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 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 (‘jape’) and a trick that was played. The Cook’s name is Roger. Chaucer notes the Cook’s particularly notoriety for making white pudding in the “General Prologue.” He also mentions an unfortunate open sore on the cook’s leg (a most unappetizing image).

“The Cook’s Tale” is short and is left unfinished. begins in good cheer, not malice as the Miller’s did. 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. He tells a tale of a young apprentice named Perkyn -a lover of drinking and dancing, and thus popular 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 from the “Knight’s Tale.” The Cook will later be called upon by the Host again to tell a story, 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 cook. His story is left unfinished, much like the unappetizing food and character of Roger, the cook.

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