A COMPARISON AND CONTRAST:
THE KNIGHT'S AND MILLER'S TALES REVISITED
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a classic piece wherein pilgrims tell tales during their journey to a holy shrine in Canterbury. A Knight and Miller are two of the pilgrims. Chaucer gives personality to each character wherein a drunken Miller can tell a tale that is full of brilliant characterization and also have nicely balanced action, and a tough soldier like the Knight can weave a romance "with all the art of a seasoned minstrel." (Lawrence 42)
The Knight, being the noblest amongst the pilgrims, is invited to speak first. The second tale-teller is the Miller. The Miller speaks second, not by invitation, but as a way to repay the Knight's romantic tale. In having these two tales told back-to-back, one is able to compare the two. In many ways, The Miller's Tale "functions as a subversive mirror of the Knight's story." (Rossignol 242) This is also an opportunity to find many similarities as well as differences between the two tales.
The term "subversive mirror" is certainly appropriate in dealing with these particular tales. Although The Miller's Tale does mirror The Knight's Tale by utilizing similar elements, it also corrupts those same elements it is in fact imitating. By using the term "subversive," it is suggested that the Miller is actually trying to pervert The Knight's Tale by undermining the morals that are represented in it. The Miller seems determined in his tale to parody the situations and sentiments of The Knight's Tale. This "subversive mirror" reference is indeed on the mark.
Several similarities are easily recognizable between The Knight's Tale and The Miller's Tale. These similarities are the "mirroring" which take place from The Miller's Tale to The Knight's Tale. "The opening formula (of The Miller's Tale) . . .is almost identical to the Knight's; after that, nothing is the same, but many things are instantly recognizable because they have already appeared, if in a different form, in the Knight's Tale." (Cooper 111) Both stories are romances, even though The Miller's Tale is not chivalric like the Knight's. Both tales also utilize a lover's triangle among their main characters where two young men vie for the affection of the same young woman. (Rossignol 243)
There are other similarities between these two tales. Both tales give a similar characteristic to two of the actors in the stories. Arcite and Absolon both have a character flaw wherein they confuse what it is they want and what they actually receive in the end. The Miller borrows the concept of the message that a dream holds for one of his characters. This is taken from a portion in The Knight's Tale where Arcite receives a message in a dream. Also, The Miller's Tale...