Feb 8: The Miller’s Tale

The Knight’s Tale and the Miller’s Tale are two very different stories, yet there are similarities. Compare and contrast the characters, perhaps Alisoun with Emeyle or Nicholas and Absolon with Arcite and Palamon. How are they different, the same? Do they function the same way in their separate tales? Explain.

6 thoughts on “Feb 8: The Miller’s Tale

  1. Both tales focus on the love-sickness of several men over one woman, Emily in the Knight’s Tale and Alisoun in the Miller’s Tale. Emily and Alisoun, however, are very different. While Emily had barely any agency, not even granted a line until the third part of the tale, Alisoun seems to run the show. Although she is not the sexual aggressor, she is quick to engage in an affair and plays a joke on Absolon on her own accord. The stories are also very different in how the female characters are regarded by the end. Emily’s sole wish was to remain virgin, to which the gods told her ‘no’ and thus she was wedded. Alisoun, however, engages in sex with several men and is described as lustful from the beginning. However, even after making her husband a cuckold, humiliating one man and getting another branded, she is not punished in any way.

  2. The characters in the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Absolon, contrast with the two cousins, Palamon and Arcite from the Knight’s Tale. Both sets of characters vie for the love of their respective love interests, Alisoun and Emelye, however, their methods are very different. Nicholas directly propositions Alisoun and wins her through wooing her personally. Absolon does not take such an aggressive stance as Nicholas. He sings to her, compliments her, and declares his love outside Alisoun’s window for days on end in an attempt to woo her. Palamon and Arcite in the Knight’s Tale did not do any of these things. They did not speak even one word to Emelye for years and years. They love from afar and waste away until the grand battle at the end of the story that solved their dilemma. The major difference between the two sets of suitors is their agency to further their petition of love to their would be lovers. The two men in the Miller’s Tale actively worked to gain the love of Alisoun while the two suitors of the Knight’s Tale waited endlessly for something to happen (judge Theseus) so they could break the cycle of longing for Emelye.

  3. I think there is an interesting comparison between Theseus and the carpenter in the two tales. In the Knight’s Tale Theseus is made to seem like the ultimate chivalrous leader and is obviously the one the knight wants everyone to respect. In the Miller’s Tale the carpenter is made a fool of by Alisoun and Nicholas. He has no credibility at the end and the whole town believes he is crazy. These are two vastly different men, who are affected by a love triangle. The carpenter is just so oblivious to everything going on around him, while Theseus always has the appearance of being in control. He has the ultimate happy ending in the Knight’s Tale and the carpenter has a cheating wife, who helped make the town believe he lost his mind.

    • You could actually think of the carpenter as a parody of Theseus in many ways. While I agree that Theseus is certainly less oblivious than the carpenter, he is oblivious to the fact that Arcite, a man he once imprisoned, is now among his inner circle incognito for part of the tale. The carpenter on the other hand, seems completely unaware of the obvious affair that is happening under his nose. The carpenter can be thought of as Theseus’ obliviousness multiplied exponentially. You can also point to Alisoun as a parody of Emeyle – where the latter is perfectly chaste, perfectly beautiful, and seemingly devoid of any agency, the former is an equal partner in Nicholas’ schemes and is shown to be an avid prankster herself, and lacks any of the “womanly” virtues of Emeyle, saving beauty.

  4. The characters Emeyle and Alisoun are direct opposites of one another in terms of how they react to men fighting to win their affection. Emeyle is a passive character throughout the majority of The Knight’s Tale, showing a small sense of agency when she prays to Diana to preserve her chastity, but nevertheless relenting to the male-dominated world around her. On the other hand, Alisoun is given much more agency in The Miller’s Tale. She is bold, confident, and deceitful. She embraces Nicholas’ desire for her while expressing her own lust – something that never occurs in The Knight’s Tale. Therefore, The Miller’s Tale is exploring the notion of a woman who takes charge of her own life rather than letting ‘fate’, or men, dictate it for her, directly contrasting the more traditional views of women in The Knight’s Tale.

  5. The social status of the knight and the Miller are clearly defined differently through the content of their stories. The knight who has a chivalrous love tale that is dealt with in a courtly manner shows that he is clearly a more respectable figure than the miller. The Miller’s tale involves absurd incongruity that would be more likely to be told in a tavern than in an upper echalaunt scenario. The female character’s personality and behavior in both stories are polar opposite from each other. There is clearly a person that ends up on top in their situation in the Knight’s tale and The Miller’s tale. Palamon ends up with Emelye as his gift and Absolon ends up “kissing arse” and Nicolaus gets burned. Theseus can be seen as the ultimate winner in the Knight’s tale depending on which way you interpret it, but Alisoun seems to be the one on top at the end of The Miller’s tale.

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