Discuss Chaucer's comic method in the Miller's Prologue and Tale.
Combine your personal response with reference to other critical
opinion at relevent points in your argument.
The Miller's Tale is undoubtedly Chaucer's most crude and vulgar work,
but how far did Chaucer intend for there to be a moral to his story?
Are we supposed to sympathise with the jealous but 'sely' carpenter
when the wife whom 'he lovede moore than his lyf' is unfaithful to
him? Should we take pity on Absolon when his 'love-longynge' leads him
to the riotous 'misplaced kiss'? We are warned not to 'maken ernest of
game' in the Miller's Prologue, and we are also forewarned that the
Miller's language and the content of the story may be offensive due to
the ' ale of Southwerk'. By this point, it is clear that this is
nothing but an amusing story, told purely for pleasure by a drunken
and high-spirited miller. Elizabeth G. Melillo agrees in her essay
that 'it seems a shame to do anything with the Miller's Tale except
laugh heartily! To insert too much intellectual analysis may rob this,
the best of 'dirty' stories of its charm.'
Chaucer begins by preparing us for the trouble that is to come, by
alerting us to the fact that the carpenter has married a woman much
younger than him, and that 'his wit was rude' - he is an uneducated
and gullible man, with a beautiful young wife. Dissatisfied with
presenting us with the bare fact, Chaucer dedicates 40 lines to an
elaborate description of Alisoun, in order to emphasise just how
attractive she is. As Mc Daniel says, 'She is described in terms of a
wily weasel, a vixen, a young calf; animalistic terms that emphasize
her youthful sensuality'. By informing us of her 'likerous ye',
Chaucer establishes that she is unlikely to resist the advances made
on her by other men. This first part of the Miller's Tale is simply to
set the foundations for what is to come.
As predicted, Alison succumbs to the first man that attempts to charm
her. The frank way in which 'Hende Nicholas' 'heeld hire harde by the
hanchebones' as a means of seduction is comic in itself, as is her
promise that she will 'be at his comandement' at every opportunity.
Already, we can laugh at the cuckolded carpenter, who tried to keep
her 'narwe in cage'.
Ironically, it is to the 'paryssh chirche' that Alisoun ventures after
her adulterous morning, to search her conscience. This new setting
allows Chaucer to introduce us to Absolon. Unlike his flattering
description of Alisoun, Chaucer mocks 'joly Absolon' all the way
through his introduction of him. He is portrayed as an elegantly
dressed, prim man, who takes great care over the way he looks - 'crul
was his heer, and as the gold is shoon, and strouted as a fanne large
and broud. Ful streight and evene lay his joly shode' He is a 'myrie
child', and is fond of dancing 'with his legges casten to and fro'. We
are told about the fine, high-pitched singing voice which he uses to