Monday, October 30, 2006

Module 3 (Chaucer): Mini-essay

A comparison of the Pardoner's Tale and the Nun's Priest's Tale:

It is appropriate that the Nun’s Priest’s tale is told to us immediately following the Pardoner’s tale, as the significant differences between the two mark a shift of mood in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. While the Pardoner’s story is told with a more serious tone, creating an eerie mood and telling of three wicked men plotting to steal gold that is not theirs, the Nun’s Priest’s tale is reminiscent of a child’s Sunday School story featuring humanized barnyard animals as the main characters.

The contrast between each story’s teller as an individual is interesting to note as well. The Pardoner, an admittedly corrupt and thieving man himself, presents his story of treachery as if he takes it very seriously. In fact, true to the fake presentation he always performs in his travels, he even finishes his parable by asking the group for contributions (even after revealing to his fellow pilgrims that the relics he carries are false). The Nun’s Priest, however, is not presented to us in great detail as a character, so we are left to draw our own conclusions about what kind of person he is through the writing. Chaucer’s treatment of his tale seems to suggest he looks upon the Nun’s Priest with less disdain than the Pardoner, and that he may be a more intelligent, humble man.

From a literary standpoint, the Nun’s Priest’s tale is also more biting satire of Chaucer’s time than that of the Pardoner. The Pardoner’s tale is told primarily to emphasize the ironic differences between the Pardoner’s holy occupation and who he is as a man. But the second story told by the Priest has far wider scope, lampooning the overly dramatic style that was typical of romance stories of the time. Not only is the concept of talking animals ridiculous, but are we really supposed to believe that a simple barnyard rooster would dream of his own death at the fox’s hands and discuss it at length with his hen-wife? Considering the courtly, romantic love stories that were common to the era, Chaucer does an excellent job of poking fun at this genre while also delivering a the solid moral of never trusting a flatterer (in this case, the fox whose jaws Chanticleer narrowly escapes).

This is not to say there are not some similarities between the two tales. While the Pardoner is shown to be a very sinful man, there are also elements of the Priest’s tale that suggest he is not the purest of heart for his vocation. Considering Pride is one of the seven deadly sins in his religion, his description of the rooster’s beauty and the admiration he seems to convey of the rooster are not typical of a man who should treasure life’s simplicity. He also goes into considerable detail about the polygamous relationship and courtly love rituals Chanticleer has with his seven hen-wives, most notably Pertelote. One line, describing a sexual marathon between the couple (“He feathered Pertelote full many a time, and twenty times he trod her ere ‘twas prime.”) is certainly not the subject matter one would expect from a man of the cloth.

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