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Chaucer's The Cantenbury Tales: Comparison Of The Knights Tale To The Miller's Tale

1259 words - 5 pages

Abraham's A Glossary of Literary Terms defines genre as " a term that denotes types or classes of literature." (Abrams, 108) Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales opens with two tales which fall under contradicting genres. Devotion, duty and honor are the greatest themes flowing through Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale," as it is from the genre of Chivalric Romance. It depicts a "courtly chivalric age, often one of highly developed manners." (Abrams, 35) "The Miller's Tale," falls under the genre of the fabliau, "a short satiric tale dealing with middle and lower class characters delighting in the ribald." Chaucer use of "The Miller's Tale," completely contradicts the ideal values expressed by the Knight and as result, Chaucer is able to rewrite the conventions of "The Knights Tale" and produce new meaning for both tales.Chaucer's "true, perfect, gentle Knight" (Chaucer, 5) opens the story-telling contest with a romantic tale of fantastical chivalry, devotion, and fortune. His courtly preoccupation with "truth and honor, liberality, and courtesy" (Chaucer, 5) is exemplified in the noble knights, Arcite and Palamon, and the faultless Lady Emily, whose "complexion vied with the color of roses" (Chaucer.51). "Fortune and her false wheel" (45) control the plot, as regal personas are maneuvered by chance and by the gods. In lofty, long-winded prose, the Knight revels in the established social structure of his time and in the order of the universe, as each character is cared for "according to his rank," (Chaucer.103) and each noble person ultimately gets his wish.The Knight's scrupulous idealism presents a stark contrast to the Miller's gritty parody of imaginary valor. Similarly framed by a love triangle, the Miller's fabliau glorifies the bawdy cunning of a vulgar clerk. The Miller turns the Knight's elegant world upside-down, mocking religion, ridiculing romance, and contradicting social ideals. The hero is young and immoral. His lady is cruel and unfaithful, and the character that most closely adheres to the Knight's standard of true love and purity is humiliated for his credulousness and lampooned by the entire town. Nicolas, the clerk is punished, not for deceiving his landlord, or for sleeping with Alison, but for foolishly trying the same trick twice. Justice is not delivered by the powers that be, but by the angry, vengeful priest who adopts Nicolas' sly style and beats him at his own game.The lewd, slang-spattered Miller's tale is a shocking wake-up call after the Knight's florid imagery. Once the Knight has concluded his poetic ramble, Chaucer, as narrator, forewarns the audience that he "must repeat all"¦tales, be they better or worse" (Chaucer, 49) and then allows the Miller to cheerfully address parts of the anatomy that don't exist in the knightly saga. Though both use natural metaphors to describe the ladies in question, the Knight evokes a Garden of Eden, while the Miller paints a carnal forest. Emily is at first mistaken for a goddess,...

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