The Reeve is still simmering over The Miller’s Tale about the Carpenter, and boasts that he would repay the Miller in kind, yet he is too old for the obscene jokes the Miller likes to employ. The old Reeve gets carried away with his descriptions of old age and its sufferings, and the Host must interrupt to get him back on track. The Reeve then proclaims that, as the Miller told his tale out of personal enmity for him, he will repay like for like:
“I’ll speak his low talk, just as he has spoken.
I pray to God he gets his neck broken.
In my eye he can see what mote there is,
But what he can’t see is the beam in his.”
Or in the Middle English:
“Right in his cherles termes wol I speke.
I pray to god his nekke mote breke;
He can wel in myn yë seen a stalke,
But in his owne he can nat seen a balke.”
source Wikimedia Commons
The Reeve’s Tale
Simon, a miller, and given the nickname of Simkin, resides in Trumpington near Cambridge, his mill standing by a rippling brook. His wife, the daughter of a clergyman, is imperious and disdainful, while Simkin is known for thievery and deception. When he cheats the university, overcharging them for the grinding of their corn, two students Alan and John, decide he needs to learn a lesson. They take wheat to be ground by the miller, but the miller outmaneuvers them:
“Instead of flour, I’ll give them only bran.
‘The greatest scholar is not the wisest man,’
As one time to the wolf remarked the mare.
For all their cunning a fig is what I care.”
He then looses their horse, and when the students chase after him, the miller steals their grain, giving it to his wife to bake a loaf of bread.
Finally, the students return with their horse, but it is night, and they are forced to offer the miller payment to permit them to stay overnight. They are allowed one bed, the miller in his wife are in a second, their 20 year-old daughter in a third, and the baby boy in his cradle at the foot of the miller’s bed.
The miller and his wife have drunk so much wine that they fall asleep directly, but the students still plot revenge. Alan decides to have his way with the miller’s daughter and, not to be outdone, John moves the cradle to the foot of his bed and, after going out to relieve herself, the miller’s wife crawls into bed with John. In the morning, after his romp, Alan tries to crawl back into bed with John, but of course, due to the switched cradle, he ends up in bed with the miller. He inadvertently whispers his night secrets to the miller, who is incensed at his duplicity. They struggle, the miller is beaten up by both Alan and his own wife, who mistakes his bald head for the student’s white nightcap and gives him a good thump on the head with a staff. And so the miller is beaten and cheated, in another romping tale by Chaucer.
|The Old Mill at Sunset (1844)
This tale exemplifies the common “cradle-trick” tale, and is a near copy of Bocaccio’s tale of the Sixth Story of the Ninth Day of his The Decameron. Chaucer gives the Reeve a type of northern dialect, which cannot be translated well, so if you don’t read the Middle English version, you will likely miss it. It’s apparently the first example in English literature of a regional accent used in humorous imitation.
Next The Cook’s Tale, which was unfinished by Chaucer ……..
The Miller’s Tale
The Reeve’s Tale
The Cook’s Tale
The Man of Law’s Tale
The Wife of Bath’s Tale
The Friar’s Tale
The Summoner’s Tale
The Clerk’s Tale
The Merchant’s Tale
The Squire’s Tale
The Franklin’s Tale
The Physician’s Tale
The Pardoner’s Tale
The Shipman’s Tale
The Prioress’s Tale
The Tale of Sir Thopas
The Tale of Melibee
The Monk’s Tale
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale