The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Besserman, Lawrence L. "Chaucerian Wordplay: The Nun's Priest and His Womman Divyne." 12 (1977): 68-73.
The Nun's Priest's line "I kan noon harm of no womman divyne" (70) is filled with punning references to the Prioress, her tale, and her sins.
Brody, Saul Nathaniel. "Truth and Fiction in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 14 (1979): 33-47.
The Nun's Priest constructs his tale around the tension between literature and life. He employs digression to remind his audience that his tale is fiction but that it still has implications for "real" life. By consistently equating Chanticleer and Pertelote with a man and a woman respectively, the Nun's Priest underscores the connection between reality and fiction. When the Nun's Priest refers to Dante's portrait of Paolo and Francesca, he further explicates the relationship between truth and fiction. The fact that Paolo and Francesca begin their affair while reading about Lancelot and Guinevere implies that reading or hearing about human action can alter human behavior. The digressions in the Nun's Priest's Tale remind the audience that, though a fable, the tale contains some truth. The truth in the Nun's Priest's Tale is difficult to determine, however, because there are so many ambiguities in the tale. The Nun's Priest asserts that all stories, no matter how unreal, contain moral truths.
Friedman, John Block. "The Nun's Priest's Tale: The Preacher and the Mermaid's Song." 7 (1973): 250-66.
The Nun's Priest's training and interests contribute to his tale, since the priest could use this tale as an exemplum. The widow is a stock figure of temperance, and Chanticleer and Pertelote are depicted both as chickens and as people in order to set up the humor of the tale. The contrast between the animal and human spheres allows the Nun's Priest to mock human conventions, such as the notion of love at first sight. The text of his exemplum appears in Chanticleer's statement "Mulier est hominis confusio," which also indicates the Nun's Priest's negative attitude toward women. When Pertelote and her sisters bathe before Chanticleer, they function as mermaids who blind men to the danger of the sins of lust which they represent. Thus, the Nun's Priest's Tale can be read as a sermon containing instruction for the members of the pilgrimage.
Gallick, Susan. "Styles of Usage in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 11 (1977): 232-47.
By having animals speak in high, middle, and low styles, Chaucer displays his attitude toward the rhetorical doctrine of styles. In the Nun's Priest's Tale, Chaucer uses four types of style (intimate, conversational, didactic, and poetic) to create certain effects. By sharply defining the shifts from one style to another, Chaucer forces his audience to recognize the different styles. In addition, when Chanticleer presents his murder exemplum, his language mimics that of the Prioress, allowing Chaucer to criticize her overly artificial literary style. The fox's exemplum suggests that style and tone, not content, result in a persuasive speech. Chaucer makes fun of his own art in the Nun's Priest's poor use of style. The Nun's Priest's Tale reflects Chaucer's interest in such different facets and uses of language as didacticism and persuasion.
Khinoy, Stephan A. "Inside Chaucer's Pardoner?" 6 (1972): 255-67.
Readers may explore the Pardoner as a problem of language use and its power. By accepting Harry Bailly's proposal to tell tales as a way to pass the time while travelling, the clergy accepted a proposal which, by its nature, required them to participate in lies. Thus, when the Nun's Priest tells his tale, he requests that the pilgrims find the nut and leave the chaff as a justification for telling a tale at all. The Pardoner, however, does not fit in with the clerical tale-tellers. Instead, he presents "art for art's sake" (258). He reverses the relationship between prologue and tale in that his immoral prologue imposes on his moral sermon in order to make the pilgrims the inversion itself. The way the Pardoner tells his tale causes his audience to pay more attention to the outside (chaff) of the tale than the inside (nut). Thus, the Pardoner takes a position opposite that of Reason with regard to language. Reason asserts that divine will names things. The Pardoner suggests that names are merely human convention. Though the external appearance of the old man is uninviting, Chaucer uses him to suggest that meaning and value are not imposed, but intrinsic.
Myers, D. E. "Focus and 'Moralite' in the Nun's Priest's Tale." 7 (1973): 210-20.
Three hierarchies overlap in the Nun's Priest's Tale. These create three different versions of the tale, "the fable version, the Nun's Priest's version, and Harry Bailly's version" (211). The fable version contains two morals which focus attention only on Chanticleer, thus suggesting that they are marginal to the tale as a whole. Such narrow focus points to the second version of the tale. Rhetoric is central to the Nun's Priest's version of the tale, since it focuses attention on Chanticleer as ruler. Because Chanticleer's story is that of a secular ruler, readers recognize that the Nun's Priest has directed his tale at the Knight. Examination of all of the Canterbury Tales shows that the Host's version addresses the workings of Providence and Fortune. Thus, readers can see the workings of Fortune on each of the three estates. The Nun's Priest, however, does not understand Fortune or Providence. He blames Destiny and Pertelote equally, a logical impossibility. The Host adds another level to the tale by allegorically associating Chanticleer with the Nun's Priest. Thus, the tale becomes a comment on prelates in general and the Nun's Priest in particular. The Nun's Priest's Tale, therefore, turns on its teller.
Oerlemans, Onno. "The Seriousness of the Nun's Priest's Tale." 26 (1992): 317-28.
The irony of the Nun's Priest's Tale works against both readers who attempt to find morality and the narrator who attempts to give the tale meaning. The success of the tale is determined more by the fact that the Nun's Priest must "quite" the Monk and demonstrate that Fortune does not control everything than by anything he says in particular. He chooses the beast fable because it traditionally has the capacity to delight and to instruct. In the course of the tale, the Priest satirizes those who believe that knowledge of the fallen world will lead closer to truth. The references to Adam and to Christ do not exemplify metanarrative, but point to the narrator's "uncertainty as to where his tale has taken him, and an attempt to combine both the simple intentions and rewards of the beast fable with a more sophisticated moral" (325). The tale functions as a means to examine higher truths in a fallen world.
Schrader, Richard J. "Chanticleer, the Mermaid, and Daun Burnel." 4 (1970): 284-90.
As other critics have shown, the Nun's Priest's digressions successfully demonstrate a mix of philosophy and comedy. The likely comparison between Chanticleer and a mermaid points out that his own singing nearly leads to his destruction, especially since he is so proud that he ignores both nature and Pertelote. The reference to Daun Burnel is also significant in that it alludes to the rooster in Nigel de Longchamps's "Daun Burnel the Asse" who, by ignoring his wife, attained his goal. Thus, these two allusions add humor and a bit of a moral to the Nun's Priest's Tale.