So far, the agency of women has been presented from numerous perspectives throughout the Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath is among the few thus far that seems to have a pretty firm grip on her destiny. The Miller’s wife, in a way, did too. Other than that though the female characters in these stories seem to be without any agency at all. The Knight’s Tale is an obvious example: Emelye, already a prisoner of war, forced to marry the winner of those two scrubs Palamon and Arcite. In the Man of Law’s tale–at least in the part we’ve read–Custance has a similar sort of powerlessness. All of these decisions are being made by the Sultan and Constantine for her. What interests me is how Chaucer sort of zooms in his perspective at certain points. We get all this summary of events, punctuated with little snippets that zoom in on Custance’s despair. She’s going to be “bounden under subicioun” for the rest of her life, and she can’t do a thing about it but grow pale and weep in the corner.
The Sultan’s mother adds another layer to the role of woman’s agency. I mean she rallies a gang of Syrrians together to kill her son and all his friends. At least she’s got some influence.
I wonder why she sent food on the boat with Custance when she threw her out to sea.
Chaucer’s “The Man of Law’s Tale” certainly diverted my expectations. From the description of the Man of Law in the “General Prologue,” I hardly expected a tale centered around religion. In the “General Prologue,” the narrator describes the Man of Law, saying, “Ther was also, ful riche of excellence . . . / Therto he koude endite and make a thyng / Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng . . .” (311-326). The Man of Law is an educated and skilled writer. Surely, he can come up with a wonderful story. However, the Man of Law says the only story he has is one he heard from some merchants. I think it is interesting that he chooses not to tell an original story. It may reflect the nature of his character; he uses law and various related texts for his occupation. As a result, it can be said that the Man of Law uses outside resources for his personal benefit.
I also think it is interesting that in the tale, Sathan acts in the place of Fortune. The Man of Law says, “Sathan, that evere us waiteth to bigile, / Saugh of Custance al hire perfeccioun, / And caste anon how he myghte quite hir while . .” (582-584). Instead of Fortune’s wheel, where you may rise to good or fall to bad fortune, Sathan only exists to trick and harm. However, it only makes sense to have Sathan as a greater force because this tale is told in a Christian context.
This tale really differs from the Reeve’s Tale in a lot of ways. For some reason, I see the more contrasts between these two consecutive tales than I have between any of the other two. I saw this in the way women work as players in this tale, but also in the places that the Man of Law’s tale seems to place the most value.
While the Knight’s Tale valued chivalry, and the Miller’s tale valued cleverness, this tale places it’s values within the realm of Christianity. Religion is a big part of this tale, overall, and the strongest characters also have very strong religious roots. The characters who stick by their religious beliefs are rewarded. The focus doesn’t seem to be on what one stakes their beliefs in, but rather, how loyal they are to those beliefs. We see this when Lady Constance (hmmmm…) survives the Sulton’s mother’s massacre while all of the converted Christians are killed.
Having never encounter the Man of Law’s Tale, I had no idea what to expect in any portion of the text. That being said, I especially did not expect to have Chaucer take a few moments in the introduction for some self-praise. Now, do not read me wrong here, I appreciate Chaucer as an author and am clearly interested in him as a figure of English being that this is an author-centered class on him, but I want to take a minute to point out a moment of boasting that I found particularly humorous. The Man of Law takes more than a few lines to lament that Chaucer has already told all the stories worth telling. Okay, Chaucer, what are you trying to do here? I believe at one point we discussed that in his time, it was fairly common for a work to be anonymous and for an author to not lay such loud and proud claim on their work – Chaucer not only does that but praises himself as a whole for creating such numerous great texts such that his own character cannot possibly come up with another one to suffice. Talk about patting your own back.
Nothing to do with the class, but it’s still pretty cool!
Can we just talk about this burn by the Reeve? “And, by youre levee, I shal him quite anoon; Right in his cherles termes wol I speke. I pray to God his nekke more to-breke. He kan wel in men eye seen a stalke, But in hiw owene he kan nat seen a balke.” (3917-3920). Yeah he went there.
But on to a much more academic conversation about the Reeve’s tale. I’m not really sure I can have an academic conversation about the Reeve’s tale. Because I am just so distracted by the plot and how incredibly dark this story is. I will say that, based on the conventions of the fabliau that we discussed last class I am not sure that they all ring true here. Of course this is a tale of the merchant class in a rural setting, and there is some toilet “humor” here, but I don’t think cunning plays so much a part in the outcome of this tale as opportunity does. It’s not as if John and Alan had come up with some elaborate scheme to sleep with the Miller’s wife and daughter, they just so happened to have made several mistakes that led to them staying with the Miller. Also, we can agree, that the Miller was not exactly the best person in the world, but he was the most clever character in the story and he didn’t come out victorious at all.
There were a couple of lines in the Reeve’s tale that were especially memorable for me since they kind of helped to link the fabliaux to the knight’s tale and set these two in even more striking contrast. I mean the lines 4270-4272 where the miller discovers Aleyn’s deed and asks him in rage how he dares to dishonor his daughter who has come of such lineage. What I noticed that was that the language of these lines sounds very noble and elevated as if a knight might utter them, while concerns about one’s lineage were in general the main preoccupation of nobles at the time. When we think of the miller’s daughter’s “lineage” then it’s basically being a secret granddaughter to a parson who shouldn’t even have children. Therefore, the whole notion of lineage and the values and responsibilities it traditionally encompasses seems to be twisted and turned in very grotesque ways when we add to this the vulgar context of these couple of lines. I think Chaucer kind of illustrates here how some of the ideals we saw followed in the knight’s tale were “translated” into the world views of lower class people. I didn’t quite know what to make of this contrast and Chaucer’s possible intentions but I do think the relationship between the fabliaux and the Greek legend is ambivalent and that it simultaneously adds seriousness to the latter while taking away some of its credibility.
If we’re talking about general opinion/ reception, I agree with Dylan: the Reeve’s Tale just “stinks of bitter old man.” And, strangely, I think that’s the point. Though the Miller and his Tale were incredibly silly and no one wanted a part of it at first, the sondry folk “for the moore part…loughe and pleyde” by the end of the performance (ll.3858-3859). Basically, almost everyone got a kick out of the Miller’s fanciful fabliaux. Everyone except the Reeve, of course, who even calls himself an old stick in the mud. To that end, he compares his old age to a dying fire: “Foure gleedes han we whiche I shal devyse: / Avaunting, liyng, anger, coveitise. / These foure sparkles longen unto eelde” (ll. 3883-3885). He totally knows he’s a bitter old fart – doggonit – and he’s going to let it show.
With that being said, I think Chaucer’s purpose in letting the Reeve be so petty is to lend a degree of validation to the Miller in all his drunkenness. The Reeve makes an effort to prove himself wittier than the Miller but ends up falling into the trap anyway. In the Miller’s Prologue, what sounds like Chaucer himself warns us to “nat maken ernest of game” or – in other words – not take a joke too seriously (ll. 3186). Not to mention, the Reeve somehow thinks combating the Miller’s Fabliaux with another Fabliaux would set the record straight. Ironically, the Reeve tries his hardest to turn the tables by using the old carpenter’s name (John) from The Miller’s Tale for one of his supposedly more heroic student characters. He’s trying to make a fool of the Miller – who in this Tale is older and “wiser.” He doesn’t realize it, but since the Miller gets screwed over he’s still the old fool and his young usurping tricksters are still basically Nicholases. Perhaps the “Til we be roten, kan we nat be rype” (ll.3875) mantra isn’t entirely true after all unless “roten” is taken more literally (to be bitter and unhappy instead of just old).
It seems like one tale leads to another. I think the way that Chaucer plays off of the characters is really interesting. If he might have insulted carpenters in the Miller’s tale, he gives them a chance to pose a rebuttal in the tale that follows. The Reeve’s tale begins as just a way to insult the Miller. It’s funny that the tale itself is also a story of attempted revenge, albeit lighthearted. However, this tale has more in common with the Miller’s tale than it does the Knight’s, I think. Here, we also see that cleverness is valued, once again.
In my opinion, the Reeve is one of Chaucer’s interesting characters, and thus his story reflects an interesting style of writing. In the Reeve’s tale, his entire goal is to One-up the Miller and his tale because as he says, he is old and doesn’t have much vigor as he used to defend his honor with. (Ln. 3865-3868) “with bleryng of a proud milleres eye, if that me liste speke of ribaudye, but ik am oold. me list no pleu for age.” BOY does he. The reeve creates in my opinion, the best character encountered within one of the stories told in The Canterbury Tales so far, the Miller. The Miller is stereotyped as a brutish, but god loving, crook. He does wrong while considering himself right in every situation. He is a very complex character but portrays and excellent antagonist to be hated and mocked in the end as he “gets’ what’s coming to him. (Though I don’t think that means rape Aleyn) I believe that the character of the Miller is partially inspired to mock the the drunken miller. In the end, The two stories work very well juxtaposed next to each other as the Reeve’s tale concludes. It’s my personal favorite section of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales.