With reference to lines 91-112 and 163-290, how are the rivals Nicholas and Absalon presented to us by Chaucer in this section? Focus on Chaucer’s use of language and detail to present this contrast?
Nicholas and Absalon become rivals in the Millers parody of the Knights tale, fighting for the love of the wife of the carpenter, Alison. The contrast between Absalon’s vivacious character and appearance with Nicholas’ cunning and quick- wittedness create two opposing characters to represent the aspects of courtly love, yet adapt it to create a comical parody. Chaucer makes clever use of language and diction through the presentation of his characters’ actions and behaviour. He also uses the aid of his own opinion of his characters laid subtlety behind the Miller’s views of the two rivals in his tale.
The initial detail the reader receives about Absalon is his appearance, whereas in Nicholas’ case it is the details of his room portraying his lifestyle, which revolves around the seduction of women. The only information we are given about Nicholas’ appearance is ‘lyk a maiden meek for to see’ suggesting his girlish attractive looks, freshness and youth. In contrast, Absalon’s looks and clothes are described in great detail to portray his vanity and flamboyancy. His ‘Poules window corven on his shoes’ draws focus to the intricate details of his appearance so that the reader is required to take into account Absalon’s intense care for his looks. His curly blonde hair is fashioned into an extravagant fan shape; ‘strouted as a fanne large and brode’ that displays his desire to keep up with the fashion, and the blonde curls create a sense of childlike innocence. His clothing also supports his flamboyancy, ‘Ycald he was ful smal and proprely’ with red stocking, a blue tunic which was lavishly fastened. His behaviour is presented as ‘jolif was and gay’. He sings with a high-pitched voice in a ‘quinible’, which is usually associated with female voices expressing his femininity. Much of his behaviour is suggested to be feminine in his vanity and his actions. His squeamishness of rude language and body gases, ‘squeamous of farting and of speche daungerous’ portrays his dainty and fastidious attitude. Absalon is presented as a child-like character, and is patronised by the Miller. This is suggested through his high-spirited attitude as he dances to his ‘rubible’ as well as his merry appearance. His fiddle contrasts to Nicholas’ elegant harp, which he plays to women to seduce them. Nicholas’ character is first presented through his bedroom, which has one particular purpose. His objects that are displayed within it build up and introduce the character of Nicholas through his interests and learned skills. His collection of specialist books and ‘astrelabie’ equipment suggest his intelligence and scholarly abilities. His elegant harp contrasts with Absalon’s low-grade inferior fiddle. Nicholas’ skills from university education also contrast with Absalon’s practical skills in operations, legal conveyances and cutting hair as a barber.