The Miller’s Tale and its Form: the Fabliau Argumentative Essay
Updated: Dec 29th, 2019
In the Miller’s tale, both Nicholas’ tricks and Absolon’s speeches do not appear plausible especially when told by Miller, a violent thug. However, when looked from the narrator’s point of view, Chaucer himself, the concepts become clearer to the reader.
In particular, Lambdin and Lambdin note that two ideas, viz. the ‘ernest’ and ‘game’, are apparent in this context where they are used to underscore merriment and significance respectively (281). On reading the tale, it becomes difficult to distinguish fun or jokes from meaningful or moral messages that the narrator is conveying.
On one hand, the tale of the carpenter, John, appears to be based on real experiences, viz. the settings and Oxford suburbs, which appear to be familiar to the author, Chaucer. As the prologue ends, Nicholas’ elaborate tricks represent fun and pleasure.
However, the glorious moments end with John falling from the roof and suddenly the story changes from pleasure to pain and anguish as John lies down on the floor, unconscious and wounded due to Nicholas’ tricks. Here, Chaucer satirically tells the reader the dangers of existing societal norms.
Chaucer also satirizes language and religion in Miller’s tale. Miller’s tale is a careful fabliau that mocks the existing societal norms in suburban Oxford through a mix of comic tricks and serious stories.
The tale is a fabliau as it involves a trick carefully crafted in the story to satirize realism in the medieval society. It flips the existing societal norms and tells the reader what should not be done through a careful comic tale as discussed in this paper.
Christianity and Blasphemy
Satire is used to widely on the theme of religion in this story. Chaucer uses satire to criticize the religious practices, misconceptions, and doctrines. The tale describes the sacredness of marriage, marital fidelity, and stories from the Bible as revealed in Christianity, which is the dominant religion in Chaucer’s time.
In the tale, John unveils his grand strategy of evading the biblical Noah’s deluge by drifting upwards in his bathing tub until he escapes via the upper side of the building. He implies that he is a holy person and thus he would be uplifted if the end comes. However, at the end of the tale, his idealistic uplift is substituted with a downward crash to the floor through the roof. He ends up injured, unconscious, and in pain.
Miller’s tale also satirizes the blasphemy in the medieval society. According to Hennenman et al., the medieval plays mirrored the common perceptions on creation and doom, where the story started with the creation and ended in carnival, associated with “grotesquerie, ridicule, profanity and eventual fall” (176).
Considering the fact that Miller is drunk, his tale borders profanity, which raises the question as to whether the tale represents a blasphemous form of Christianity in the medieval society. If taken seriously, certain events in the tale can pass as blasphemy. As the tale ends, Absolon transforms himself into “a devil carrying a flaming iron” (Allen 43). From a Christian perspective, the devilish transformation is blasphemous and unreligious.
Another blasphemous instance in the tale occurs when Nicholas and Alison are equated with Adam and Eve. Interestingly, Alison and Nicholas also fall from grace at the end as they beguile John the carpenter, which leads to his predicament. Therefore, when viewed from a Christian angle, the tale is clearly depicting sin. As Miller’s tale is a comic story of the medieval society, it is fun to read it.
However, according to Lambdin and Lambdin, the story reflects reality, a negative depiction of the beguiling and blasphemous actions of sinners in the medieval society.
Besides religious imagery, the tale is an example of fabliau justice, where according to Benson; a few characters are penalized for their actions while others escape justice for their misdeeds (342). It satirizes the medieval justice system where the guilty could go free after committing any crime.
It is also worth to note that the fun of the tricks in Miller’s tale is satirical. The plot is full of religious imagery that is both elaborate and consistent with fabliau trick rules. All the characters, and particularly John the carpenter, fall prey to clever tricks played on them by others (except Alison). Even the sly Nicholas is too dumb for Absolon who hits him with a poker and wounds him on the buttock.
Schenck notes that in fabliau, every character falls to the trickery of another (39). The fabliau tricks reveal the gullibility of people in the medieval society. Nicholas and Alison contrive a plausible trick to convince John to leave the house so that they can have sex. The success of the plan portrays how gullible the society was as well as the fall from grace of Christian beliefs.
The inclusion of references to stories of the bible, saints, and Jesus reflects the religious state of the medieval society. Aloni notes that John’s credulousness and his incoherent reference to the bible teachings show that his biblical discernment is extremely poor (170).
In addition, the trick about Noah’s floods is twisted to reflect the medieval mystery about religion. Here, the narrator uses satire to show the state of religion, folklore, and biblical education in the medieval periods.
Language and Social Classes
In Miller’s tale, language undergoes degradation, as much of the actions in the tale do not depend on speeches or dialogue; instead, its language mechanics involve bodily sounds, exclamations, and non-verbal cues. For instance, Alison shouts out “Tehee!” when she shuts the window, Absolon’s knocks on John’s window and Nicholas’ shout of “water” (Allen 37).
The words could be read as belonging to Miller himself as the narrator warns the reader that he is only repeating Miller’s words. Here, satire reflects the use of romantic language and draws the reader’s attention to the genre of romance where knights used poetry and romance to woo their lovers. Nicholas effectively uses language to woo John’s wife.
In Miller’s tale, the struggle between social classes is apparent. The tale satirizes Miller, a drunken and immoral character of low social rank, who belongs to a low station. However, Miller’s beautiful use of imagery especially when giving the description of Alison is very effective. In contrast, in the Knight’s tale, the knight’s description of Emelye as an angel, a lily, and a spring is more conventional compared to Miller’s description of Alison.
Miller’s imagery reflects a farm or village background. In addition, the narrator’s depiction of Miller satirizes the stereotypes of class or profession in medieval societies. In the tale, Miller apologizes to the audience if they find the story offending and instead, blames the “ale of Southwerk” (Allen 64), who, in this context, is the Host.
In addition, later, the narrator also apologizes and passes the blame to Miller and both the narrator and Miller give names and professions of the characters. Here, Chaucer stereotypes the social classes and professions.
Miller perceives his romantic intrigues as of lower class by satirizing the long-suffering courting of Alison by Nicholas. Miller portrays Alison and Nicholas in an open and romantically graphic way as Nicholas woos Alison by “grabbing her by the queynte” (Allen 76).
In the tale, Absolon uses a ceremonious romantic way of wooing a lover. He sings patiently and plays musical instruments to woo Alison, but ends up disappointed when she rejects him. In contrast, Leicester opines that Nicholas’ manner of courting Alison, though unconventional, is highly effective as he ends up having sex with her (477). Here, the narrator satirizes the conventional ways of courting and romance.
Besides satirizing the code of conduct, which was prevalent in those days, the story also underscores the fantasy and the literary styles of the chivalric times. According to Cosman, a fabliau is a comic tale that builds up to a ridiculous trick at the climax (98).
Nicholas represents the cunning character common in fabliaux genres. He contrives a scheme to dupe John into leaving his house giving him a chance to have sex with Alison. When his plan seems to succeed, Absolon foils it. However, in the end, John is the one who is most affected by Nicholas’ tricks. Here, satire serves to pass important messages about fabliaux plays; for instance, John was wrong to marry a younger woman.
In Miller’s view, Alison’s adulterous behavior is justifiable due to John’s “jalousye”. In the end, nobody could believe John’s side of the story regarding Nicholas’ scheme. The tale is a fabliau and it flips the existing societal norms and tells the reader what should not be done through a careful comic tale.
Allen, Valarie. The Miller’s Prologue and Tale, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
Aloni, Gila. “Extimacy in the Miller’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 41.2 (2006): 163-184. Print.
Benson, Larry. “A Glossarial Concordance to the Riverside Chaucer.” Speculum 70.2 (1995): 341-43. Print.
Cosman, Madeleine. Medieval Worldbook: More than 4,000 Terms and Expressions from Medieval Culture, New York: Fall River Press, 2007. Print.
Henneman, John, Lawrence Earp, William Kibler, and Grover Zinn. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia, London: Psychology Press, 1995. Print.
Lambdin, Laura, and Robert Lamblin. (1999). Chaucer’s Pilgrims: An Historical Guide to the Pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group. Print.
Leicester, Marshal. “Newer Currents in Psychoanalytic Criticism, and the Difference “It” Makes: Gender and Desire in the Miller’s Tale.” ELH 61.3 (1994): 473-99. Print.
Schenck, Mary. The Fabliaux: Tales of Wit and Deception, Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1987. Print.
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