Canterbury Essay

The Miller’s Tale, as opposed to other tales that we have read so far, is
filled with double meanings that one must understand to catch the crudeness and
vulgarity that make the tale what it is. The fact that The Monk’s Tale should
have followed The Knight’s Tale should tell you something about the Miller.

The Miller ended up telling the second tale because he was drunk and demanded to
go after the knight or he would leave the group (3132-33). The Reeve told the
Miller to shut his mouth (3144). The Miller did not and proceeded along with his
tale. The Miller uses his tale to insult the Knight and the Reeve. Although his
story is identical in plot to that of The Knight’s Tale, the use of vulgarity
leads the pilgrims to interpret the tale more for entertainment value than for
serious reasons. The Miller pokes fun at the Reeve by setting the story at a
carpenter’s house in Oxford. This offends the Reeve because he is a carpenter
by trade. In The Miller’s Tale the carpenter rents out rooms in his house. One
of the lodgers is a scholar named Nicholas. Nicholas is an astrologer who can
predict when it will rain or be dry (3196). Though Nicholas was very rich in
knowledge, he lacked money to pay his rent or a woman to call his love. For that
Nicholas often had his friends pay his bills (3320). The carpenter, unlike the
scholar, did have a woman. His wife was only eighteen years of age, which is
less than half of his own age. The Miller uses animal and natural similes to
describe how this woman looks. For that her body is graceful as a weasel’s
(3234), and her loins wrapped with an apron is as white (meaning pure) as
morning milk (3235). She is also supposedly better to look at than a pear tree
(which in The Merchant’s Tale is a symbol of adultery). Despite being called
all of the above, the Miller foreshadows that she is not all that pure by
calling her by the flower name “Piggesnye” (3268), or pigs’ eye. A pig is
an animal that has bad habits. This hints toward future problems. One day that
problem finally shows its face. The carpenter had left the house, thus leaving
Nicholas and his wife alone together. Nicholas wants nothing more than to make
love to the carpenters wife. So he grabs her “queynte” (3267) or genitals
and says, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille, for deerne love of thee, lemmen, I
spille (3277-78).” In other words, he must have her or die with “spille”,
meaning to die. “Spille” also means to ejaculate. The wife agrees to sleep
with the scholarly Nicholas only if he can devise a plan that will give them
time alone. After the wife’s run in with Nicholas, she encounters another
admirer named Absolon at church. Absolon, unlike Nicholas, tries to win the
wife’s heart by singing and sending her presents of pies and alcohol
(3360-78). Despite Absolon’s efforts, Allison [during Absolon’s singing we
learn the wife’s name is Allison] loves Nicholas. While Absolon was trying to
court Allison, Nicholas was finalizing his plan. His plan was to go into his
room on a Saturday night and not come out until the carpenter came for him,
which he did on Monday by axing the door down. The carpenter awoke Nicholas and
asked him what was the matter. Nicholas explained to the carpenter that he was
studying astronomy for two days and that there was going to be a great rain that
will make Noah’s flood look like drizzle. In order for the carpenter and his
wife to escape the downpour, the carpenter must put three tubs on the roof and
sit patiently until the rain comes. The carpenter is warned that he can not stay
inside and sleep with his wife, for that there can be no sin (3587-3590). John
(we learn the carpenter’s name through their conversing on line 3577) falls
for Nicholas’s tale, thus giving him (Nicholas) and Allison time to be left
alone. When the day comes of the supposed flood, John takes to the roof waiting
for the rain. While waiting, he falls asleep. Inside the house, Nicholas and
Allison are far away from sleeping. Here they can finally get it on so to speak.

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Absolon gets word that John has departed town, and takes this as an opportunity
to bed Allison. So Absolon goes over and sings to Allison and begs for a kiss
(3716), which she agrees to. Instead of sticking her face out of the window, she
puts out her butt (3734) for Absolon to kiss. With it being so dark out, Absolon
does so, then gets angered by what has happened to him. Due to being humiliated,
Absolon no longer has an interest in Allison. He does, however, want revenge. So
Absolon goes to the blacksmith’s shop and gets a red-hot iron to poke into
Allison’s butt when he goes back and asks for another kiss. Once he got the
red-hot iron, Absolon returned to Allison’s window. Here he once again begs
for a kiss and tells Allison that he has a gold ring for her (3794). This time
Nicholas sticks his butt out of the window. Absolon, still upset about the last
time, calls out to his maiden to speak (3805). In response, Nicholas farts on
Absolon. Absolon gets even, though, by branding Nicholas’s butt with the
red-hot poker that makes Nicholas think he is going to die (3808-13). In his
pain, Nicholas calls out, “HELP! WATER! WATER! HELP!” (3815). This cry for
help awakens John the carpenter who thought the floods had come and cut loose
the support ropes. This caused him to fall to the ground where he broke his arm
and passed out (3829). The tale ends with John being the laughingstock of the
town. He is deemed crazy by the town folk (3848). Absolon is also ridiculed for
kissing Allison’s “lower eye” (3852). Nicholas got the worst of it. He was
looked down upon as well as being left with a burn mark on his butt. This tale
by the Miller was directed toward the Reeve, who is a carpenter, by trade. If
you recall, the Reeve is the person who told the Miller to shut up. So there is
bad blood between the two men. The double meanings and vulgarity in this tale is
what makes it so good. Without the combination of the two, the story would leave
us hanging.


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