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Use of Digressions as a Rhetorical Device in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

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The Nun's Priest's Tale is a notable literary work by Geoffrey Chaucer. A complete discussion of this literary work is given, which will help you enhance your literary skills and prepare for the exam. Read the main text, key info, Summary, Themes, Characters, Literary Devices, Quotations, Notes, to various questions of The Nun's Priest's Tale.

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Discuss Chaucer’s Use of Digressions as a Rhetorical Device in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

Digression is a literary device that refers to the temporary departure from the main subject in a speech, writing, or literature. This can be referred to as a barrier when reading literature. When a reader starts to read any literary work, he is diversified from the main action. 

The reader finds background information, an example or anecdote, creates anxiety, establishes the reader’s interest, a character’s motivation, and so on. After that narrative part, the author returns to the main action. Chaucer uses digression several times in the poem The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. 

Main Function of Digression in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale: Through anecdotes, Chaucer emphasizes an idea that is one of the functions of digression. For getting the attraction and attachment of the readers, Chaucer uses anecdotes as well as examples in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.

Digression Is Revealed in the Dream Debate: To prove the futility of dreams, Pertelote gives examples. On the other hand, Chaunticleer mentioned two anecdotes to prove that dreams are true and that they signify something. Pertelote stated that Chaunticleer is very worried about his dream. So Pertelote tries to cheer him up. She says that his dream is just the result of overeating. She gives the luminous example of a Roman historian and orator, Cato,

Regard dreams as of no impertinence.

Dreams mean nothing. Then Pertelote advised her husband to be cheerful and not to be worried about his terrible dream. In reply, Chaunticleer mentioned several anecdotes as digressions in the main story.

Anecdote of Two Pilgrims: Once, two best friends went on a pilgrimage. On the way back, they came into a city where they did not find a single cottage together for the night. They have to stay in separate places. 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 had already been 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.

Anecdote of Two Sailors: Chaunticleer tells the story of a man who is commanded in his dreams to refrain from setting sail in the morning, as the ship is going to meet a wreck on that day. However, the other man did not hear him and declared that he did not care for his dream. The man started his journey, and accidentally, the ship sank. Chaunticleer makes more anecdotes from history. He reminds Pertelote of St. Kenelim, who saw his murder in a dream.

Anecdotes of the Bible: The Chaunticleer describes Pertelote to read about Daniel and Joseph. Then he told their story. 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.

Anecdote of Mythology: 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. However, Hector did not listen to her. He went to fight against Achilles, and he slew him.

From lines 460-500, Chaucer reveals two digressions. One is concerned with the fixed incident of predestined misfortune versus the free will to act. The other one exposes the nature of woman and their role in Christian society. 

Chaucer uses digression in the poem The Nun’s Priest’s Tale to a great extent for a definite purpose. To justify the importance and accuracy of dreams Chaucer uses examples and anecdotes. Chaucer applies digression in such a way that they have become part and parcel of the main storyline.