Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

David Raybin


The "Nun's Priest's Tale" is one of the most entertaining stories in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales--it is captivating, witty, and amusing--but it is also one of the most instructive in the entire collection. In fact, the Nun's Priest himself emphasizes the instructional purpose of his tale by telling his listeners "Taketh the moralite, goode men" (NPT 3440), advising them to look for the points he makes in his narration.

Although the Nun's Priest never explicitly states the "moralite" of his tale, many scholars have taken his advice seriously and searched for its instruction on their own. Approaching it from a different angles, they have generated a multitude of interpretations and have emphasized various morals that can be found in the tale. The problem, however, is that none of the single interpretations we can give to the tale, and none of the morals we can draw from it, is satisfactory alone. This circumstance suggests that we might have to accept the multiplicity of interpretations and morals as part of the Nun's Priest's instruction.

This thesis explores the three ways in which Chaucer enhances not just the entertainment, but especially the instructional value of the "Nun's Priest's Tale," encouraging readers to search for its meaning, by looking at it from various angles. Chaucer introduces important structural changes that take the focus away from the foolish cock and the fable moral, turning instead to life in the hen-yard, the cock's dream, and the chicken-debate, which he uses to tell us something about human nature. Furthermore, he introduces material from other sources into his tale, and interrupts it with comments about fiction, thus heightening our awareness of its fictitious character and stimulating in us an active search for meaning. He also introduces many themes that appear in other tales, and various morals and sententiae, forcing us as readers to evaluate one aginst the other, if we want to gain a deeper understanding of the tale.