The Nun’s Priest’s tale as a beast fable. 


Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) is an author poet, philosopher, bureaucrat, and diplomat. He has been called the father of English literature and the father of English poetry. The Nun’s Priest’s tale is a beast fable and narrative poem.

Beast fable: 

Beast fables are a prominent part of the ancient literature of many countries. Indian literature has Panchtantra stories. Perhaps the most widely known beast stories are those known as Aesop’s Fables, though it is generally agreed that they could not all have been written by the same man, or even at the same age. Aesop belonged to the Gate century B.C. Most beast fables have some analogue in Aesop’s Fable Beast stories in all their forms have traditionally been a part of popular literature. They found a continual reflection in medieval art-in tapestries, arabesques, and psalters. They abound in the architecture of medieval churches. This was because animals were believed to have a symbolic significance. 


Beast stories popular in the Middle Ages were of two types, the Bestiaries, and the  Fables. The former were collections of brief accounts of the natures certain beasts were supposed to have, all of which were explained in allegorical terms. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale mentions the most famous bestiary, called Physiologus. To back up his assertion that mermaids sing well and merrily, Chauntecleer says:

Soong murier than the mermayde in the see; 

For Phisiologus seith sikerly,

How that they syngen wel and myrily.

The animal descriptions in the bestiaries owe very little to natural history, but much to allegorical fantasy. They were, no doubt, naively believed by most of those who knew them. 

The Method of the fable:

The fables were quite different in approach from the bestiaries. They employed animals as embodiments or caricatures of human virtues and vices, “the astuteness, simplicity, greed, gullibility, shiftlessness, sloth, vanity, double-dealing, short-sightedness, and the other typical qualities of mankind. They are generally brief cautionary anecdotes that use the obvious resemblances between men and animals to point a moral or push a proverb home entertainingly. Nature herself seems to have anticipated the satirist in this respect.

Human Significance:

Chaucer’s story has a twofold application. It is a true account of the behaviour of the animals who figure in it as characters and also reflects the realities of human life. The story of Chantecleer reveals Chaucer’s sunny zest and his extraordinary comic insight into human relationships, particularly the relationship between husband and wife which, in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, we are shown in a rooster and a pullet Chauntecleer, like any husband, knows he knows better than his wife Pertelote, like any wife, knows she knows better than her husband. They are wholly devoted to each other, but each, in a quiet way, is determined to rule their roost. Chauntecleer is stuffed with masculine vanity, when he has a nightmare, he insists it must have been a prophetic vision, but Pertelote will not allow him to give himself such airs; Pertelote is practical. She pursues the well-known wifely technique of puncture, she cannot love a coward, she says; besides if Chauntecleer has had a dream it only means he needs a dose of laxatives. In reply, Chauntecleer displays his learning and also his masculine pride. He gives copious references to prove that dreams do have a prophetic significance. He also seems to exploit her ignorance of Latin by misinterpreting a line that he quotes. 


Chaucer’s distinctive art of narration also contributes to giving a new look to the old story. The build-up of the cock into a leamed gentleman, the description of the hens, the repeated exclamations, passages of moralizing, and lengthy similes are some of the features of his writing. He treats the episode of the fox’s abduction of the cock and the cock’s escape as if it were an event of great importance. So from the above discussion, it is now crystal clear to us that we move on to the animal and the human levels throughout the poem and the essence of originality of the poem lies therein.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

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

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