Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). One of the stories is a fable told by The Nun's Priest. The Nun's Priest's tale is about a rooster called Chauntecleer that lives with seven chickens and several other animals in the yard of a poor old widow.
The Nun's Priest's Tale is one of Chaucer's most brilliant tales, and it functions on several levels. The tale is an outstanding example of the literary style known as a bestiary (or a beast fable) in which animals behave like human beings. Consequently, this type of fable is often an insult to man or a commentary on man's foibles. To suggest that animals behave like humans is to suggest that humans often behave like animals.
This tale is told using the technique of the mock-heroic, which takes a trivial event and elevates it into something of great universal import. The mock-heroic tone is used when the Nun's Priest describes the capture of the Don Russel and refers to the event in terms of other prominent traitors (referring to the fox as "a new Iscariot, a second Ganelon and a false hypocrite, Greek Sinon") and when the barnyard animals discuss high philosophical and theological questions. For Lady Pertelote and Chaunticleer to discuss divine foreknowledge in a high intellectual and moral tone in the context of barnyard chickens is the height of comic irony. We must also remember the cause of the discussion of divine foreknowledge: Lady Pertelote thinks that Chaunticleer's dream or nightmare was the result of his constipation, and she recommends a laxative. Chaunticleer's rebuttal is a brilliant use of classical sources that comment on dreams and is a marvelously comic means of proving that he is not constipated and does not need a laxative. Throughout the mock-heroic, mankind loses much of its human dignity and is reduced to animal values.
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