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Discuss Chaucer's comic method in the Miller's Prologue and Tale. Combine your personal response with reference to other critical opinion at relevent points in your argument.

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Introduction

Rebecca Reitsis Discuss Chaucer's comic method in the Miller's Prologue and Tale. Combine your personal response with reference to other critical opinion at relevent points in your argument. The Miller's Tale is undoubtedly Chaucer's most crude and vulgar work, but how far did Chaucer intend for there to be a moral to his story? Are we supposed to sympathise with the jealous but 'sely' carpenter when the wife whom 'he lovede moore than his lyf' is unfaithful to him? Should we take pity on Absolon when his 'love-longynge' leads him to the riotous 'misplaced kiss'? We are warned not to 'maken ernest of game' in the Miller's Prologue, and we are also forewarned that the Miller's language and the content of the story may be offensive due to the ' ale of Southwerk'. By this point, it is clear that this is nothing but an amusing story, told purely for pleasure by a drunken and high-spirited miller. Elizabeth G. Melillo agrees in her essay that 'it seems a shame to do anything with the Miller's Tale except laugh heartily! To insert too much intellectual analysis may rob this, the best of 'dirty' stories of its charm.' Chaucer begins by preparing us for the trouble that is to come, by alerting us to the fact that the carpenter has married a woman much younger than him, and that 'his wit was rude' - he is an uneducated and gullible man, with a beautiful young wife. ...read more.

Middle

Nicholas provides him with a series of instuctions, which would ensure that none of the three would perish in the waters. He urges John to hurry, and to gather three large tubs to hang from the ceiling of his large barn, so that the three of them can sleep safely within them until the flood is upon them, when they can cut the ropes suspending them, and float safely until the waters have subsided. The fact that John actually believes all of these lies is amusing enough, but when you add to this the thought of the three of them, hanging in 'a knedyng trogh, or ellis a kymelyn' the tale becomes absurd. The final detail that Nicholas adds is that the carpener is to hang in his tub far apart from Alisoun, so that no 'sin' is committed between them. He also emphasizes that they must not talk or cry out to one another, 'for it is Goddes owene heeste deere'. Chaucer uses Alisoun to mock the carpenter, by having her acting up to his panic when he announces the flood. She, of course, knows about Nicholas' plan, and has to fake shock and panic when she is told for a second time. She reassures John, and reinforces the fact that she is his 'trewe, verray wedded wyf', delighting in the irony of her words. ...read more.

Conclusion

The cuckolded old man falls to the floor, breaking his arm, and the whole neighbourhood comes to stare at the 'pale and wan' fool. From this point onwards, Chaucer makes a point of stressing the isolation of the 'wood' carpenter. Alisoun and Nicholas cruelly create a tale which explains the carpenter's actions as those of a madman, and his efforts to reason with them are completely ignored. Chaucer says that they 'turned al his harm unto a jape'. This is possibly there to emphasise his instruction to us at the end of the prologue not to 'maken ernest of game', and not to feel too sorry for the carpenter. The tale ends with the conclusion that 'swyvved was this carpenteris wyf, for al his kepyng and his jalousye'. Chaucer does not want us to take any moral from the tale, but it is packed full of them. It can be seen as a sort of sermon on the sins of pride and jealousy, hidden in the format of a 'naughty story'. According to McDaniel, 'the Miller tells this crude but hilarious story to remind the Host and all the other pilgrims that social pretense...is dangerous'. Even though it may be difficult not to pity the carpenter at the end when he is hurt, cuckolded, and taunted, we must refrain from doing it. John Lippitt said that 'the tragic and the comic are not polar opposites, or mutually exclusive, but subtly and sometimes almost paradoxically inter-linked modes of experience'. ...read more.

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