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The Canterbury Tales by G. Chaucer: The Miller’s Position about Marriage and Power

Introduction

At the end of the 14th century, Geoffrey Chaucer introduced his Canterbury Tales, where several people share their stories about British history, identities, and values. Each tale has a narrator and main characters who make mistakes, develop relationships, and analyze their achievements through the prism of the already established traditions and laws. “The Miller’s Tale” is the second story in the collection that differs by a variety of private facts and the lack of subordination. The Miller, Robin, is neither a hero nor a villain in Chaucer’s work, but a great example of a trickster who is not always honest with his customers. His status contributes to a better understanding of such issues as marriage, family, authority, and culture representing medieval England. He is a jester, and people develop various attitudes toward this person because he laughs, offends, and entertains, neglecting all possible consequences. In this paper, attention will be paid to British marriage beliefs and the concept of power from a middle-class point of view. The Miller makes no bones about telling what he thinks about people, marriages, or authorities, and his unpredictable temperament becomes his major strength.

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Issues from the Story

The collection of stories in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales impresses and educates the reader from multiple perspectives. According to Aloni, Middle Ages Britain followed religious beliefs in promoting its private and domestic spheres, encompassing the role of a family and intimacy (164). However, the problems in identifying the boundaries between private and public cannot be ignored, making the concept of extimacy prevailing in English society. Regarding the fact that the events are developed in a local hostelry, the line between what is public or should stay private disappears because of alcohol. The same happens to authority and power as people realize that they could “misseke or seye” and find excuses in “wyte it the ale of Southwerk” (Chaucer lines 3139-3140). In the Middle Ages, drinking in inns was not a problem but a means of communication and relaxation when the time does not matter. Walts explains it as an “economically productive use of time” for the merchant class (400). Therefore, the chosen setting and the character turn out to be the best solution to demonstrate how beliefs about power and marriage may be reinforced and changed.

Miller’s Position About Marriage and Authority

Although it is socially unacceptable to discuss family problems aloud, Miller does not find it necessary to control his words and opinion. Chaucer specifically describes the chosen character to clarify why it is normal for Robin to behave the way he does. The author introduces him as “a jangler and a goliardeys” who could steel “and tollen thryes” but “hadde a thomber of gold, pardee” (Chaucer lines 560-565). The man has an obscene physical appearance, including “his berd as any sowe or fox was reed” and “a werte, and ther-on stood a tuft of heres” (Chaucer lines 552-555). The relation of Robin to the issue of family and marriage is evident. The character states “I have a wyf, pardee, as well as thou,/Yet nolde I, for the oxen in my plogh,/ Taken up-on me more than y-nogh,/ As demen of my-self that I were oon” (Chaucer lines 3158-3161). Miller is not ashamed to admit that his family life is not perfect, and his reputation among women is not as positive as it could be. Still, his experience is a solid background for analyzing marriage and male-female affairs.

In addition to Robin’s uncontrollable speeches and discussions, he is also presented as a brawny man. He is “short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre” and “at wrastling he wolde have alwey the ram” (Chaucer lines 550-551). The Miller could easily break doors, win in a fight, and bang the head without a single wound on his body; well, at least, he does not feel any pain or discomfort. Such a description of his stature makes the reader think about re-establishing the worth of power in British society. The Miller is strong, and not many people are ready to resist his position, which questions the authority of that period. He is brusque and impatient, which allows him to shut the Monk or the Knight up and focus on his story, regardless of whether it is appropriate or not. Besides, Nelson says that almost all marriages of that period were established on wealth and power grounds (168). Although Miller is not rich, his physical power may be the reason for his multiple marriages and authority among women.

Effects of Engagement

The engagement of Miller with the issues of family, marriage, authority, and power has a concrete explanation in The Canterbury Tales. Marriage is based on promises and mutual obligations to exchange values and satisfy a sense of self-respect (Nelson 187). Miller, as no other character in the story, shows how not to follow this order but focus on personal interests and demands. He is a symbol of opposition to the commonly accepted norms in society. However, at the same time, he perfectly fits into the situation when people try to change something in their lives.

His physique is another important observation that reinforces the debates about physical power and social authority. In his story about the carpenter, Robin does not specify if “John’s wealth is a result of his skill as a carpenter or his position as a landlord” (Walts 401). It proves that this character is not obsessed with understanding the basics. He is interested in the results that can be achieved with available resources. Sometimes, it is not enough to have a status and use it for justice but to rely on self-developed skills and abilities to show what is right and wrong from a personal perspective.

Miller’s Choices

One of main Miller’s decisions is to interrupt the Host of the ill and change the order to tales. He mentions his physical power to prove his right to speak and threatens the visitors to ruin the ill, using drunkenness as his excuse. No one is able to resist his intention to share a story, even if the tone and vocabulary are not appropriate for a respected society. According to Aloni, power has to be “equated with public authority” (164). Chaucer breaks this rule and shows how insignificant authority may be in regard to real physical abilities. All choices made by Miller are based on personal needs and desires. He has been married several times, and he knows about the possibility of his wife cheating. Still, he chooses not to discover those secrets and guesses until they are publically revealed by someone else (Chaucer lines 3154-3160). Miller explains it not as his weakness or unawareness but as unwillingness to be bothered with the things that do not influence his life, health, or job.

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Sociocultural Beliefs

During the Middle Ages, the British were determined by a variety of rules and norms. Nelson discusses marriage as “debtor-creditor” relationships defined in an agreement and characterized by obligations and sacrament values (167). Aloni adds private property and power as “traditional and medieval norms of marriage” (167). It was necessary to understand when to close and enclose intimacy issues, but absolute ownership was never inherent to the sociocultural beliefs of the chosen period. Finally, social space was a specific characteristic of human relationships because it promotes “a certain amount of power over the actions of others” (Walts 402). In other words, the arrangement of marriages and family affairs depended considerably on the wealth and power possessed by people.

Character’s Relation to Beliefs

Almost all the decisions made by Miller in the chosen story subvert the above-mentioned sociocultural norms and beliefs. He does not respect people and neglects their status in society, demonstrating his personal interests and needs. Robin’s profession does not bring him much money, but he strengthens his financial position by cheating on his clients. Although people are aware of his tricks and lies, they can do nothing because they understand that there are no honest millers or merchants. Robin uses his power in any possible way he could and achieve enough good results to live his happy and jaunty life.

Consequences of Choices

Compared to the images of other characters, the Miller represents many details of farm life where no attention to tactics, respect, and power is paid. Instead of love in a family, Robin believes in the power of sex. However, the reader does not accept this character as a cynical person but a man who knows what he wants and how to get it. The Miller is uncouth and lacks manners, but it is not a shortage of that British society. His behavior, manners, and language introduce the other side of the coin, which makes the events of that period more realistic and less romantic. Chaucer wrote “The Miller Tale” to show how diverse the British society was, and even if Robin is a bad guy, a liar, and a scum, his role in the story is considerable. He is real, and all those negative characteristics, vulgar words, and inappropriate behaviors are normal for real people.

Statements and Ethical Stance

Any period in English history is characterized by a number of norms and standards that cannot be broken or misunderstood. However, if all people follow those requirements, it would be a utopia, with no right to change or reinforce. Marriage and authority provide clear moral instructions for the population (Nelson 167). Yet, their essence and worth could be better understood only if there is a protagonist, a rule-breaker, and the Miller is that crucial social element. Regarding all his physical and emotional characteristics, it is possible to say that Robin, the Miller, is one of the most interesting and necessary characters in Chaucer’s work. Even possessing limited knowledge and low status, his abilities to recognize good and bad are enough to behave as per personal wants not per the expectations imposed by society.

Conclusion

The Canterbury Tales consists of more than 20 stories of different pilgrims, but “The Miller’s Tale” usually attracts the reader’s attention due to its simplicity and reality. There is no need to overestimate the value of love, family, and marriage but to focus on the conditions that matter. Compared to other characters, Robin has no intention to impress the listener with complex words, high thoughts, and unbelievable feelings. Still, his approach does not make him boring or predictable. His story is funny and clear to everyone: if he talks about power, he means his physical abilities only; if he wants to create a family, he ignores rumors or someone’s advice but act.

Works Cited

Aloni, Gila. “Extimacy in the Miller’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review, vol. 41, no. 2, 2006, pp. 163-184.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Edited by Walter Skeat, The Project Gutenberg, 2007. Web.

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Nelson, Marie. “‘Biheste Is Dette’: Marriage Promises in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.” Papers on Language & Literature, vol. 38, no. 2, 2002, pp. 167-199.

Walts, Dawn Simmons. “Tricks of Time in the Miller’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review, vol. 43, no. 4, 2009, pp. 400-413.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Canterbury Tales by G. Chaucer: The Miller’s Position about Marriage and Power." February 18, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-canterbury-tales-by-g-chaucer-the-millers-position-about-marriage-and-power/.

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