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THE TALES: SUMMARIES AND NOTES
The Reeveís Tale: Prologue
When everybody had finished laughing at Alison and Nicholasís grotesque affair, the Reeve named Osewold grumbled about the Taleís unfairness to carpenters. The Reeve had been a carpenter in his youth and thus he did not like the Millerís Tale. The Reeve counters that he too could tell a bawdy tale about how a swaggering Miller lost his eye. But he has grown old and is now past the age for play. He can now only boast, lie, be jealous or angry. The Host cuts the Reeveís lecture on old age short and tells him to narrate his Tale without wasting any more time. The Reeve cautions the pilgrims that since he is going to repay the Miller, his Tale will also employ bawdy language.
The Reeve resents the Millerís offensive tale about the deception of a carpenter and takes it as a personal insult since he was a carpenter in his youth. The angry Reeve now repays the Miller by relating a tale about the gulling of a deceitful Miller named Simkin.
The Reeveís Tale
A Miller lived in Trumpington, near Cambridge. He was very proud of the fact that he could fish, wrestle and shoot. He carried several kinds of knives with him and was extremely skilled in their use. He was an irritating braggart. This Miller was in reality a thief. He was nicknamed Simkin. He never lost a chance to steal and even stole the corn or meal that came to him for grinding. His wife was of high parentage as she was the village parsonís daughter. She had studied in a nunnery. The Miller had married her so as to elevate his social status. Chaucer hints that the Millerís wife was the Parsonís illegitimate daughter and he thus had to give a large dowry for her marriage. The Miller and his wife had a beautiful twenty year old daughter and a six- month-old baby boy.
The Miller had the monopoly of grinding corn for the neighboring territory, especially for Solar Hall College at Cambridge. He used to charge a lot for his work. The master of this college suddenly fell sick and the Miller stole shamelessly from the corn and meal brought to him for grinding. While earlier he used to steal politely, now he openly plundered the warden who brought the corn for grinding.
John and Alan, two students of the college, begged the to grant them a leave to teach the Miller a lesson. They set off with a sack of corn to be ground and vowed to outwit the Miller. When they arrived they told the Miller that they would watch him while he ground the corn. The Miller at once realized that the students were trying to prevent him from stealing and decided to hoodwink them by stealing more than the usual amount to prove that a learned scholar is not the wisest man.
When he saw his chance he stealthily slipped out of the doorway and loosened the bridle of the studentsí horse. The at once ran away to join the wild horses in the fen. The Miller came back and ground the corn in front of the students and put it in a sack. John and Alan discovered that their horse had run away to the fen to join the wild horses. When the students hurriedly left to chase their horse the Miller stole half the flour from the sack and told his wife to bake a cake from it. The students spent the whole day chasing the horse and only returned at night. They realized that the Miller had tricked them. They begged the Miller to provide them lodging for the night since they couldnít travel in the dark and offered to pay him money. The Miller replied that his house was small, but they had learned to dispute in college, they would find it easy with their deduction to make a space of 20 feet appear a mile wide. The students accepted the Millerís challenge and gave him money. The Miller sent his daughter to town to buy bread and ale. He put up a bed for the in his only bedroom. Thus the Miller and his wife slept in one bed, the slept in another, and the Millerís daughter slept alone in another bed. The baby boy slept in a cradle at the foot of the Millerís bed.
The Miller and his wife soon fell asleep and began snoring loudly. The couldnít get any sleep amidst this unwanted music. Alan and John complain bitterly to each other about how the Miller had cheated them. Alan says that they are entitled to get recompense. He then goes over to the ís bed and sleeps with her. John jealously grumbles about Alanís luck and stealthily moves the babyís cradle next to his bed. Shortly thereafter the wife gets up to answer natureís call and comes back to her bed. She gropes around for the and not finding it anywhere thinks that she has got into the wrong bed. She then goes over to Johnís bed and finding the slips in. John seizes the chance and has intercourse with the Millerís wife.
As dawn approached Alan bade farewell to the Millerís who told him to take the cake lying outside the door which had been baked out of the stolen flour before they left the mill. Alan then went to the Millerís bed thinking that his companion John was in it and boasted about how he has had the Millerís three times that night. The furious Miller gets up cursing. The Millerís wife thinks that she is in bed with the Miller and accidentally hits him on the head mistaking him for Alan. The students further beat the Miller and escape with their retrieved flour baked into a cake.
The Reeveís Tale is another bawdy story and puts the Millerís tale in a different perspective altogether. The contrast in the Reeve and Millerís character comes out starkly in their stories. The Miller is young, healthy, lively, frank and ebullient. The Reeve in contrast is old, thin, choleric and a shady character. Accordingly the Reeve builds on his plot in a more mean-spirited manner. The Millerís Tale is definitely more comic and boisterous than the Reeveís.
There has been a progressive deterioration of ideals and values in the first fragment. The Reeveís Tale is a far cry from the chivalrous world of The Knightís Tale. Petty motives propel both characters and the plot. Theft, mistrust, deception and maliciousness replace honor, truth, virtue and goodness. The Clerks want to deceive the Miller, who in turn dupes them by stealing the corn. At the end a rough kind of poetic justice is meted out as the Clerks enjoy a blissful night with the Millerís wife and daughter. In contrast to The Millerís Tale the Reeveís story involves a double deception. Moreover while the Knightís tale had an idealized lady as the object of love and devotion, and Alison was ravishingly beautiful in the Millerís tale, the Millerís wife and daughter do not appear to be sexually appealing. The Reeveís description of the wife and daughter makes it very clear that they are plain, thick - set countrywomen. Thus there has been steady erosion of the genteel mores and ideals of conduct.