Explore the ways in which the Miller’s character is reflected in The Miller’s Tale.” A “churl,” according to medieval definition, is an individual in the lower echelons of society who is prone to bad manners. From the outset, it becomes clear that the Miller has little or no manners when he arrives at the Tabard Inn without a hat, which could be considered rude in medieval times. The pilgrims are supposed to tell their tales according to social rank, but the Miller interrupts this system, revealing that he is rude, loud, and has no respect for those around him.
It is known in advance from his description that the Miller is a character who is most unlikely to be described as righteous, and that was most of sin and harlotries.” Chaucer’s portrayal of this character makes it appear as though he is ashamed to be in association with such a crass tale. However, it becomes apparent that his irony handles this. It is through this advice that he uses excuses on behalf of the Miller and his tale, “blameth not me if that ye chese amis.” Chaucer makes it apparent that the Miller is a character who favors drinking.
At the start of the prologue, he is described as having had a drink and being unable to sit steadily upon his horse: The Millere, that for dronken was al pale, so that unnethe upon his hors he sat.” He apologizes in advance for any mispronunciations: “That I am dronke, I knowe it by my soun; and therefore if that I misspeke or seye, wite it the ale of Southwerk, I you preye.” However, his tale was told somewhat fluently, and so the error of his drinking ways may have been added by Chaucer to reiterate the poem’s farcical nature.
The Miller reflects himself in his tale by attempting to explain how the carpenter in his story favors religion. He tries to counteract and make up for his lewd drunken harlotry” with this. The carpenter has an obvious belief in religion, made apparent by his references to saints and spirits. This is particularly evident when he attempts to wake Nicholas from his “trance” by saying, “Jesus Christ and Saint Benedict, bless this house from every wicked wight.” It is here that the reader can see John’s limited knowledge of religion when he mixes up his prayers, saying “where wentest thou, Saint Peter’s sister?”
Making it seem that carpenters are ignorant, the Miller also laughs at the expense of all those who attempt courtly love,” making Absolon seem ridiculous in his attempts to gain the hand of Alisoun. She is not the stereotypical ideal of a medieval damsel, which is a dig at those women on pilgrimage who may not fit such an “ideal” of a woman. In medieval times, it was common for millers to be dishonest or crafty, claiming that they would take the best crops for themselves. “Wel koude he stelen corn and tollen thries,” and in this case, they would charge three times as much for produce.
This implies that the Miller was sly and took more than allowed. He is described with animal imagery, his beard was as red as a sow or fox.” This suggests a cunning aspect to his character. The Miller enjoys telling the tale of the cuckolded carpenter and aims to receive laughter from his audience.
Another member of the pilgrimage, known as the Reve,” is a carpenter who tries to counter the Miller’s tale by saying “stinte thy clappe.” However, the Miller responds with no grace or remorse, simply stating “I sey nat therefore that thou art oon,” indicating that he does not care about the impact of his behavior on those around him. The Miller also mocks the carpenter’s lack of education, as he confuses his prayers and refers to Noah’s flood as “Nowel’s Flood.” This portrayal of the carpenter could be interpreted as a sarcastic remark aimed at provoking the Reve.
As his tale of trickery and deceit unfolds, it appears that the Miller takes the side of Nicholas in his tale. He comments on the carpenter’s fastansie” and the fact that he is “sely.” The Miller has little sympathy for the carpenter, indicating that he believes there is nothing wrong or corrupt with Nicholas’ pretense and cruelty to John. He reiterates that the “Millere” is a dishonest character himself, with few morals and no hesitation when it comes to laughing at the expense of others. It is obvious that the Miller tells a tale which coincides with his personality.
It appears that he attempts to contrast his tale with that of the Knights by creating Alisoun, who is an obvious parody of the Knight’s fair Emilie, and mimicking the ways of a courtly lover. Despite his low social rank, it is obvious from the twists that occur in his tale that the Miller has a good understanding of the social side of life.