, in contrast, is depicted as a sensible and pragmatic hen, who urges Chanticleer to dismiss his fears and embrace his natural instincts. Her practicality and level-headedness serve as a foil to Chanticleer's impulsiveness, highlighting the importance of balance and discernment.

Reynard the fox is perhaps the most intriguing character in the tale, embodying both cunning and wit. He uses flattery and deception to lure Chanticleer into his trap, demonstrating the power of manipulation and the vulnerability of those who succumb to it.

Literary Techniques

Chaucer employs a wide range of literary techniques to enrich his narrative and engage the reader's imagination. One notable technique is his use of vivid imagery to evoke the sights, sounds, and sensations of the medieval world. Descriptions of the farmyard, the crowing of the rooster, and the stealthy movements of the fox create a vivid sensory experience for the reader.

Additionally, Chaucer's use of dialogue adds depth and authenticity to his characters, allowing their personalities to shine through in their interactions. The banter between Chanticleer and Pertelote, as well as the cunning rhetoric of Reynard, reveal insights into their motivations and desires.

Furthermore, Chaucer's mastery of verse and meter enhances the musicality of his language, creating a rhythmic cadence that propels the narrative forward. His use of rhyme and alliteration adds texture and nuance to the tale, making it a pleasure to read aloud.

Satire and Social Commentary

Like many of the tales in "Canterbury Tales," "The Nun's Priest's Tale" is infused with elements of satire and social commentary. Through his portrayal of the animal characters, Chaucer satirizes human behavior and societal norms, exposing the hypocrisy and folly of the medieval elite.

For example, Chanticleer's vain posturing and susceptibility to flattery mirror the arrogance of the nobility, who often placed undue importance on outward appearances and status symbols. Similarly, Reynard's cunning and deceitfulness critique the corrupt practices of those in power, who used their influence to exploit the weak and vulnerable.

Moral Lessons and Philosophical Reflections

At its heart, "The Nun's Priest's Tale" is a moral fable that imparts valuable lessons about life, virtue, and wisdom. Through the trials and tribulations of its characters, the tale explores fundamental questions about human nature and the pursuit of happiness.

One of the key lessons of the tale is the importance of humility and self-awareness. Chanticleer's downfall stems from his pride and arrogance, which blind him to the dangers lurking in the world around him. His eventual redemption comes through humility and self-reflection, as he learns to trust in his instincts and rely on the wisdom of others.

Moreover, the tale underscores the fleeting nature of worldly possessions and the ephemeral nature of fame and fortune. Chanticleer's crowing may bring him temporary acclaim, but it is ultimately his courage and resilience in the face of adversity that define his character.

Gender Dynamics and Power Relations

A notable aspect of "The Nun's Priest's Tale" is its exploration of gender dynamics and power relations within medieval society. While the tale is populated primarily by male characters, it is Pertelote, the female hen, who emerges as the voice of reason and moderation.

Pertelote challenges traditional gender roles by asserting her authority and offering practical advice to Chanticleer. Her assertiveness and independence subvert the patriarchal norms of the time, highlighting the strength and resilience of women in the face of adversity.

Religious Symbolism and Christian Allegory

As a devout Christian living in a deeply religious society, Chaucer infuses "The Nun's Priest's Tale" with religious symbolism and Christian allegory. The tale can be interpreted as a moral parable, with Chanticleer's journey mirroring the spiritual trials of the Christian soul.

Chanticleer's encounter with the fox can be seen as a metaphor for the Christian struggle against temptation and sin. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Chanticleer is lured into disobedience by the promise of worldly pleasure, only to suffer the consequences of his folly.

Moreover, the tale contains subtle references to biblical themes and motifs, such as the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Man, and the redemption of the soul. These religious allusions add depth and resonance to the narrative, inviting readers to contemplate the deeper significance of Chaucer's moral teachings.

Reception and Legacy

"The Nun's Priest's Tale" has endured as one of the most beloved and widely studied works of medieval literature. Its blend of humor, satire, and moral instruction continues to captivate readers of all ages, inspiring countless adaptations and interpretations over the centuries.

From literary critics to scholars of English literature, "The Nun's Priest's Tale" has been praised for its wit, charm, and enduring relevance. Its exploration of timeless themes and universal truths ensures its place as a classic of world literature, cherished for generations to come.


In conclusion, "The Nun's Priest's Tale" is a masterpiece of medieval literature that rewards careful analysis and critical reflection. Through its rich tapestry of storytelling, Chaucer explores themes of pride, humility, wisdom, and redemption, inviting readers to contemplate the deeper truths of the human experience.

From its vivid characters to its timeless moral lessons, the tale continues to resonate with audiences across centuries, offering insights into the complexities of human nature and the enduring power of storytelling. As we journey through Chaucer's literary landscape, we are reminded of the enduring relevance of his work and the profound impact it continues to have on our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

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