Feb 4: The Miller’s Tale

Chaucer tells us a rather bawdy and low-minded tale in comparison to the Knight’s Tale or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. How does he subvert our expectations and what are we supposed to learn from the Miller’s Tale, if anything at all?

8 thoughts on “Feb 4: The Miller’s Tale

  1. I believe the prologue to the Miller’s Tale gives one a good sense of what kind of tale it is going to be. When the narrator himself claims to be drunk, one can imagine what the tale itself is going to entail. As for any type of lesson, I believe it to be two-fold. The first lesson concerns John the carpenter. “Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man / That noght but oonly his belive kan!” (3455-6). John says this quite ironically because if he was a smarter man then he would have probably seen through Nicholas’s deception (and also maybe realized that Nicholas and his wife were having an affair). The second lesson concerns Absolon and Nicholas. By the end of the tale, John is considered a mad man by the public, perhaps a fitting punishment for his gullibility. Absolon and Nicholas however receive very different if not equally embarrassing punishments. Absolon ends up kissing the “lower eye” of Alisoun and Nicholas receives a red hot iron across his buttocks, punishments for coveting another man’s wife. However, those are very loose conclusions to draw in my opinion, as the tale seems not to be for the purpose of conveying any lesson, but for sheer comedic entertainment.

  2. As stated above, The Miller’s tale foreshadows of what it is going to entail, by stating how one is drunk. The host himself tells the Miller, ‚Äúthou art a fool,” because he is drunk. I think from the Miller’s Tale we are suppose to learn what is serious and what things are supposed to be funny. For example John the carpenter was a very serious and believable aspect to the tale. He was rich, and married a young woman, which men tend to do. But the comedic aspect starts coming through when he falls through the roof. And the men have to kiss the “lower eye.” I feel like the story started off as a comedy act, some parts got serious but it ends overall just for the people’s entertainment.

  3. I find it very interesting that the book’s editors tell us Chaucer essentially apologizes for the “boorish lower-class character” yet at the same time he “devotes all his powers” to create a “comic masterpiece” (p. 285) in the Miller’s Tale. I believe Chaucer knew the contents of this story wouldn’t be deemed appropriate for his upper-class readers so he had to own up to its vulgarity, as even the Miller urges the reader to “Turne over the leef, and chese another tale” (69) if they don’t want to read such a bawdy story. However, the fact that Chaucer put so much effort into weaving such a creative tale could allude to a belief that all members of the hierarchy had important roles in society and their stories were just as worthy to relay as those that ranked above them in class.

  4. Both the tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Knight’s Tale, are similar in their themes of chivalry and loyalty. The Miller’s tale, however, is the complete opposite. Even from the very beginning, the Miller interrupts before the Monk could being his tale, and demands that he be allowed to tell his instead. He also claims to be drunk and threatens to leave the group if he does not have his way. These actions at the very beginning of the tale indicate that the Miller is not going to tell a serious story. Therefore, my personal opinion, is that the story about John and Nicholas and Alisoun should not be taken seriously. The tale sounds like show that airs on adult swim on Cartoon Network. It is a comedy that, especially compared to texts filled with honor and loyalty and love like the Green Knight and the Knight’s Tale, holds no true message. I think Chaucer might have included it simply to try and engage the lower class mindset in society. He might also be trying to show that along these pilgrimages, there are a multitude of different people all traveling to the same place. On a more simple level, Chaucer might have included this tale and have the Miller insist that he go after the knight because his story is meant to make fun of the knight’s chivalrous views.

  5. In contrast with courtly love and the high-brow rituals of love tokens and romance is the Miller’s Prologue and Tale. It is the very antithesis of what the Knight’s Tale and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight stood for.

    The story itself starts off with a sort of “ugly” picture. An elderly man with a beautiful 18-year-old wife. The carpenter-husband “demed hymself been like a/ cokewold” (line 18-19), or was aware that he was the spouse of an adulteress. He was possessive of her out of his fear of her either trying to have sex outside of their marriage or her having done so in the past.

    This is no story of glittering gold Queens giving their stately knights tokens of love. This is a get-down-in-the-dirt, low-class, low-brow story not of love, but of sex and desire. Out of all the stories we’ve read thus far, this woman’s description is most realistic. Unlike the ladies in the Knights Tale (like the statue of Venus, who had garlands of flowers and doves fluttering about her head [line 103-104 of The Knight’s Tale]) the young wife is described with honesty and detail that hints at a lower-class woman. She is compared to a weasel, with a ” body gent and smal” (line 126) with a girdle, white apron and pleated skirt (lines 127-129).

    In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the wife of the Green Knight wore “many bright pearls” (line 955 of Sir Gawain). Not in the Miller’s Tale- in fact, there’s no mention of jewelry for the carpenter’s wife; another sign of their lower status. All in all, Chaucer makes it quite clear that the Miller was mocking the Knight’s Tales and all like stories like it. Chaucer did this through a story of lower-class people having sex, the antithesis of two people spouting love poems across a royal court.

    • To expand on what Aimee said, the purpose of the Miller’s tale is to be a direct juxtaposition to the story of the Knight. It is direct and straightforward, crass and humorous, in a way that mocks the courtly, flowery aspects of the Knight’s tale. This kind of story would have been shocking in this time period not because of the content, but because it was written down and included with stories such as the Knight’s tale. Chaucer’s point here is not only to include a humorous note into his work, alleviating the heavy drama of the courtly story told before it, but to show that lower classes also had stories to tell. He embraces stereotypes of each class of that time to both include and mock all of the various levels of society. His audience was not just the highest levels of society; this is a marked change from previous times, where socioeconomic castes and the very language of publication were obstacles that prevented lower class people from reading published works. Here he challenges the traditional, stereotypical, courtly stories and attitudes by including a base, comical story that embraces the straightforward telling of stories common to the oral tradition of the lower classes. The story itself is not meant to be taken seriously; Chaucer ensures that the audience knows the story is ridiculous to begin with, making the Miller drunk. The story as a whole is presented to make a statement about courtly attitudes, utilize and enforce social stereotypes, and provide comic relief.

  6. While I can’t say for sure that this is what we were supposed to “learn” from The Miller’s Tale, but I read this is as a dark, grotesque comedy that (for modern readers at least) would be a humorous diversion from the generic, chivalric Knight’s Tale. I don’t know how funny Chaucer’s original audience would have found this but for modern readers this can definitely be interpreted as Chaucer having some fun with one of his “tales.” In The Miller’s Tale I think he was just trying to break the storytelling mold a little and have some fun with the creative ability that he had. Bits like when Absolon “kiste hir naked ers” (line 626) and “Nicholas anon leet fle a fart” (line 698) are in that vein of Shrek humor that even though they’re gross you kind of can’t help but laugh at them, and if Sir Gawain had farted in The Green Knight’s face at some point it would have completely changed the story no matter how chivalric the rest of it was.

    Another aspect of the Miller’s Tale that strays the storytelling norms of the time is that Alisoun, an adulterer, goes completely unpunished. Absolon, Nicholas, and John all get screwed over in their own Three Stooges-esque ways while nothing really happens to her. I feel like in a generic and predictable story from this time, there would have been some form of punishment dealt out to her.

  7. Certainly The Miller’s Tale stands in stark contrast to the courtly romances we have been reading. I think this may be the point. Will all the butt and fart moments, all the trickery, and even the voice of the narrator, we can tell that there is not really much of a lesson to be had here– unless that is, it is speaking to the falsity of the nobility of knights pot rayed in romances. However the story is not about the knight class it is about more common people.
    If nothing else I think we can learn from the Miller’s Tale as a work of historical writing. I found this this tale to give more insight in to medieval society than any romance. We can see that even so many hundreds of years ago they appreciated both slap stick and butt humor. Also through the descriptions of the characters’ physical appearances (particularly the carpenter’s wife and Nicholas) we can see some level of beauty standards. The detailed descriptions of her aprons, eyebrows, and figure come to mind, as well as Nicholas’s grey eyes. For me this made the poem more enjoyable and relatable than the Breton Lais, and other romances we have studied.

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