ENG 2307E 530
October 28, 2014
Medieval Dream Theory and Animals in the Nun's Priest's Tale
The 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...