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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Reeve's Prologue and Tale
Modern english adjacent to middle english

About The Canterbury Tales:
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

About The Reeve's Prologue and Tale:
The Miller has just told his tale about a carpenter that is tricked. All people find the story amusing except the grumbling Reeve, who takes the story personally as he is a carpenter by trade. The Host urges the Reeve to stop grumbling and sermonising and start telling a tale. The Reeve obeys and starts telling his tale.

In a town named Trumpington (near Cambridge) stands a mill. The tale begins with a description of the miller and his family. The miller's name is Symkyn. He is bald and has a round face. He knows how to play bagpipes, wrestle and fish and he carries some arms. He is also a thief who steals meal and corn during the milling process. He has a haughty wife who is as noble as water in a ditch (line 110). They have a daughter of twenty years old who has broad buttocks, apparently large breasts and nice hair (also a pug nose). Her name is Melanie (line 382). They also have a son of only six months old who lies in his cradle.

Two students from Cambridge college, John and Aleyn, are sent to the miller with a bag of corn to be grinded. The students are warned for the stealing practices of the miller. So John and Aleyn go to the mill asking the miller to grind their corn telling the miller they really like to closely look at the milling process (lines 182-191). Of course the miller does not want the students to observe the milling process. Symkyn goes outside and releases the horse of the students (lines 209-211). When the students notice that their horse has been run away, they forget about the milling process and run after their horse giving the miller the opportunity to take a large part of their meal. The miller's wife makes a loaf of bread from the stolen meal (line 240). The students spend the afternoon chasing their horse and catch it at the end of the day. Almost exhausted John and Aleyn return to the mill. It is too late to return to the college. The miller offers help so the students spend the evening with the miller and his family and they have bread, ale and a roast goose for dinner (line 283). Symkyn makes up a bed for the students. There is only one bedroom. At midnight everybody goes to bed. The miller and his wife put the cradle with the baby at the foot of their bed. Shortly after the miller, his wife and daughter start snoring loudly (lines 309-313). The room is really dark.

Aleyn lies in bed kept awake by the snoring and thinks about revenge for the obviously stolen corn. He pokes John and says he will have sex with the miller's daughter, for compensation (lines 324-325). John warns him not to awake the miller. Aleyn goes to the the daughter's bed silently and instantly achieves his aim (line 343). They have sex all night and we may assume with mutual consent. The daughter does not resist and she does not cry for help.

Meanwhile John lies alone in bed and feels jealous about Aleyn who is having fun with the miller's daughter. John decides he will have his part too (line 355) and silently steps out of his bed and removes the cradle with the baby from the miller's bed's end to his own bed's end (line 359). Shortly after, the miller's wife rises and goes outside for a piss. Back in the dark bedroom she feels around for the cradle and subsequently climbs into the wrong bed. Instantly John jumps on her giving her "so myrie a fit ne hadde she nat ful yoore" (line 376). He penetrates her hard and deep, like one gone mad (line 377). The narrator comments that the students have a jolly life (line 378). So the miller's wife enjoys having sex (she has not had good sex for years) and she certainly does not protest, but it is not quite clear if she is aware whom she's having sex with.

The morning comes and Aleyn has to leave the daughter's bed and return to his own bed. Before he leaves, the daughter tells him where to find the loaf of bread made from the stolen corn (lines 389-390). It is still too dark to see. The cradle with the baby is again misleading and Aleyn creeps mistakingly in the bed of the miller. Thinking he his talking to John, he says they have to leave as he has been copulating with the miller's daughter all night (line 411-413). The miller awakes and not surprisingly freaks out in rage. He fiercely beats Aleyn and the two men fight in the dark. The miller stumbles and falls on his still sleeping wife (line 427). She awakes but is not able to oversee the situation and thinks the two students are fighting. John, also awakened, tries to find a staff, but the miller's wife finds the staff before him. The moon offers a little ray of light (line 444). The miller's wife thinks she sees Aleyn's nightcap and beats it really hard with the staff. It is however the miller's bald head that is hit with the staff (line 452). The miller falls down and receives some additional beating by the students. They dress and leave with horse, meal and loaf of bread, without paying for the grinding and the dinner. So the miller ends up beaten with no payment and his wife and daughter are screwed (line 463). "The cheater shall himself cheated be" comments the narrator (line 467). Thus ends the Reeve his tale.

To draw your audience's attention, put in some sex. This applies to movies, it applies to jokes and it applies to literature. Sex sells. Modern authors know that and of course medieval writers knew that too. Like The Miller's Tale, The Reeve's Tale is not pornographic as details are not described, only briefly mentioned. The reader may use his own imagination if he or she wants to fit in details. Contrary to The Miller's Tale, women are not persuaded into bed. No persuasion, no talking, no unnecessary complex or non-plausible plot twists and - above all - no tiresome symbolism, no boring quotations from Greek or Roman writers and no tedious Christian teachings in The Reeve's Tale. The women enjoy sex as well as the male characters. Nobody gets punished for having sex for fun.

The only person in The Reeve's Tale who gets some punishment is Symkyn, the miller. He is the only person that does not have any sex and he is apparently unable to give his wife good sex. Well, a man who is unable to give his wife good sex, deserves punishment, doesn't he? At least he should not be surprised if his wife commits adultary. Ask the Wife of Bath for her opinion (find it in The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale). Christian ideas about chastity and abstinence are pervasively elaborated and adulated in The Canterbury Tales. So The Reeve's Tale is an anti-Christian story? Maybe blasphemous? Not really. Christianity is completely absent in The Reeve's Tale and is not ridiculed in any respect. Even devoted Christians may laugh about The Reeve's Tale. "Having joyful sex with mutual consent is not sinful, regardless what religious leaders try to tell you. And bring your wife or girl to an orgasm at least once in a while." This is what Chaucer in a nutshell tells his audience. You do not need highly praised philosophers or ancient writers or weary symbolism to know this. It is just common sense. Write this in your essay or paper and your bald grey professor will give you an A cum laude.

About viewing this part:
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