Notes on the Unfinished Cook’s Tale

The Cook begins by applauding the “Miller’s Tale” for warning listeners against inviting unfamiliar people into their homes (perhaps he has missed the greater point of the tale). At any rate, he asks for permission to tell an amusing little tale of an innkeeper in his town (named ‘jape’).

The Cook’s name is Roger. In the “General Prologue,” Chaucer notes the Roger’s particularly notoriety for making white pudding. He also mentions an unfortunate open sore on the cook’s leg (a most unappetizing image).

“The Cook’s Tale” is short and unfinished. It begins in good cheer, not in malice like the “Miller’s Tale.” In the prologue to the “Cook’s Tale,” the Host acknowledges the poor quality of the food that Roger, the Cook, has sold to people over the years.

Roger tells his tale about a young apprentice named Perkyn -a lover of drinking and dancing, and thus a popular young man with women. One day, he is freed from the bonds of his apprenticeship so he moves in with a friend and his wife who “swyved (screwed) for hir sustenance.” In other words, she is a prostitute. Although the tale ends here, we can surmise its continuing ribaldry as the competing tales have descended into licentiousness. The Cook will later be called upon by the Host to tell a story again, but he becomes far too drunk. He gets so drunk, in fact, that he can barely sit upright upon his horse.

Perhaps it is fitting that we are left unsatisfied and unsatiated by a poor and unsatisfying cook. His story is left unfinished, much like the unappetizing food and character of Roger, the cook.


For this reading I used the Broadview Canterbury Tales edition which is based on the famous Ellesmere Manuscript. The Broadview edition closely matches the work of Chaucer’s scribe, Adam Pinkhurst.

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