Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales exemplify a precious immersion opportunity into not only the Middle Age’s world but into the nature of human redundancy as well. The customs, surrounding realia, and occasional mishaps of various strata of society living in the 14th century are presented in a facetious manner: in the form of tales. Each story is told by one of the pilgrims who happened to amuse themselves in the Tabard Inn with a helping of ale. A churl, common miller starts his narration about a carpenter, his wife, a scholar, and a parish clerk (Allen et al. 4–11). With the aid of the coarse language used by the author, the picture of redundancy as a typical human trait is drawn: each person has their excesses, for which they earn a punishment as a result.
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First of all, the old carpenter John is subjected to derision for his simplicity, piousness, and gullibility. As Newhauser et al. put it, “A boorish anti-intellectualism that is resentful of academics and fearful of questions concerning faith” causes the character to hide in the roof, preparing for an imminent flood (2). Afterward, he is belied by his wife, which consequently proved to be unfaithful; hence, the infliction for his deficiencies made him suffer.
Similarly, the parish clerk has undue inclinations while being a church representative and having pledged to this institution a vow of chastity as required. Particularly, “Absolon covers his sexual desire with performances of courtliness which do nothing more than mask the same bodily desire” (Bown 465). The character experiences affection towards the carpenter’s wife and expresses his feelings extensively but without any mutuality. Eventually, through a harsh yet cunning jest on the topic of the priest’s humiliation, Chaucer reveals how human flaws result in their misfortunes.
The scholar Nicholas, an opposer to hypocritical Absolon, provides readers with another aspect of human imperfection. Being “turned to astrology and geomancy”, he misapplies his skills of artifice and imagination as well as the status of a scholar, a mage for the uneducated lay, in order to fulfill his needs and mock the others (Chaucer 105). Newhauser et. al argue that “debates about the usefulness of philosophical inquiry, the dangers of excessive curiosity, and the distinction between practical and speculative knowledge” (1). Consequently, a colter serves as a painful punishment for his previous deceits.
Likewise, Alison, the carpenter’s wife, proceeds this chain of mischiefs and redemptions. In her longings and looks, she resembles a colt, therefore the patterns of her behavior imitate those of animals and are based on simultaneous aspirations (Bown 466) Although she is constantly abused by surrounding men and attempts to resist harassment, she participates in the condemned acts of her lover. Lastly, she is beaten by her husband, thus finalizing Chaucer’s comedy with human defects being ridiculed.
Overall, “Miller’s Tale” is a compilation of different issues indicating the causes for failures in the personal life of medieval people as well as conflicts between different social groups. Chaucer illustrates the excesses of various qualities of the characters explicitly: theopathy of the carpenter, lustfulness of his wife, self-righteousness of the parish clerk, and malpractice of knowledge of the scholar. Nonetheless, the author laughs at their grotesque behavior and may only allude to the positive effects adhering to moderation in temperament.
Allen, Valerie et al. The Miller’s Prologue and Tale. 2nd ed., Cambridge UP, 2016.
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Bown, Alfie. “Apes and Japes: Laughter and Animality in the Miller’s Tale.” Postmedieval, vol. 8, no. 4, 2016, pp. 463–478.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Translated by Nevill Coghill, Penguin books, 1977.
Newhauser, Richard, et al. “Curious Labor in the Miller’s Tale.” ELH, vol. 86, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–25.