ABSTRACT

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale abounds with musical references—a fact that is often obscured by a common scholarly focus on the roles of philosophy and rhetoric in the tale. What has been lost in those readings is the medieval understanding of music as a branch of philosophy, rather than as mere entertainment. Restoring music to its proper place alongside rhetoric, as coequal branches of medieval philosophy, shifts the framework of the tale, providing a new structure for how to read it. In negotiating music as philosophy through the story of a rooster, Chaucer interrogates three major tenets of Boethian and medieval music theory that tie, respectively, to the plot’s structure, to Chauntecleer’s characterization, and to the final implications of the theme of social and moral harmony. These tenets and their complementary narrative features align and overlap, as Chaucer invites his audience to question the limitations of music and rhetoric in this beast fable.

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