Chaucer’s treatment of dream in ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale


Geoffrey Chaucer’s (1340-1400) “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”, a widely-recognized comic narrative, spotlights both medieval and modern aspects. As a classic instance of Chaucer’s mature work, the treatment of dreams is very significant in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. The story begins with a dream and ends up in a dream. Actually, Dreams are the backbone of Chaucer‘s “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”. Here Dreams focus on the fate of Chaunticleer. 

In this poem, the dream is the main source through which a lot of humor flows. By making artistic use of dreams, Chaucer makes it the part and parcel of the story.  

The poem begins with a short description of a widow. She lives in a small cottage with her two daughters near a meadow. They have some humble household articles required for the basic necessities of life. They had several pet animals. The widow kept a cock named Chaunticleer and seven hens. Chaunticleer is good-looking. His comb is redder than the finest coral. He has a jolly voice. It is sweeter than the most tuneful organ played in the church.  

Dream of Chaunticleer  

One day Chaunticleer sat among all his companions. Pertelote was next to him. Suddenly Chaunticleer began to groan. Then Pertelote asked him what gripped him. In reply, Chaunticleer said about the terrible dream, that he dreamt last night. A beast resembling a hound was about to seize his body and kill him. The color of the beast was between red and yellow. His tail was also red. By the description, Chaunticleer makes it clear that the beast is a fox who wants to kill Chaunticleer. 

But Pertelote did not pay attention to Chaunticleer’s words. She scolded him saying, coward. She told him that of overeating he dreamt like this terrible dream. She quotes from ancient Cato, 

More Notes: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”,

Attach no importance to dreams  

But Chaunticleer believes that dreams are true and they signify the coming events, whereas, Pertelote disagrees with this point of view. Again and again, she was trying to prove that dreams have no definite meaning. So Chaunticleer tells different stories based on dreams. 

Dream of two pilgrims  

At first, Chaunticleer tells the story of two pilgrims. They are two best friends. They reached a small town for the purpose of pilgrimage. But they did not find a single cottage to stay in at night. They have to stay at separate lodgings. One friend stayed in a stall with oxen and another lodged well who dreamt his friend saying that he would be murdered tonight. The man woke up and took the dream just as a fancy. Then he dreamt a second dream. His friend appeared again and told him that he is already murdered. His body is hidden in a cast full of dung. In the morning, the friend searched for his companion and found his dead body in a cast full of dung. That dream was absolutely true.  

Dream of two sailors 

In the second tale, a man is commended in his dreams to refrain from setting sail in the morning, as the ship is going to meet a wreck on that day. But the other man did not hear him and declared that he did not care for his dream.  This dream also comes true. The man started his journey and accidentally the ship sank.  Chaunticleer makes several other references from history to prove his viewpoint. He reminds Pertelote of St. Kenelim. He saw his own murder in a dream.   

Biblical reference to the dream 

Chaunticleer tells Pertelote to read about Daniel’s and Joseph’s interpretation of dreams. Daniel said the king’s dream was about a giant statue that was destroyed by a stone cut out of a mountain. The statue represented the kingdoms of the earth. The stone cut out of the mountain represented the kingdom of God that would fill the earth. Joseph once dreamed eleven bundles of grain, each representing one of his brothers, bowed to his bundle. In another dream, which Joseph faithfully recounted, the sun represented his father, the moon represented his mother, and eleven stars represented his brothers, all bowed to him. 

Mythological reference to the dream 

Chaunticleer also referred to mythology. He reminded Pertelote about Andromache’s dream. She dreamt that Hector, her husband would lose her life if that day he went to the battlefield. But Hector did not pay any attention to her. He went to fight against Achilles and he was slain by him.  

The authenticity of Chaunticleers dream 

At last, Pertelote realizes that dreams should not be ignored when sir Russell caught Chaunticleer by the throat and carried him off toward the wood.  

Conclusion: Thus, the whole philosophy of the poem continues through the dream. In the original tale, the dream might be a part of a story but here it has illustrations, philosophy, thought, morals, etc. So, Chaucer handles dreams in such an artistic way that it becomes more powerful than mere dream. 

More Notes: Suggestions

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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