Though “The Miller’s Tale” is well-received among the pilgrims, Osewold, the Reeve, takes personal offense to the tale’s foolish carpenter and uses his tale to get revenge on the Miller. Much like an evil villain announcing his plans, Osewold says, “‘This dronke Millere hath ytoold us heer / How that bigyled was a carpenteer, / Peraventure in scorn, for I am oon. / And, by youre leve, I shal hym quite anoon . . .’” (3913-3916). Since the Reeve was once a carpenter, he finds it only fair to tell a tale about a miller. The Reeve’s tale is no less crude than the Miller’s, but it is certainly less humorous. It stinks of bitter old man. Throughout the tale, the Reeve uses the students, John and Aleyne, to assert his dislike for the Miller. Before sleeping with the miller’s daughter, Aleyne says, “‘I counte hym [the miller] nat a flye’” (4192). Personally, I think the Reeve wasted his chance to win over the other pilgrims. Their objective is to tell the most entertaining story. Though the verbal jabs at the Miller are, at times, entertaining, “The Reeve’s Tale” is too heavy with his bitter tone.
This was the first time I read the Reeve’s tale and it’s even more implicit than the Miller’s tale. If I read this story alone without knowledge of the prologue or the Miller’s tale, I would have just seen it a medieval dirty story. But this story is a reaction to the Miller’s use of the idiot carpenter, John, and reflects many of the plot points.The story’s Miller and Carpenter are both tricked by students. However, the Miller bullied the students by letting their horses go resulting in both John and Aleyn to seek revenge by taking away the “valuable” daughter. The carpenter John in the Miller’s Tale was just very trusting of his tenant. So in some ways the Miller deserved his fate. What I find most interesting is that so far each of the stories are reactionary to whatever is happening within the pilgrimage group. So the tales are not just a reflection of the speaker’s or their profession but how they view their fellow pilgrims. It is obvious in this case there is tension between the Reeve and the Miller as a result of the Millers tale.
Well, The Reeve’s Tale is definitely something. I wasn’t wholly prepared for that, but anyway I agree that The Reeve’s Tale needs to be read in context with the Miller’s Tale, otherwise its just uncomfortable. Also, when taken out of context the reader misses the work that Chaucer does to allow his character’s to interact. At this point we have seen two vastly different approaches to story telling with the knight and the miller and now we are faced with the Reeve, who tells his story in a similar fashion to the Miller, but with a very clear commentary on the previous story. The one thing that stood out the most to me when reading this tale was the idea of revenge. The Reeve is trying to get back at the Miller by telling a tale he thinks will offend him, but knowing the Miller’s personality that seems unlikely. In the story, however, we see the same sort of thing. Aleyn and John take revenge on the miller for stealing and releasing their horses by sleeping with daughter and the wife. The idea of revenge here seems totally unjustified to me, but clearly Aleyn sees it differently when he says “Ther is a lawe that says thus:/ that gif a man in a point be ygreved,/ that in another he sal be releved” (4180-4182). Essentially the mentality is an eye for an eye, but the value of the objects seems unbalanced to me.
After reading the Reeve’s Tale, I feel compelled to comment on the evident structure of the Canterbury Tales as a whole. My encounters thus far with the Tales have been in very separate instances. To now experience three stories in a row, as they were clearly intended to be received, is a unique and notable experience in and of itself. I am able to say that these stories were clearly intended to be together because of the unique interplay between the characters in the journey and their own characters within their stories. From the Knight’s Tale to the Miller’s mocking and now the Reeve’s response – I have never read a collection so unique; one where characters can come in and out of their different worlds so seamlessly. Every day is a new experience with Chaucer, and my appreciation for his work in the context of our literary history is growing.
Upon finishing the Reeve’s Tale, which was also our third tale, I feel confident that there is enough evidence to say that all of the tales share a common theme: the narrators mirror the leading roles in their tales. For instance, the Knight is similar to Theseus because of the chivalry they share, The Miller shares the same belief in “don’t ask, don’t tell” as John the carpenter. And the Reeve is similar to Symkyn who he describes as “sly, and usaunt for to stele,” (L.3940) which is interesting because the Reeve also steals from his lord’s property. But the maliciousness of the story also seems to reflect on the Reeve’s personality. He is clearly angry that the Miller told a tale he viewed as an attack on his hobby (the Reeve is also a carpenter) and therefore, on himself. In response he acts quite spiteful and tells a story that he believes will offend the Miller. While this story is a fabliau, and starts out as that, it also feels very malicious and dark towards the end. Basically all I can say is this: what Aleyn and john did was soooo messed up. The grounds on which they had sex with the Miller’s wife and his daughter was so sketchy, it seemed a little rapey to me. There, had to be said. And although Symkyn was supposed to represent (kind of) the actual miller, I feel like he also represents the Reeve, which ends up being pretty ironic.
I remember reading The Miller’s Tale in high school but I don’t recall it being this…vulgar. I also never realized that it was such a drastically brilliant contrast to the Knight’s tale, almost as if the Miller sat there during the Knight’s story and thought, “How can I twist this boring, stodgy trash around?” Enter his own tale, where there is yet another love triangle (albeit a one-sided one) but the roles are ridiculous and the lady in the middle is no chaste Emeyle. Poor Absolon is the only one who must try to win over Alisoun’s love; he is out almost every night trying to woo her, but Nicholas manages to sleep with her fairly easily. Alisoun doesn’t have to make a choice between the two because she’s already made her choice; Absolon is nothing more than a nuisance. The plan that Alisoun and Nicholas devise to distract John the carpenter is even more ridiculous than Theseus’s plan in the Knight’s tale (which is difficult to achieve since I’ve already mentioned that having a huge tournament to win over a lady is pointless in my book). It did make me laugh, though. And I realized that the fact that Alisoun doesn’t get punished for her actions in the end is a foil for Emeyle not getting what she asked Diana for at the end of the Knight’s tale. The Miller’s “heroine” does get what she wants in the end, with no consequence.
I really like the fact that Chaucer encompasses in his Tales such a wide range of layers of society in the Middle Ages as well as different writing styles, from high to low. The Miller’s Tale was definitely an unexpected continuation from the sophisticated and elevated Knight’s Tale and I understand why Chaucer tried to make it seem like an accident in the Prologue. I don’t think, however, that this stark contrast was meant to ridicule courtly love in the previous narrative, but rather to highlight the different ways of human existence at the time and perhaps also to make the reading of the Tales more diverse by alternating serious stories with the lightly entertaining ones. Also, the Miller’s Tale definitely provides an insight into the life of the lower classes and one of the things I noticed was how prominent religious plays were at the time and how strongly they might have influenced the world-view of their audiences. The carpenter seems to be a dedicated fan of these plays in this story and the fact that he so earnestly believes what the sly scholar tells him and how he vividly imagines the great flood might perhaps indicate to Chaucer’s criticism towards the influence of these plays on more simple-minded people.