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Freewill in The Nuns Priests Tale - A Literary Essay Example

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University of California, Santa Barbara
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The Nuns Priests Tale is a fable by Geoffrey Chaucer. It narrates a story of a rooster by the name Chanticleer which was a magnificent cock. Chanticleer had many hen-wives with the favorite being a lovely hen namely Pertelote. One night, Chanticleer has a terrible dream in which a beast threatens to kill him while in the yard. He is bothered by this dream since he believes that dreams are among the means the reality is revealed. On the other hand, Pertelote does not believe in any of these, and she believes the dream was as a result of some physical malady and she resolves to get some herbs for her husband. Chanticleer, however, convinced and intending to convince his wife of the significance of dreams tells her examples of famous dream interpretations. His dream came to pass when one day a fox attacks the rooster. The fox utilizes flattery to lure the rooster into his trap, and it works. Fortunately, Chanticleer wisely tricks the fox into an opportunity on which he escapes from his predator. Pertelote and the other animals had also united to pursue the assailant. Chanticleer learns his lesson and does not fall into the foxs flattery anymore.

There are various themes present in the fable. One of the dominant themes is free will. Freewill is the ability to act on ones discretion. This theme is presented as a complex issue and at some point appears to be contradictory. The first instance of free will is presented through a discussion of the nature of dreams. Chanticleer believes that a dream is an omen. He believes that dreams are from the world of intentions and that his dream is a warning of impending disaster. To support his opinion, he quotes some classical authors and dream interpretations. On the other hand, Pertelote has her own beliefs. She is convinced that such a terrible dream is caused by overeating and what Chanticleer needs is a remedy. Pertelote relegates dreams to the world of causes that can be resolved through various means. In this situation, free will seems to take different paths with each having a different opinion from the other.

This state is followed by what can be considered as a problem of free will versus predestination. On one side, a dream is presented as a truthful representation of the future state of affairs. If this is so, it means that the scenario appearing in the dream must already be existing. It means that the future must be mapped up such that the prophetic dream can be referenced in it. If the future was not anything significant since the future events have not yet happened, then there would not be anything for the dreamer to dream. There is also a contradiction presented in the tale concerning free will. When Pertelote gives Chanticleer her opinion concerning the nature of the dream, he is free to choose whether to accept or refuse the advice. On the contrary, he is not completely free since everything has been destined as he believes. This means that whichever advice he chooses to take, what has been predestined to happen will happen, that is, the fox would still attack regardless of the choice Chanticleer takes. This brings about the complexity of free will and destiny. Destiny supersedes free will and what has been destined to happen will happen regardless of the direction ones free will takes.

Prediction is presented to have a relationship with free will. As practiced by prophetic dreamers, the prediction is portrayed as a form of foreknowledge. It is in a patchy version of the total foreknowledge attributed to God. This foreknowledge, whether patchy or in totality, counters the common sense belief in free will. This is because if certain situations have been foreseen and determined to make them inevitable, then there is no real freedom of action from the humans involved. Otherwise, if it were possible, they could alter the predictions by making choices that would result in different scenarios other than the ones predicted. This would reduce Gods foreknowledge to simple guesswork. A free agents actions should not be predictable if the agent is indeed free to act as he or she thinks fit. This means that predictable scenarios, including the future as defined by Gods foreknowledge, cannot include any free agents. According to Chaucers, he regards Gods absolute foreknowledge as a given and then endeavored to accommodate human free will within that framework.

The conclusion that Chaucer seems to have about free will is that of limited free choice. This is to say that God knows what is set to happen in future but yet free will is permitted in the choice of the direction to that destination. This solution seems unsatisfactory. This is because, it first allows patchy foreknowledge, which is the conclusion, but not the path to that conclusion, yet the foreknowledge of God is supposed to be total. Additionally, free will is relegated to minor matters of detail while accepting determinism for the greater decisions of life. This means that one can make decisions about a minor situation but cannot determine greater scenarios of life such as when one is set to die. This state is presented when religious aspects are present in the given scenario where God and His foreknowledge are in the picture.

Another means in which free will is presented in The Nuns Priests Tale, is by associating it with an individuals character. This is portrayed through the various characters in the story. For instance, after Chanticleer had the dream, he had a choice to make to keep away from harm or to be careless and take no heed to safeguard himself from potential danger. This is mostly because he was convinced that there was some reality in the dream. With this conviction, it would be expected that he would be keen while in the yard and be cautious of the potential danger that would approach. On the contrary, he continues with his carefree lifestyle in the yard, flaunting his magnificent body as he was used to doing. This shows his vain character which directs the pattern of his lifestyle. Through this character, he chooses to ignore the significance of the dream and continue to live carelessly in the yard. This vain character is what makes him be easily enticed by the flattery of the fox and ends up in his mouth. Since he glorifies vanity which can be associated with his magnificent body, he is easily flattered and deceived and falls for the trick. His character is weak. His free will is flawed, and he is unable to sense danger. As for the fox, he has a cunning character, and through this he manages to trick the rooster into his trap and almost manages to eat him up. These occurrences show that character, besides foreknowledge can influence free will in making decisions.

Sex is also presented as a factor that affects decision making and can influence free will. In the story, Chanticleer is overcome by sexual lust even amidst a potential danger. After having the dream and a discussion with Pertelote, he cannot contain himself. He is driven by this lust to make love to Pertelote twenty times. He is enslaved by his passions such that he cannot heed the advice that his arguments provide. He is aware of what he ought to do in the circumstances of a possible danger, but the force of reason is overshadowed by the other forces that are within him such as lust and vanity. This explains why he continues to strut his feathers in the yard and even stage a performance to the fox. His free will is blurred, and he ends up making the wrong choices in the face of danger.

In summary, Chaucers story, The Nuns Priests Tale presents the aspect of free will and the factors surrounding it. Free will is a privilege for any human being which should be used in making decisions to fit the existing situations. In the fable story, free will is presented to be subject to predestined occurrences which are already set to happen in future. Revelations can be made concerning these scenarios, for instance through dreams, which should act as a guide to making decisions on the path that leads to that destination. Where scenarios are already predetermined, freewill is constrained and can only be applicable in minimal degrees in attempts to avert the possibility of the happening if it is a disastrous occurrence. Chaucer brings in Gods foreknowledge into the picture, which must stand. In other instances, decisions are determined by the character of the individual in question. Strong characters are likely to lead to informed decisions and vice versa. In the story, Chanticleers character is portrayed as vain and weak. This explains why he makes wrong decisions even in the midst of danger. The vain character lands him in the mouth of the fox that entices him through flattery and deceit. He is also full of lust which leads him to make love to his wife twenty times at a time that danger was lurking outside and he would be expected to be taking precautions. The fable represents the working of a human being. Freewill is affected by predestined situations as well as characters that one possesses. These determine the decisions that one makes.


Works Cited

Corrie, Marilyn. "" God may well fordo desteny": Dealing with Fate, Destiny, and Fortune in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur and Other Late Medieval Writing." Studies in Philology110.4 (2013): 690-713.

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