Viewed in a certain light, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales offers a realistic slice of life from a diverse cross section of fourteenth century English society. Represented among the travelers are members of all three estates, the church, nobility and peasantry, as well as the middle class, bourgeoisie, and various professionals . Yet, upon close reading of the tales, one sees that life as these medievals would have lived is warped when read through Chaucer's lens. In the Miller's Tale and the Reeve's Tale, sentiments of piety one would expect of a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury are nowhere to be found; rather, the prevailing attitude of the characters within these two tales is one of total amorality. As Derek Pearsall argues, In religious tales and saints' legends, [a] self-transcending system of values operates, in this case proving the significance of life through the demonstration of its ultimate insignificance in relation to life eternal. Comedy sets all this aside, and asserts that there are no values, secular or religious, more important than survival and the satisfaction of appetite.
[...] An analogue to the Reeve's tale, written in French, does not elaborate on the devious nature of the miller, or on the clerks' plan to make sure they don't get cheated. It simply says that two clerks, who, having fallen on hard times, chose to become bakers to support themselves, happened to use a miller who “knew his trade too well (Analogue to Reeve's Tale).” Other than the Reeve's augmentation of the motives behind the story, it follows very similar lines as the Miller's tale. [...]
[...] Nicholas and Alison “tolden every man that [John] was wood and so those townspeople, instead of punishing Nicholas for his sins, revel in the humor of John's plight: The folk gan laughen at his fantasye; Into the roof thy kiken and they cape, And turned al his harm unto a jape 3840-42). If the ending is disturbing in its unfairness to the characters, one must recall that there is nothing in the tale to suggest that fairness is requisite in this little world. [...]
[...] Chaucer's fabliaux toy with the incompatible combination of pilgrims journeying to pay their respects to Saint Thomas à Becket and the stories they tell, sometimes jovial, sometimes full of anger, of characters just like themselves, but living in a completely amoral world. In the Miller's tale, the fabliau plot is at its peak: every element of the genre is in attendance, from the cuckolded husband with his young wife to the sly lovers and their antics. All of these characters have motives either to gain some kind of sexual satisfaction or maintain exclusivity over existing sexual satisfaction. [...]
[...] Bibliography Primary Sources: 1. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) Secondary Sources: 1. Helen Cooper, The Canterbury Tales, Oxford Guides to Chaucer (Oxford: Oxford University Press rev.1996) 2. Jean Jost, Chaucer's Humor: Critical Essays (New York: Garland, 1994) 3. Laura Kendrick, in Peter Brown, ed., A Companion to Chaucer (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) pp. 90- Derek Pearsall, Canterbury Tales II: Comedy,” [...]
[...] The strangest aspect of these two takes, however, is still the fact that they exist at all in the context of the Canterbury Tales. Why would two men on a pilgrimage to Canterbury tell, respectively, a buoyant tale about the search for and attainment of illicit sex, and a rancorous story about punishment and revenge? Both seem misplaced in the context of pilgrims telling stories on their way to worship Saint Thomas à Becket, but perhaps it has something to do with the nature of the tellers themselves. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee