fabliaux, a versified short story designed to make you
laugh; concerned usually with sexual or excretory functions. The
plot often involves members of the clergy, and is usually in the
form of a practical joke carried out for love or revenge.
Usually an older (Father) figure is cuckolded by a younger man
whom the older man has himself brought into the house.
2. The Miller repays the Knight: The Miller's Tale
shows how far from the idealism of romance much of actual life
is led. For the two nobles we get two clerks (a university
student and a minor functionary in the parish church). The lady
is a wench, far from distant and idealized. The older man is a
"rich gnof," stupid and credulous. We get love among
the common people here, and the sympathetic characters (Nicholas
and Alisoun) are the ones who behave naturally and practically.
Thus The Miller's Tale parodies the literary qualities of
the "Knight's Tale" and ridicules the circumstances it
describes, the resolution it comes to, and the tone in which it
is told. If the first tale inspires us by expressing the human
capacity for heroism and generosity, the second speaks to our
fear that men are nothing more than creatures of duplicity and
selfish desire, who, for all their cleverness, are incapable of
self-control or self-knowledge.
3. Nicholas described
(3187-3220): Astrological interests foregrounded, especially as
related to weather forecasting. Then this plant is burried. Note
his sautrie, and his song, The Angel to the Virgin, suggesting
4.Why is Alisoun described as
she is? Alisoun is owned by her husband. John has bought her, as
evidenced by her very expensive clothes. Thus she is a slave
(whom he holds narwe in cage) and as a slave she has (from our
point of view) a moral right to free herself. The Narrator's
(The Miller's) attitude toward her is that she is simply a
"wench" (3253-3254). She is really just a prostitute,
which the mercantile image following emphasizes. The Narrator
seems to dismiss her as a wench, but the imagery suggests or
might elicit a more complex set of responses valuing wildness,
freedom, naturalness, spontaneity over the conventional cage of
tyranny and slave/master relationships social custom supports.
5. The Knight's Tale (from one perspective) emphasized the
working out of God's (The Firste Moevere's) Providential Order.
Theseus (substitute father/God figure) gives a long speech
(2986-3046, N.B. last lines) stressing the uselessness of any
individual's assertion against this order. But from the Miller's
"Marxist" perspective, acceptance of such order
implies the acceptance of the whole fabric of
political/social/religious order which to him is bondage. That
is why he is so angry! Nicholas asserts himself against that
Order, and in doing so he creates his own order.
6. Nicholas Plan:
Nicholas tells him there is a great flood coming. John's first
thought is for his wife. (3521-3522 N.B. the rhyme.) Nicholas
reminds John of the trouble Noah had with his wife and suggests
that Noah would have been better off if his wife had had her own
boat. Tells John:
|1. Go get each of us a big tub and food
enough for a day.
2. Don't tell anyone, not even Robin or Gill (the maid).
3558: Can't tell God's "privetee."
3. Hang these three tubs high in the roof where no one
4. Be sure to have an ax handy, so that when the water
comes they will be able to release themselves.
5. None of them must speak, except to pray. This is
God's command. (Nicholas is like Gabriel!)
6. 3589ff: You and your wife must be far apart (flatters
him) so that there won't be any sin between you.
7. The Bawdy Conclusion: What of the "gigantically grotesque sign"
(Kendrick) that hangs suspended over the rest of the action
until John's fall? "Two round containers and an oblong one,
each big enough to hold a person: the "knedying trogh,"
"tub," and Kymelyn" (3620-21)? "If the
oblong trough were hung parallel to the ground, which it would
have to be to serve as a boat, what would this trinity of
containers look like from underneath? Might the carpenter's
installation not look like the crude figure of huge male
genitals in erection, a burlesque, carnivalesque version of