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The Hidden Meaning of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

The Hidden Meaning of The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

It has been suggested that a “Chaucer tale exploits the nature of its genre but also draws attention to the ideological biases and exclusions inherent in the genre”2. In my opinion The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is a wonderful example of Chaucer testing the bounds of his chosen genre – in this case the beast fable.

What is a beast fable? Obviously a tale about animals, but one where “animals are used as embodiments or caricatures of human virtues, vices, prudences, and follies … and the other typical qualities of mankind. They are generally brief cautionary anecdotes that use the obvious resemblances between man and animals to point a moral or push a proverb home entertainingly”3.

Chaucer can be seen to exploit the nature of the beast fable fully in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. It contains all of the traditional elements mentioned above: the central characters are the chickens Chauntecleer and Pertelote, and Russell the fox; the culpability, gullibility, guile and boastfulness of the characters are examined; the tale is brief, approximately 650 lines; and several morals are offered. The tale is also entertaining, but not only because of its caricatures of human traits. The tale contains numerous sub-genres such as the romance, rhetorical debate, and Christian misogyny, and it is the interplay of these sub-genres with the framing beast fable that creates much of the humour.

In The Nun’s Priest’s Tale Chaucer shows up some of the worst excesses of these popular medieval traditions by putting them into context with his animal characters. The incongruity of a chicken taking part in a debate on the significance of dreams, for example, is inherently comic, but does not just…

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…9), 251-270. This from p. 266.

8. F. Anne Payne, “Foreknowledge and Free Will: Three Theories in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale” The Chaucer Review 10 (1975), 201-219. This from p. 208

9. Ian Bishop, “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale and the Liberal Arts,” Review of English Studies NS30 (1979), 257-267. This from p. 17.

10. Payne, p. 205.

11. Walter Scheps, “Chaucer’s Anti-fable: Reductio ad absurdum in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” Leeds Studies in English 4 (l970), 1-10. This from p. 7.

12. Bishop, p. 266.

13. Payne. p. 218.

14. Payne. p. 210.

15. Payne. p. 211.

16. 0wen, p. 267

17. Jill Mann, “The Speculum Stultorum and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” The Chaucer Review 9 (1975), 262-282. This from p. 275.

18. Friedman. p. 253.

19. 0erlemans, p. 318.

20. Scheps. p. 8.

21. Payne, p. 214.

22. Mann, p. 277.

The Price of Freedom in The Children’s Bach and Joan Makes History

The Price of Freedom in The Children’s Bach and Joan Makes History

It has been suggested that the “modern woman’s quest for emancipation in contemporary Australian literature is shown to have been a failure”2. I believe that this suggestion is invalid. Not because the statement is true or untrue, but because the concept of women’s emancipation is so fraught to begin with. To emancipate is “to free from restraint of any kind, especially the inhibitions of tradition”3. While it is obviously true that the emancipation of women from some traditions and restraints would be beneficial, both individually and to the society as a whole, to step completely outside of the bounds of society can be read not only as freedom, but as exclusion. If women achieve exclusion from society is that to be seen as a success or a failure?

In my opinion it is not exclusion but equitable integration that is the road to true emancipation for women. However, the idea of integration also brings with it the idea of compromise, and how can a freedom wrought through compromises be seen as either a complete success or total failure?

The issue of what constitutes successful emancipation for women has been explored in two contemporary Australian novels: The Children’s Bach4 and Joan Makes History. In this essay I will explore the contradictions and confusions discovered through Athena’s and Joan’s searches for personal freedom, and the mixture of failure and success in the freedom they eventually find when they go ‘home’.

The Children’s Bach

“If I hadn’t been a feminist I quite probably wouldn’t have become a writer”5 says Garner, indicating the importance of feminism in her own quest for self identity and freedom. Her definition of feminism is “a simple matter of being intelligently for women and women’s freedom to develop as decent human beings”6. And although she considers marriage “an institution that is not set up with the welfare of women in mind”7, she also recognises a “powerful urge in people … to marry”8. It stands to reason then, that in her fiction she would explore the possibilities of the tradition of marriage with the view of finding ways it will allow women to develop into “decent human beings”.

With these attitudes mind, it becomes apparent that there is nothing incongruous in Garner’s heroine Athena searching for freedom, and finding a version of it in her own marital home.

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