The Canterbury Tales: The Cook's Tale
Heere bigynneth the Cookes Tale
       A prentys whilom dwelled in oure citee,
And of a craft of vitailliers was hee.
Gaillard he was as goldfynch in the shawe,
Broun as a berye, a propre short felawe,
45 With lokkes blake, ykembd ful fetisly.
Dauncen he koude so wel and jolily
That he was cleped Perkyn Revelour.
He was as ful of love and paramour
As is the hyve ful of hony sweete:
50 Wel was the wenche with hym myghte meete.
At every bridale wolde he synge and hoppe;
He loved bet the taverne than the shoppe.
For whan ther any ridyng was in Chepe,
Out of the shoppe thider wolde he lepe -
55 Til that he hadde al the sighte yseyn,
And daunced wel, he wolde nat come ayeyn -
And gadered hym a meynee of his sort
To hoppe and synge and maken swich disport;
And ther they setten stevene for to meete
60 To pleyen at the dys in swich a streete.
For in the toune nas ther no prentys
That fairer koude caste a paire of dys
Than Perkyn koude, and therto he was free
Of his dispense, in place of pryvetee.
65 That fond his maister wel in his chaffare;
For often tyme he foond his box ful bare.
For sikerly a prentys revelour
That haunteth dys, riot, or paramour,
His maister shal it in his shoppe abye,
70 Al have he no part of the mynstralcye.
For thefte and riot, they been convertible
Al konne he pleye on gyterne or ribible.
Revel and trouthe, as in a lowe degree,
They been ful wrothe al day, as men may see.
75        This joly prentys with his maister bood,
Til he were ny out of his prentishood,
Al were he snybbed bothe erly and late,
And somtyme lad with revel to Newegate.
But atte laste his maister hym bithoghte,
80 Upon a day, whan he his papir soughte,
Of a proverbe that seith this same word,
'Wel bet is roten appul out of hoord
Than that it rotie al the remenaunt.'
So fareth it by a riotous servaunt;
85 It is ful lasse harm to lete hym pace,
Than he shende alle the servantz in the place
Therfore his maister yaf hym acquitance,
And bad hym go, with sorwe and with meschance!
And thus this joly prentys hadde his leve.
90 Now lat hym riote al the nyghte or leve.
And for ther is no theef withoute a lowke,
That helpeth hym to wasten and to sowke
Of that he brybe kan or borwe may,
Anon he sente his bed and his array
95 Unto a compeer of his owene sort,
That lovede dys, and revel, and disport,
And hadde a wyf that heeld for contenance
A shoppe, and swyved for hir sustenance.
(Chaucer did not finish this tale.)

The Cook's Prologue | The Man of Law's Introduction

The Cook’s Tale is about an apprentice, Peter, who works in a food store. He’s a bit of a party guy, and often skips down to the local tavern to have a few drinks. He also gambles with his friends, goes to parties and dances, and associates with somewhat less-than-honorable girls. Peter uses money from the shop when he gambles, and his master always scolds him for skipping out and taking all the money. After this has gone on for a while, the master decides that since Peter might corrupt other people who work at the store with his contemptible ways, he must fire Peter. Peter then takes up residence with one of his pals, whose wife happens to be a prostitute, and that’s all Chaucer wrote of the Cook’s tale.

According to the Cook's Prologue to the tale, it is meant to be a humorous story, although it is told in a fairly matter-of-fact way. If Chaucer had finished it, it looks like it could have become a moralistic story, with something bad happening to Peter at the end because he was out getting drunk, or something along those lines.

The Cook’s point in telling this tale might have been that too much alcohol and other such habits are bad for you – if Chaucer had written the rest of it. As it stands, it seems at least that the Cook did not endorse Peter’s lifestyle, since, in the tale, he loses his job because of it. Also, the Cook did not describe Peter’s actions in a favorable light, another indication that he disapproved of that type of lifestyle. However, as he pointed out before he began the tale, it was meant to be humorous, and so was probably only told to entertain.

Chaucer’s description of the Cook in the Prologue is very short, consisting of only about ten lines. What he did say about him is that he was a very good cook and made some foods, such as blancmange, especially well. He also mentioned fleetingly that the Cook had “an ulcer on his knee” (line 390). The fact that he was an excellent cook may relate to the story because the Cook may once have been young and foolish like Peter, and later shaped up and refined his skills to become top-notch, which is how Chaucer might have finished it. The ulcer could have been the result of an unhealthy lifestyle previously, which would also support the idea that the Cook's tale was his autobiography. Also, Chaucer used physical traits of his travellers to denote ugliness in their personalities, so a blemish such as a visible ulcer may have been meant to signify an unsavory character, or perhaps simply someone who has undergone hardships.

There is not much of the Cook’s own personality or interests shown in the tale he told, but in the Prologue to the tale, he was very lighthearted, joking with Harry Bailey and the Miller. He seemed to regard the tale he was about to tell as a great joke, showing that he was a good-humored person. He also mentioned that he was “only a poor man” (page 142), so he probably lived fairly hand-to-mouth. There is nothing much else about him shown in his tale, except that he does not approve of wild lifestyles.

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