Medieval Dream Theory And Animals In "The Nun's Priest's Tale"

1080 words - 4 pages

Celeste WhiteDr. DoelmanENG 2307E 530October 28, 2014Medieval Dream Theory and Animals in the Nun's Priest's TaleThe Nun's Priest's Tale, from Chaucer's the Canterbury Tales, reflects upon the popular theme of dreams common in Medieval and Middle English literature. Chaucer offers a humorous presentation of the main dream theories held during the period. The argument between the two main characters of the tale, Chauntecleer and Pertelote, concerns the significance of dreams. Pertelote maintains that dreams are caused by physiological processes, whereas Chauntecleer insists that dreams foretell what is to come. Chaucer presents the latter as a possible moral of the fable, which could suggest that the fable validates prophetic dreams. However, given the nature of this tale, the assumption cannot be made that this is Chaucer's intention. Therefore, the arguments of Chauntecleer and Pertelote are equally true, affirming the most accepted view of the time, which is a mixture of the two positions: dreams can sometimes be prophetic and sometimes not.The quarrel between the chickens starts when Chauntecleer has a bad dream in which he sees a red and yellow "beest" (79), which the audience knows to be a fox although he ironically does not make the connection himself. Pertelote claims that he is a coward for being afraid of his dream and that dreams are nothing but "vanitee" (102). She goes on to explain that they are often caused by overeating, gas, and an excess of the bodily humour known as "rede colera" (108). Her diagnosis follows a common theory at the time, based on the concept that an overabundance of one of the humours caused changes in mood. She attributes dreams of "red beestes/ Of contek, and of whelps grete and light" (111-112) to this excess. Pertelote rejects the idea that Chauntecleer's dream may be significant, dismissing her husband's fears by quoting Cato, "'Ne do no fors of dremes'" (121). Her advice to Chauntecleer is to take some "laxatif" (123) to purge him of his humours and thus cure him of his troubles.Pertelote's argument is countered by the defiant cock, who uses a number of famous figures to thoroughly enforce his point that "dremes [be] significaciouns/ [. . .] That folk enduren in this lif present." (159-161). To invalidate his wife's argument, he claims that these men are "of more authoritee/ Than evere Caton was" (155/156). Chauntecleer proceeds to refer to many tales with the consistent moral: not to ignore dreams, for they are telling of events to come. He recounts the tales of the two pilgrims and the two sailors, and references the story of Saint Kenelm, Macrobious' commentary on Scipio's dream in De Rebublica, Daniel's dream of four beasts, the dreams of Joseph, the Pharaoh, baker and butler, King Croesus' dream, and Andomache's dream of her husband's fate. Chauntecleer, like his wife, does not consider the possible truth of the other's argument, insisting that his position is correct because "the verray preve sheweth...

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