Chaucer implores the reader to appreciate Nicholas’s role and to join him in laughing at his fooling of John, as well as wanting us to delight in the irony that Nicholas provokes, most notably when he tells John “Thy wyf shal I wel saven, out of doute. ” Although Nicholas is worthy of admiration, the reader feels no sympathy for Nicholas’s painful encounter at the end of the Tale. His experience of having an “iren hoot…
amidde the ers” can be seen as a just punishment for tricking John and sleeping with Alison, especially as he feels no remorse. It is arguable that the reader may feel Nicholas’s outcome is just, owing to his behaviour; however, though this is debatable, it is unlikely that the reader will ever feel compassion for Nicholas’s situation. Alison is the definitive object of femininity for the reader since Chaucer introduces her as the “yonge wyf” of the carpenter, through her physical attributes and clothing, deliberately withholding her name.
Her supple and sinuous figure is likened to that of a weasel’s, emphasising her sexual attractiveness whilst also hinting at her sly nature, which Nicholas later exploits, and the turn that the Tale will take later on. It is through her clothing that Alison is presented to the reader; her skirt “broiden al bifoore”, embroidery on her collar “withinne and eek withoute” and “hir filet brood of silk”, implying her to be of an affluent background. The more attentive reader will be aware that her rich clothing is a product of her marriage to the carpenter, whom she arguably married for his wealth.
In Nicholas and Alison’s first encounter, it is unclear to the reader why Alison initially plays so hard to get, claiming that her “housbonde is so ful of jalousie”, however, they are aware that after calling her “lemman” and crass advances, she is won round with unseemly haste. Revelling in the attention of Nicholas, it becomes clear that Alison is a better match for Nicholas. Chaucer accentuates her qualities that can be comparable with young animals, such as a kid, a calf and a foal.
It is through these associations with animals that Chaucer hints at her animalistic instincts, where she would want to mate with another young animal, namely Nicholas, rather than her elderly husband. Alison’s visit to church in recognised as part of the medieval texture of life; however, before she leaves home she crosses herself with holy water and it is implied that she made “Hir forheed shoon as bright as any day” in order to appear seductive. A more modest woman would have covered her forehead out of respect.
This in itself is mildly blasphemous and so signals to the reader not only of what Alison’s character is like, but also the direction the Tale is going in. The reader can recognise that although her characterisation by Chaucer is mainly decorative, it’s important to the plot of the Tale. Firstly, Alison’s characterisation emphasises the position of her foolish old husband trying to keep her under control. Secondly, her appearance as a natural conquest for Nicholas assists the plot of deception, and thirdly, she is a perfect target for the ridiculous courtly love of Absolon.
Taking these things into account, Alison’s role in the Tale makes her character difficult to either sympathise with or admire, since she has neither commendable qualities for the reader to appreciate, nor does she end up as the butt of the Tale. It is difficult for the reader to feel sympathy towards either Alison’s character or her situation, owing mostly to her willingness to cuckold her husband, her curt treatment of Absolon and the delight she takes in her infidelity.
Her character is also difficult to admire in that it is obvious to the reader that she married John for his wealth, that she enjoys the attention from Nicholas, assists the cuckolding of her husband and also ridicules Absolon. Beautiful Alison may be, but the reader experiences glimpses of a young madam in her love affair with “hende” Nicholas, in the play-acting with her “sely” husband and in her treatment of “joly” Absolon. Absolon is associated with Absalom in the Old Testament of the Bible who was hanged by his hair from a tree and though peripheral to the main theme, Absolon’s part in the Tale is extensive and crucial.
It is in portrait painting that his description as the effeminate young buck, fastidious in both appearance and habits whilst also being over-dressed to the point of ridicule, “with poules window corven on his shoes”, that Absolon first comes across as a joke to the reader. Apart from self-adoration, the reader can appreciate that Absolon spends his energies on self-advertisement, in both socializing and flirting, and in making himself useful in such activities where company and gossip are the essential ingredients.
The reader is aware that these traits of his personality, although making him likeable to some extent, cause him to firstly, appear superficial in his love for Alison, and secondly, come across as almost deserving of his later humiliation. It is from this point of view that the reader can understand Alison’s impatience with Absolon’s failed attempts at courtly love as he can be seen as annoying, unappealing and no match for Nicholas. The reader realises that Alison may be aware of Absolon’s delight in playing at being in love with the parish wives and barmaids of the town and so, in effect, would not be immediately be charmed by him.
His effeminacy is unattractive to Alison, most notably when compared to Nicholas, however its Absolon’s squeamishness, fastidiousness, refined manner of speaking and high sensitivity that are combined to create a figure that’s ridiculously inappropriate in the necessary and vulgar setting of the tale. It is these qualities of Absolon that make him so ridiculous, apt as the butt of Alison’s joke later on in the Tale and therefore the reader has little sympathy for him. Similarly to John, humour rather than compassion is felt by the reader concerning Absolon’s downfall.
Absolon resembles Nicholas in that he’s an attractive, youthful man with many talents, however, unlike Nicholas he’s portrayed as ridiculous to the Miller’s audience. Though Absolon is accomplished, he is only connected to small-town activity and his achievements do not measure up to Nicholas’s scholarly education. The pains that he goes through to win Alison are described to the reader in detail, yet we are aware that his efforts are in vain since Nicholas has already won her over with his close proximity and crude advances.
It is arguable that Chaucer sets Absolon up to be ridiculed, however it is through Absolon’s wooing techniques that Chaucer invites the reader to ridicule his position. . An example of this is apparent in Absolon’s reading of the part of Herod from the mystery plays in order to impress Alison; however judging from both his appearance and pitch of his voice, the reader is aware he would be more suited to female roles. Since the reader regards Absolon as somewhat ridiculous, it is only in his action of revenge that the reader ever feels any form of admiration for him.
In his attempts to woo Alison it is apparent that Absolon is a complete parody of courtly love since the true courtly lover woos discreetly and when he sings to her, it is his lady’s husband he awakes, not her, with his love song. John recognises the high pitch of the voice to be Absolon’s and awakes Alison to hear it. The fact that Absolon’s song reaches the wrong set of ears initially implies his failure and as there is a companionable recognition of who it is singing between John and Alison it is indicated further that neither of them take him very seriously.
Unfortunately for Absolon, Chaucer uses him to provoke humour for the reader and though he is worthy of sympathy in certain circumstances, the reader never regards with true compassion. Playing the part as victim of ridicule throughout the Tale makes it hard for the reader to ever respect him. It is notable that Absolon is only ever the subject of admiration from the reader when he seeks revenge of Alison after humiliating him, however, revenge is in reality not a quality to be admired in someone.
Owing to his position in the love-triangle of the Tale, his vanity, his immaturity and vengeful personality, Absolon is never truly empathised with, but his determination and wilfulness make him a creditable, if a times laughable, character. John – foolish, marriage, jealousy Ignorance – religious knowledge about flood Story telling nature Miller states he needs, and is deserving of punishment Possessive, line 124 Gullible Speaks like an old man – garrulous Miller tries to get back at Reeve Nicholas – vain Blasphemous No remorse No guilt of consequences
Just desserts Alison – eager to deceive Chose to deceive a man who genuinely loved her Sly, line 126 “as any wezele” Understandable that she deceives her husband Lines 114, 126, 136 Things to consider: No one gets off Scott free!