Monday, June 07, 2021

The Nun's Priest's Tale

One of the episodes of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I propose an alternative reading. The story is usually interpreted as a mock-heroic beast fable, slyly showing the ridiculousness of man in the disguise of beasts. Its moral seems a bit muddled or unclear, other than "don't be arrogant." Modern interpreters have taken to explaining that the muddle is intentional, and Chaucer means for us to draw our own moral, as he will not state one.  That seems a very 20th C idea for a 14th C poet.

In the epilogue, the host is effusive in his praise of the lusty, energetic story; so effusive, in fact that we should be suspicious. Chaucer is certainly making fun of humankind, with more than a wink at the bawdry of one of the clergy in attendance on the journey. But he is making fun of one thing more. The storyteller is a blowhard, unable to keep much focus and bringing us down rabbit-trails repeatedly. He is not only a comic character but an overbroad one. There is no moral because the poor sap can't keep his thoughts straight enough. He's be a fun role to play onstage, now lecturing from history with self-importance, now loudly describing poor digestion and laxatives, now attempting to state general rules of male-female relations based on clumsy analogies with chickens. He's a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

1 comment:

james said...

And it's nice that the nun's priest "see no harm in women, myself"