The Miller’s Tale is arguably Chaucer’s best work of humour and it strikes the right balance between bawdiness and vulgarity. The setting of the Miller’s Tale is very ordinary and therefore we relate to it and is not humorous. The details give verisimilitude to the tale. But the main aspects of humour in The Miller’s Tale are the four characters and how they react with each other. First John, the carpenter. He is a very stereotypical carpenter in those times who marries a young woman for her beauty so she can share his riches.
He is rich but stupid and his stupidity and gullibility provides the chance for the main practical joke of the tale to take place. John can be compared with the Miller an example of John’s stupidity which makes the tale funny is on line 119 ‘He knew nat Catoun, for his wit was rude’ this tells us directly that he was rude. He is also very gullible which also brings humour to the story.
We can see this in the way that he believes Nicholas about the flood and builds the boat in the roof (another stupid thing to do because the roof is a stupid place to build a boat!) and how he is completely oblivious to what Alison and Nicholas are doing while he is in the roof building the boat. Another example of John’s stupidity is that instead of trying to find out about Nicholas and Alison, he tries to help Nicholas because he is becoming concerned that he spends all his time in his room which is ironic because Nicholas is actually plotting a way to win Alison (John’s wife) over. On line 354 John actually feels sorry for Nicholas ‘Me reweth soore of hende Nicholas’. This convinces us of his gullibility further.
As the story goes on, John gets stupider as he is the key person in Nicholas’s plot. We find John’s antics funnier because we never have a chance to sympathise with him; if we did then we might not find the way that the whole plot revolves around Alison leaving him and the end part when he is publicly ridiculed for being mad as funny because we would be feeling sorry for him too. A character who completely contrasts with John and who is behind the main comical plot of the story is the scholar, Nicholas. Nicholas is very clever.
He is supposed to be a respectable scholar who studies astrology but he isn’t he is crude and a typical example of British humour. An example of this is when Absolon comes to Alison’s window to woo her and Nicholas plays a trick on him. We would expect Nicholas to do something upper class but he doesn’t. As it says on line 698 ‘This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart’ Nicholas is very crude and very unlike how he is supposed to be. The lesson with Nicholas’s character is don’t judge by appearance. We expect him to be a stereotypical scholar but he isn’t.
Nicholas is a key person in the mockery of ‘Courtly Love’ in the tale. He is not actually a ‘courtier’ but he possesses many of the qualities for it. He has boldness and therefore crudeness which we wouldn’t expect from a scholar. We can see an example of this on line 168 ‘And prively he caughte hire by the queynte’. This means that he grabbed Alison by the thighs and that is very out of character which shows boldness. This makes him a comical character because he is so un stereotypical that it is funny. He is also a pivotal character because he thought of the main comical plot.
The character which the three men are fighting for is Alison. The beautiful wife of John the Carpenter. The description of her in lines 125 to 162 is very detailed. It says that she is therwithal (beautiful), yonge (young), hir mouth was sweet as bragot or the meeth (sweetly spoken) ful brighter was the shynyng of hir hewe (brighter then a new coin) From her description by the miller who is much like the carpenter (her husband), we would think that Alison was some sort of a goddess but she is actually a ‘country wench’.
Like Nicholas, she is also one who should be a bit more like her description and like a stereotypical rich man’s daughter who has had a good upbringing but she is the complete opposite of that. She is very common and crude. We can see an example of Alison’s crudeness on line 624 ‘And at the wyndow out she putte hir hole’. Which means that she put her bum out of the window for Absolon to kiss instead of her face and that is not something that someone like Alison is supposed to be would do. She then shows us how horrible she is by then laughing at him. Alison also contributes to the ‘Mock Courtliness’ in the story.
When she rejects Nicholas for the first time, she reacts in an over exaggerated melodramatic way exactly like courtly lovers do on lines 176 to 178 ‘I wol nat kisse thee, by my fey! Why, lat be! ‘ quod she. ‘Lat be Nicholas, Or I wol crie ”out, harrow” and allas”! Alison brings humour to the story by being the woman in the middle that everyone loves and she also plays a big part in Nicholas’s plot. The last character and therefore the funniest character in A Miller’s Tale is Absolon. Absolon is the complete opposite of the Carpenter and Miller. He is a key person in the mockery of ‘Courtly Love’ in the Miller’s Tale.
Absolon is the one suitor that tries to woo Alison that has a traditional romantic attitude to courting. He is the victim of Alison’s scorn (on line 600 ‘Go fro the wyndow, Jakke fool’) and receives only one ‘kiss’ which he realises is not what it appears (on line 626 ‘But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers’). Absolon’s romantic affectations make him appear foolish. The Miller sarcastically notes on how Absolon combed his curly blond hair to prepare himself for Alison, a parody of courtly love and romance and the miller and the carpenter have no use for it.