TalesThe Miller’s Tale, as opposed to other tales that we have read so far, isfilled with double meanings that one must understand to catch the crudeness andvulgarity that make the tale what it is. The fact that The Monk’s Tale shouldhave followed The Knight’s Tale should tell you something about the Miller.
The Miller ended up telling the second tale because he was drunk and demanded togo after the knight or he would leave the group (3132-33). The Reeve told theMiller to shut his mouth (3144). The Miller did not and proceeded along with histale. The Miller uses his tale to insult the Knight and the Reeve.
Although hisstory is identical in plot to that of The Knight’s Tale, the use of vulgarityleads the pilgrims to interpret the tale more for entertainment value than forserious reasons. The Miller pokes fun at the Reeve by setting the story at acarpenter’s house in Oxford. This offends the Reeve because he is a carpenterby trade. In The Miller’s Tale the carpenter rents out rooms in his house. Oneof the lodgers is a scholar named Nicholas. Nicholas is an astrologer who canpredict when it will rain or be dry (3196).
Though Nicholas was very rich inknowledge, he lacked money to pay his rent or a woman to call his love. For thatNicholas often had his friends pay his bills (3320). The carpenter, unlike thescholar, did have a woman. His wife was only eighteen years of age, which isless than half of his own age. The Miller uses animal and natural similes todescribe how this woman looks.
For that her body is graceful as a weasel’s(3234), and her loins wrapped with an apron is as white (meaning pure) asmorning milk (3235). She is also supposedly better to look at than a pear tree(which in The Merchant’s Tale is a symbol of adultery). Despite being calledall of the above, the Miller foreshadows that she is not all that pure bycalling her by the flower name “Piggesnye” (3268), or pigs’ eye. A pig isan animal that has bad habits. This hints toward future problems.
One day thatproblem finally shows its face. The carpenter had left the house, thus leavingNicholas and his wife alone together. Nicholas wants nothing more than to makelove to the carpenters wife. So he grabs her “queynte” (3267) or genitalsand says, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille, for deerne love of thee, lemmen, Ispille (3277-78). ” In other words, he must have her or die with “spille”,meaning to die. “Spille” also means to ejaculate.
The wife agrees to sleepwith the scholarly Nicholas only if he can devise a plan that will give themtime alone. After the wife’s run in with Nicholas, she encounters anotheradmirer named Absolon at church. Absolon, unlike Nicholas, tries to win thewife’s heart by singing and sending her presents of pies and alcohol(3360-78). Despite Absolon’s efforts, Allison loves Nicholas. While Absolon was trying tocourt Allison, Nicholas was finalizing his plan. His plan was to go into hisroom on a Saturday night and not come out until the carpenter came for him,which he did on Monday by axing the door down.
The carpenter awoke Nicholas andasked him what was the matter. Nicholas explained to the carpenter that he wasstudying astronomy for two days and that there was going to be a great rain thatwill make Noah’s flood look like drizzle. In order for the carpenter and hiswife to escape the downpour, the carpenter must put three tubs on the roof andsit patiently until the rain comes. The carpenter is warned that he can not stayinside and sleep with his wife, for that there can be no sin (3587-3590). John(we learn the carpenter’s name through their conversing on line 3577) fallsfor Nicholas’s tale, thus giving him (Nicholas) and Allison time to be leftalone.
When the day comes of the supposed flood, John takes to the roof waitingfor the rain. While waiting, he falls asleep. Inside the house, Nicholas andAllison are far away from sleeping. Here they can finally get it on so to speak. Absolon gets word that John has departed town, and takes this as an opportunityto bed Allison.
So Absolon goes over and sings to Allison and begs for a kiss(3716), which she agrees to. Instead of sticking her face out of the window, sheputs out her butt (3734) for Absolon to kiss. With it being so dark out, Absolondoes so, then gets angered by what has happened to him. Due to being humiliated,Absolon no longer has an interest in Allison. He does, however, want revenge.
SoAbsolon goes to the blacksmith’s shop and gets a red-hot iron to poke intoAllison’s butt when he goes back and asks for another kiss. Once he got thered-hot iron, Absolon returned to Allison’s window. Here he once again begsfor a kiss and tells Allison that he has a gold ring for her (3794). This timeNicholas sticks his butt out of the window. Absolon, still upset about the lasttime, calls out to his maiden to speak (3805). In response, Nicholas farts onAbsolon.
Absolon gets even, though, by branding Nicholas’s butt with thered-hot poker that makes Nicholas think he is going to die (3808-13). In hispain, Nicholas calls out, “HELP! WATER! WATER! HELP!” (3815). This cry forhelp awakens John the carpenter who thought the floods had come and cut loosethe support ropes. This caused him to fall to the ground where he broke his armand passed out (3829).
The tale ends with John being the laughingstock of thetown. He is deemed crazy by the town folk (3848). Absolon is also ridiculed forkissing Allison’s “lower eye” (3852). Nicholas got the worst of it. He waslooked down upon as well as being left with a burn mark on his butt.
This taleby the Miller was directed toward the Reeve, who is a carpenter, by trade. Ifyou recall, the Reeve is the person who told the Miller to shut up. So there isbad blood between the two men. The double meanings and vulgarity in this tale iswhat makes it so good. Without the combination of the two, the story would leaveus hanging.