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The Cook's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Moral Lesson & Analysis

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson, we will look at one of the stories in 'The Canterbury Tales', the Cook's Tale. This is only a partial story, but we will analyze this fragment and any moral lessons found in it.

Background

After hearing Reeve's tale, the Cook laughs and says that he has a story that is quite as good. The host tells the Cook that he must tell a very good story to make up for the bad food that he has sold. The Cook first says he will tell a story about an inn-keeper but then changes his mind saying that he will save that story for the return trip home. Instead, he tells a story about a Cook's Apprentice.

This story is not complete, so we cannot tell how it would have ended, but it starts out with a young man who goes from bad to worse. Based on the style of previous stories, this story would have probably continued in the same pattern, showing how bad the human soul is.

Analysis

It makes sense for the cook to tell a story about an apprentice in the food-sellers guild; perhaps it is even a story that the cook had contact with one or more of the characters. We don't know the cook's background with this story; we don't even know how the story progresses or ends. This story starts out by introducing Perkin the Reveller. He is introduced as a food-sellers apprentice, but one who loves to have fun and party at the tavern more than he likes the food shops.

Perkin continued down this path of fun and parties to his delight and the delight of those around him. He was a fun person to be around. But, his master was not pleased. Not only was he never able to find his apprentice, but Perkin would also steal money to go gambling with. The cook makes an interesting assessment, saying that revelry and theft often go hand in hand; you will seldom find an honest reveller.

Finally, the master had enough and decided to let Perkin go even though he had nearly finished his apprenticeship. It was remembering an old proverb that it is better to get rid of a rotten apple then allow it to rot the rest that finally convinced the master to let Perkin go. Yet, Perkin was not disappointed, instead he was excited to be gone to be allowed to party and have fun all he pleased.

This fragment ends with Perkin joining with another thief who is just as immoral as Perkin. This new friend also loved to gamble and party. His wife was no better, as she kept shop but only as a front for prostitution. From this fragment, we cannot tell whether or not Perkin ever fixes his ill ways or simply continues to become worse until he meets a probable bad end. Yet, we can see that this is another story about the ills of human nature and how one vice often goes hand in hand with another.

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