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    The Miller’s Tale Essay (1326 words)

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    By examining the different elements of humour in The Miller’s Tale, show how Chaucer makes the comic tale work on different levels. The principal reason for the vast difference in style of humour in The Miller’s Tale is derived from the fact that there was such a vast audience that Chaucer was catering for when writing these tales. There would have been great difference in the levels of intellect in the audience, so Chaucer needed to present a large degree of difference in the humour in order to appeal to the different types of audience.

    Essentially, there are two platforms from which the varying degrees of humour are delivered, and each caters for a different type of audience. One is Chaucer, the intellectual with a higher level of humour who presents the tale to us, and the Miller, the “janglere” and “goliardeys” who tells us the tale. We know there is a distinct difference between the two and the type of humour they present to us from when Chaucer sets himself apart from the Miller and his tale in The Miller’s Prologue, and apologises for what is to be said, “Aviseth yow, and put me out of blame; And eek men shal nat maken ernest of game.” It is thus obvious to the audience that the tale will contain varying types of humour, catering for its varied audience.

    There is the higher level humour presented to us through Chaucer’s presentation of the tale, and one example of this more intellectual humour is the literary parody in which form The Miller’s Tale is presented to us. The Miller’s Tale parodies the theme of courtly love, as it imitates generic conventions of a typical courtly love tale (such as its predecessor The Knight’s Tale). For example there is the whole mockery of the presentation of Alison, who would typically be the courtly lady, but through the description she is presented more like a country wench, the description of her is far from a chaste, virginal one we would expect, “She was a primerole, a piggesnie, For any lord to leggen in his bedde, Or yet for any good yeman to wedde.”

    There is also the example of Absolon and his ridiculous portrayal as a courtly lover vowing for the lady, although he would be better suited as the heroine! This is shown through the ridiculous portrayal of him, where he is given qualities such as, “Crul was his heer, and as the gold it shoon,” “his eyen greye as goos,” and “he song som time a loud quinible.” These qualities would be more apt to that of a courtly heroine, and the general nonsensical portrait of him as a courtly gentleman is a parody in itself. These literary parodies would only been appreciated by more intellectual audience, as it relies on certain previous knowledge of the generic conventions of courtly love tales and the humour is derived from ridiculing them.

    Another humorous feature, which would generally be appreciated only by the more intellectual audience, is the literary irony. For example the epithets used to describe a character throughout, for example “hende Nicholas,” although by the end, due to events in the narrative, we infer a change in meaning on the word. For example, “hende Nicholas” at the start of the tale suggests a useful, courteous and kind gentleman to John, but ironically by the end it suggests Nicholas skilful, lustful and successful advances to Alison. This shifting of nuances creates an ironic tone as the exact same language changes the audience’s inference of what is being said, especially in the case of “hende” Nicholas.

    The tale is full of dramatic ironic moments, which would appeal to a wider audience, not just the more intelligent audience; these are based on events that occur in the narrative so little previous knowledge of generic conventions or a high grasp of linguistic knowledge is required on the audiences part, simply a reasonably close following to the narrative. This is why this humour opens up the comedy of the tale to a wider audience.

    Moments of real dramatic irony in the tale include Alison’s response to Nicholas initial advances, “I wol nat kisse thee, by my fey!” This turns out to be highly ironic as Nicholas obtains his sexual desires only soon after this idle threat of chastity. Another, more humorous example of this arises from Nicholas’ duping of John, through heavily ironic flattery to John, “Thou art so wys, it needeth thee nat teche.” This is humorous in its irony, as Nicholas has just previously told John what to do exactly and how to do it; the fact that “sely” John sees himself as intelligent would be humorous to a wide audience.

    This seemingly intelligent level of humour stands alongside the extremely simple slapstick, almost visual (through language and imagery) type of humour we are given through the platform of the Miller. This would be more appealing to the less intelligent audience, as this bawdy, slapstick humour requires little or no thought. For example, the incident in which Absolon pokes Nicholas “amidde his ers” with “the hoote koulter.” This coarse slapstick humour is included by Chaucer through the Miller in order to please the less intelligent audience, this would be regarded somewhat as “cheap thrills” to a modern audience.

    There is also the type of humour that comes from mocking and laughing at the characters. Again this level of humour would appeal equally to a less intelligent audience, as it doesn’t rely on previous audience knowledge; and a more intelligent audience who appreciate the fabliau genre of the tale. This form of humour is particularly effective in the tale, as we don’t form a strong empathetic or sympathetic bond with any of the characters. One of the reasons for this is because we are told the tale in the 3rd person, so we never get a chance to become close or truly empathise with them, unlike if the tale was in the first person.

    Another reason is the nature of the tale; the fabliau genre of the tale is typically the same normal narrative with the same type of characters (ie the cuckhold, the student) so its hard to empathise with a tale with typical generic conventions, such as fabliaux tales. Examples of this “laugh at characters” humour includes the general mocking of Absolon in general and his ridiculous nature and “love-longinge.” Also, the audience laughs at John as he is cuckholded, and Nick is also the butt of jokes when he gets his painful comeuppance from Absolon, “And Nicholas is scalded in the towte.”

    The theme of crudeness and innuendo is also a form of humour that would typically be appreciated by the less intelligent audience, and this features frequently in the tale through the platform of the Miller. The tale is littered with coarse and sexual language, the use of the word “queynte” at the end of successive lines with very different meanings. This crudeness would be welcomed with shocked hilarity to the audience of the day. The less intelligent, more common audience would generally have appreciated the coarse and vulgar language more.

    In conclusion, it is evident that there is a vast variety of humour in the tale, which appeals to the vast audience. These are essentially given to us through two platforms, the Miller and Chaucer, the Miller usually providing laughs for a less intelligent audience whereas Chaucer provides humour for a more intelligent audience. For some of the humour to work, it relies on an attentive audience, for example the more intellectual humour such as the literary parody and the irony, it expects some previous knowledge in order for it to be appreciated; however, some of the crude slapstick humour only requires a loose following of the narrative. The vast type of humour all works on different levels in order to appeal to great diversity in the audience, so there is humour for everyone in this tale.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    The Miller’s Tale Essay (1326 words). (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from

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