Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is among the earliest extant materials found in English literature. The sheer range of subjects discussed in various tales calls for a special attention from the critics and readers alike. In the Miller’s Tale, the storyline is narrated by an inebriated miller in response to the Knight’s Tale, a more serious and dignified segment of Canterbury Tales as opposed to the miller’s grotesque and bawdy documentations. Several literary tools are used in the Miller’s Tale to serve the humoristic purpose of the story, the most important ones being satiric fabliau and crude humor.
This essay is going to analyze the social and literary significance of this masterful work of prose, with occasional comparison with other relevant works. The Miller’s Tale is fundamentally based on the interactive methods of storytelling which was espoused in Canterbury Tales. The story is “a fabliau, a bawdy, frequently blasphemous, comic tale about trick and counter-trick. ” (Chaucer and Coote 103) After the knight is through with his story, the host Harry Bailey asks the Monk to enthrall them with another that would match, if not surpass, the Knight’s Tale.
It is at this juncture that the drunken miller intervenes by claiming that he has a tale to requite the knight’s. Then what he tells is essentially can the subaltern speak and vulgar. While it is amusing to ponder over such a story riddled with mistaken and misidentified characters and situations, it also makes a direct reference to the contemporary English society. Moreover, a strong connection within the Christian mythology is established in the telling, a method which is a reminder of Chaucer’s propensity to Christianity.
Questions of morality, seriousness and blithe fun are juxtaposed in the narrative, which makes it harder to draw line between important aspects of the two tales. The old and jealous carpenter, for example, was drawn from reality Chaucer himself might have found in Oxford. Yet the author’s primary focus is on telling a tale of trick and disguise. The hilarious situation of John in the end owes a debt to the art of fabliau, and Chaucer amidst a ‘made’ buildup introduces to the readers two of the most important literary concepts introduced in the Miller’s Tale – the ‘ernest’ and the ‘game.
In a way, by showing the extremities of both these situations (‘ernest’ as in the case of John and ‘game’ for Alison and Nicholas), the author assumes the role of the narrator of Canterbury Tales in reliving the prologue. With the cohabitation of both the comic and the dark humor, it is imperative that readers treat them separately within the same context. Now from a social perspective, this is similar to Shakespeare’s late romances which are written on themes of frolic and fundamental ludicrousness.
The basic purpose is to evoke laughter and “a spirit of renewal and celebration comparable to the dances and feasting communities…” (Pfister 31). The miller’s laconic scuttlebutts on people’s inherent follies and situational misapprehensions are reflective of the cultural and behavioral patterns of the Middle Ages when society functioned in a rather tense manner due to stereotypical assigning of value-based roles. Alison’s infidelity to her husband clearly identifies the corruptive and failing ideologies not just in matters of relation, but also in religious beliefs.
This was later to be reflected in the Reeve’s Prologue that hinges on austere satires on society and the church, especially the rampant economic corruption of the latter. While the Miller’s Tale appears to be somewhat subdued and modulated, the Reeve’s Tale unleashes a darker treatment of imagism and its manifold traits. In dealing with lust, the Reeve’s Tale portrays a picture of perverted sexual starvation and its decoyed implications (Phillips 65). However, it is also quite curious to notice that the adultery in the Miller’s Tale is met with scornfully by Reeve who himself was a carpenter.
Hence, the echelons of the second tale in Canterbury Tales are primarily rooted in hierarchical mismatches and the confusions thereof. The thesis topic of this paper is evidenced furthermore by the literary theorem of representing the contemporary intellectual practices. Chaucer’s prolific appending of misleading situations and fabliau makes for a pleasure reading, if not, at the same time, asking for a careful scrutiny of the prevalent literary trends. As argued by Boenig et al. (96), Chaucer had to rely heavily on complex elements found in the materialistic world of the Middle Ages to render his verse a synchronized tone and mood.
He leaves the task of interpretation to the readers who are akin to the culture and societal functioning in the Middle Ages in Europe. Thus when we come to know about Nicholas’ musical inclinations, we can instantly relate to the historical fact that the fourteenth century English society was permissive enough to connect music with sexual advances. This is reflected in Nicholas’ reaction after reading between the lines of Alison’s amorous innuendos: “And thakked hire aboute the lendeys wel, He kist hir sweet, and taketh his sawtrye, And pleyeth fast and maketh melodye. (Chaucer and Coote 113) Language in the Miller’s Tale is not used as a semantic vehicle to present the story and its progression. The telling impact of the story is rather based on the miller’s ribald and eccentric delineation of an erotic love triangle. It is more of a physical interface of lustful gestures and feats than lengthy and philosophical dialogues. A firm faith in Christianity can also be traced in the tale, reflecting the author’s religious piety. Nicholas’ trick is nothing but a Biblical reference that foretells the impending flood.
According to the false warnings made by Alison, her husband prepares to ‘go up’ with the flood by floating on the water should and when it arrives. The dramatic irony is manifested in this entire episode and in the following one by the hilarious event of Nicholas crashing down the roof. Instead of moving up as a symbolic Christian salvation, he comes down with little grace, almost mired by a series of imprecating fall. In relation to the thesis question, one has reasons to argue that the Miller’s Tale is a representative work of Christian convictions.
By poking fun at those convictions, it cements the core values in a relaxed and plasmatic model. The prologue to the Miller’s Tale, with respect to the previous story, is repeated in the apology of the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales (Obermeier 206). This sort of analogy is frequent in the Middle English literature where similar storylines are transposed for the sake of literary fulfillments. Chaucer himself was a great exponent of linguistic experimentations that would blend dissociative contents in an otherwise static framework.