03 December 2013

Dr. Pertelote

Like many others, I'm going to start my blog post with an apologia. I suppose it's to be expected at the end of the semester.

As in my previous post, there are some interesting things going on in the prologue; I am fascinated by the way Chaucer uses the prologues to the tales as a way to deal with the liminal space between narratives, while at the same time creating a super-narrative of the pilgrimage itself. Since this super-narrative is largely focused on interactions between characters, it is not surprising that these prologues and digressions often take the form of arguments between the pilgrims; the disagreements serve to develop the characters and turn the narrative from one text to another.

In the prologue to The Nun's Priest's Tale, the Knight expresses his dissatisfaction with the Monk's tale, and the Host agrees, asking him "hertely telle us somwhat elles; ... Sir, sey somwhat of huntyng, I yow preye." (3983, 2805). However, the Monk refuses, and instead the Nun's Priest takes a turn, to tell the tale of Chaunticleer and Pertelote.

I'm sure we're all shocked to discover that I'm particularly interested in Chaunticleer's dream, or to be more precise, the way he and Pertelote talk about his dream. Pertelote is clearly an example of wifely sympathy when he describes the fox of his dream:

"Avoy!" quod she, "fy on yow, hertelees!
Allas," quod she, "for, by that God above,
Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love!
I kan nat love a coward, by my feith!
For certes, what so any womman seith,
We alle desiren, if it myghte bee,
To han housbondes hardy, wise, and free,
And secree—and no nygard, ne no fool,
Ne hym that is agast of every tool
Ne noon avauntour, by that God above!
How dorste ye seyn, for shame, unto youre love
That any thyng myghte make yow aferd?
Have ye no mannes herte, and han a berd?
Allas! And konne ye been agast of swevenys?
Nothyng, God woot, but vanitee in sweven is.
Swevenes engendren of repleccions,
And ofte of fume and of compleccions,
Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.
Certes this dreem, which ye han met to-nyght,
Cometh of the greete superfluytee
Of youre rede colera, perdee
Which causeth folk to dreden in hir dremes
Of arwes, and of fyr with rede lemes,
Of rede beestes, that they wol hem byte,
Of contek, and of whelpes, grete and lyte;
Rights as the humour of malencolie
Couseth ful many a man in sleep to crie
For feere of blake beres, of boles blake,
Or elles blake develes wole hem take.
Of othere humours koude I telle also
That werken many a man sleep ful wo;
But I wol passe as lightly as I kan. (2908–2939)

While later on they discuss different kinds of dreams and receptions of them (such as Cicero's Dream of Scipio), Pertelote's first discussion of the dream focuses first on her own emotional reaction to Chaunticleer's "cowardice", followed by a highly medical interpretation of why he would feel that way in the first place.

I find it interesting that Pertelote moves so seamlessly from blaming him for his reaction to giving a medical explanation for it. I haven't really figured out why I think this is important exactly, but it is reflecting the liminality between tale-narrative and "Tales"-narrative in an interesting way.

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