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Lines 1-112 A rich carpenter named John lives in Oxford and takes lodgers into his home. A poor but clever scholar named Nicholas boards with him. The.

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Presentation on theme: "Lines 1-112 A rich carpenter named John lives in Oxford and takes lodgers into his home. A poor but clever scholar named Nicholas boards with him. The."— Presentation transcript:



3 Lines 1-112 A rich carpenter named John lives in Oxford and takes lodgers into his home. A poor but clever scholar named Nicholas boards with him. The narrator gives us an extensive description of Nicholas's character. (For more on this portrait, see the "Character Analysis" section.)

4 Lines 113-124 John has married an eighteen-year-old woman named Alisoun. He is apparently jealous about her, and keeps her on a tight leash. The reason he is so jealous is that Alisoun is much younger than him, and he fears being made a "cuckold" by Alisoun cheating on him. John has never read the proverb by the ancient Greek philosopher Cato, which says that men should marry a woman similar to them in situation and age because youth and the elderly don't mix well. Since he has already married Alisoun, though, John must endure his situation.

5 Lines 163-198 One day when John is away in a nearby town, Nicholas decides to seduce Alisoun. He grabs her butt and tells her that unless she grants him her love, he will die. Alisoun leaps away from him and declares that she will not kiss him. She threatens to scream unless Nicholas leaves her alone. Nicholas asks Alisoun to grant him mercy, pleading with her to have sex with him.

6 Lines 168-193 Alisoun relents and grants Nicholas her "love" (probably meaning sex). She warns Nicholas that her husband is jealous. The two of them must be very careful and secretive about the affair; otherwise she will be punished. Nicholas agrees to wait until John is not around to have sex with Alisoun again. He pats her butt and kisses her some more. Nicholas plays his harp.

7 Lines 199-230 Alisoun goes to the parish church one day looking very clean and shiny. At the parish church resides Absolon, the parish clerk. The narrator gives us an extended description of Absolon's character. (For more on this portrait, see the "Character Analysis" section.)

8 Lines 231-288 On a holiday, when Absolon is waving incense around the wives of the parish, he sees Alisoun and takes such a liking to her that, were he a cat and she a mouse, he would snatch her up right away. So much love has he in his heart for Alisoun that he takes no offering that day from any of the wives. (This part is rather unclear: does he do this so that Alisoun can keep her money?) Absolon begins courting Alisoun by singing to her under the full moon, asking her to take him as a lover.

9 John hears Absolon and asks Alisoun if she hears him too. Alisoun replies that she does hear him. After that night, Absolon continues his unsuccessful courtship of Alisoun, kept awake night and day by his love-sickness.

10 Absolon employs many means to try to win Alisoun, including: combing his hair carefully enlisting messengers and go-betweens swearing to be her servant singing like a nightingale sending her gifts of sweetened wine, spiced ale, and cakes playing Herod in the local play

11 Despite Absolon's best efforts, Alisoun refuses to become his lover, because her heart already belongs to Nicholas. In fact, Alisoun makes Absolon look like a fool. The narrator tells us that Absolon stands no chance with Alisoun because Nicholas is closer to her and always in her sight, thus keeping her attention away from Absolon.

12 Lines 289-330 Nicholas and Alisoun make a plan that will enable them to spend the entire night together in bed without John's knowledge. Nicholas goes into his room, taking with him enough food and drink for a whole day. He tells Alisoun that if John asks about him, she should say she doesn't know where he is, that she hasn't seen him all day, she thinks he might be ill, and even when her maid called for him, she received no response.

13 Nicholas spends the whole Saturday in his room. On Sunday, John begins to worry about Nicholas, wondering aloud if he has died. John sends a servant to knock on Nicholas's door. The servant knocks hard on Nicholas's door and asks him how he can sleep the whole day away.

14 Lines 331-387 Upon hearing nothing from Nicholas's room, John's servant peeks through a hole in the wall and sees Nicholas sitting bolt upright and gaping, as though he's looked too long at the new moon (meaning, he looks crazed). The servant tells John about the condition in which he found Nicholas. John declares that Nicholas must have meddled too much in astronomy and thus gone mad. John says that men should not know too much about God's secrets: it's much better to be an unlearned man who only knows his Apostle's Creed.

15 He tells about another clerk who spent too much time doing astronomy. That clerk was star-gazing in a field in an attempt to tell the future, and he fell into a pit instead. John says he is sorry for Nicholas, who will suffer because of all his studying. John tells the servant to push on the door while he pries at it with a stick. The servant manages to take the door off by its hinges. Nicholas is sitting as still as a stone and gazing up at the ceiling. John thinks Nicholas is in despair. He shakes him by the shoulders, pleading with him to wake up.

16 He makes the sign of the cross on Nicholas against elves and demons and says a prayer at the four corners of the house in an attempt to exorcise from Nicholas the spirit he thinks has captured him. Nicholas appears to wake and sighs, wondering aloud if the whole world is about to be lost. John asks him what he means. Nicholas tells John to fetch him a drink, saying that he wants to speak privately to John about something that concerns them both.

17 Lines 388-438 John brings Nicholas a quart of ale, which the two of them share. After John sits down next to Nicholas, he closes the door and begins to speak. Nicholas makes John swear not to tell anyone else what he is about to tell him. John swears that he won't, and that he is not the type to betray secrets.

18 Nicholas tells John that, in studying astrology, he has discovered that the following Monday there would be a flood as big as the one God sent in Noah's time. In less than an hour of rain, everyone would drown. John expresses sorrow over the possible death of Alisoun, and asks if there is no way to prevent it. Nicholas says that there is, but to do it John must rely upon his counsel.

19 Nicholas recites a proverb by Solomon that incites all things to be worked by counsel and asks John if he remembers how God saved Noah. John replies that he does remember the story of Noah. Nicholas asks if John remembers what a hard time Noah had in getting his whole family on the ark, especially his wife. Nicholas says that what they do, therefore, they must do quickly

20 Lines 439-492 Nicholas advises John to obtain three large tubs for them to use as boats, and to stock these tubs with enough food and drink for a day, after which, he promises, the waters will retreat. Nicholas makes John promise not to tell his servants, but says he can't tell him why this secrecy is necessary, and that John shouldn't ask about God's secrets.

21 Nicholas says if John follows his counsel, he and his wife will have as great a grace as Noah had – they will be saved from drowning in the flood.

22 Lines 493-529 John leaves the room in a sorry state. He explains the situation to Alisoun, who pretends to believe him and tells him to go ahead quickly in order to save their lives. The narrator comments upon how great a thing imagination is: so deep can an impression (or imagining) be that men can die of it.

23 John imagines that he can see the flood drowning Alisoun, which makes him weep. John gets three tubs and hangs them from the rafters of his house, then places ladders next to each one. He places bread, cheese and ale in each tub and sends his servants off to London. John, Nicholas, and Alisoun climb into the tubs.

24 Lines 530-548 Nicholas tells everyone to be quiet. John sits very still in his tub, saying prayers and waiting for the rain. John falls asleep and begins to snore. Nicholas and Alisoun climb down from their tubs and go to bed together. They have sex in John's bed until almost dawn.

25 Lines 549-578 Absolon asks a friend if he's seen John recently. The friend replies that he has not seen John since Saturday. He thinks he must have gone out of town to buy timber. Absolon is overjoyed, declaring this the perfect time to court Alisoun.

26 He describes his plan to stand beneath Alisoun's window at dawn and tell her of his love-longing. Absolon says his mouth is itchy, which he believes is a sign it's in need of kissing. Also, he says, he dreamed last night he was at a feast. He says he will sleep for two hours, then wake and play.

27 Lines 579-599 Absolon wakes at cock-crow. He dresses himself nicely and chews spices and licorice to make his breath smell good. He goes to the carpenter's house and stands at Alisoun's window, the bottom of which is only at his chest because it is so low.

28 He asks Alisoun to wake and speak to him, claiming she cares little for his sadness. He describes himself as a lamb longing for the teat and a turtle-dove, and says he eats no more than a maid, so strong is his love-sickness.

29 Lines 600-614 Alisoun tells Absolon to go away and let her sleep, because she loves someone else. Absolon asks Alisoun to at least give him a kiss before he goes. Alisoun asks if Absolon will go away if she kisses him.

30 Absolon replies that he will. Alisoun tells Absolon to get ready, for she's coming to the window. Alisoun tells Nicholas that soon, he will have a good laugh.

31 Lines 614-635 Absolon gets down on his knees next to the window. He says he feels like a lord, and he is certain that after this kiss, there will be more to come. He tells Alisoun he awaits her will. Alisoun unbars the window and tells Absolon to come quickly so the neighbors don't see him.

32 Absolon wipes his mouth dry. The night is very dark. Alisoun puts her "hole" (butt) out the window. Absolon kisses it enthusiastically. He pulls back, for he thinks he feels a beard – something rough and long-haired. Absolon wonders aloud what he's just done. Alisoun laughs and closes the window. Nicholas expresses delight about the joke.

33 Lines 631-686 Absolon hears Nicholas and declares his intention to get revenge on Alisoun. He washes his lips vigorously with sand, straw, and wood chips, so disgusted is he by what he has just done. From that moment on, he is healed of his love- sickness. He goes across the street to the blacksmith's shop and knocks loudly on the door.

34 The blacksmith answers the door and wonders what Absolon is doing awake so early, speculating that it must be because of a girl. Absolon asks to borrow a hot poker from the blacksmith. The blacksmith agrees but asks him what he intends to do with it. Absolon says he will tell him tomorrow. Absolon takes the poker to the carpenter's house and knocks on Alisoun's window.


36 Lines 682-697 Alisoun asks who's there, thinking it's a thief. Absolon answers that it's him and tells Alisoun he's brought her a gold ring, which he will trade her for a kiss. Nicholas has gotten up to go pee and decides he wants in on Alisoun's joke. He sticks his butt out the window. Absolon tells 'Alisoun' to speak so he can figure out where she is.

37 Lines 698-707 Nicholas farts in Absolon's face so percussively that Absolon is nearly blinded by the force of it. Absolon brands Nicholas with the hot iron. In great pain, Nicholas cries out for water.

38 Lines 708-746 Hearing Nicholas's cry and thinking it refers to the flood, John cuts the ropes attaching his tub to the ceiling. John crashes to the floor, where he lies in a faint. Alisoun and Nicholas run out into the street, crying in a panic. Hearing the commotion, the neighbors run to the carpenter's house to see what's going on. The neighbors gape at John, who still lies in a faint and has broken his arm.

39 John tries to explain what has happened, but he is interrupted by Nicholas and Alisoun. Nicholas and Alisoun tell the gathered crowd that John is crazy and so afraid of a flood that he bought three tubs in order to avoid drowning. The crowd laughs at John. The clerks of the town declare him crazy. Thus is John cuckolded, Absolon humiliated, and Nicholas branded. The narrator declares the tale concluded.



42 Cunning and Cleverness "The Miller's Tale" is the story of a cunning clerk (student), constantly referred to as "hende" (clever) Nicholas, who tricks a not-so-bright carpenter in order to get the carpenter's wife into bed. With this plot, the main use of cleverness in the story seems to be to seduce and beguile. The same is true of the various talents the characters possess: Nicholas uses his reputation for prophecy to play his trick, while Nicholas's romantic rival Absolon attempts to use his various musical gifts to seduce Alisoun.

43 Add to this a lengthy exposition from John about how inquiring too much into God's "pryvetee," or secret knowledge, can only end in ruin, and "The Miller's Tale" begins to seem like pretty negative PR for cunning and cleverness. Yet it also seems to warn against their opposites: it's John, the not-at-all clever carpenter who, arguably, takes the hardest knocks in this tale. It's always a bit of a crapshoot to try to draw a moral from Chaucer's tales, but at the very least "The Miller's Tale" seems to warn against too- smooth, too-clever types like Nicholas.

44 Sex "The Miller's Tale" is all about sex: who's having it, who's not, howthey're managing to have it, and the consequences of it. With the contrast in age between John and Alisoun, the tale raises the question of whether the youthful and the old are an acceptable sexual pairing.

45 And with the very different courting styles of Nicholas and Absolon, it explores the techniques a lover might use to obtain his desires. Although medieval romances (and many other genres) also dealt with their characters' desires for sex, "The Miller's Tale" does so in explicit, at times even crude language, in effect calling a spade a spade in the way that other genres don't.

46 Lies and Deceit Alisoun cheats on John. Alisoun tricks Absolon into believing she's going to give him a kiss. Absolon tells Alisoun all he wants is a kiss. And in the most elaborate ruse in "The Miller's Tale," Nicholas and Alisoun convince John that a flood is coming and he'd better spend the night hanging from his rafters in a tub.

47 All of the lies and deceit in "The Miller's Tale" happen because somebody wants sex, raising the question of whether it's even possible to come by sex honestly. The only character who doesn't deceive anyone is the somewhat dense carpenter, John, who is also the character most lied to and deceived. Most of the humor in "The Miller's Tale," moreover, comes from our being "in" on this deception.

48 Love The character who most often speaks of love in "The Miller's Tale" is Absolon, who parrots the language of medieval courtly romance in his courtship of Alisoun. Yet what Absolon really wants is sex, which raises the question of whether love in this tale ever really means love in our modern sense of the term.

49 The character in the tale who most fully engages in our conception of love is John: he is truly sad at the thought of Alisoun's death and goes to great pains to save her. Yet his efforts and devotion to her seem foolish given Alisoun's betrayal of him. All in all, the view of love we get in "The Miller's Tale" is decidedly cynical: love is either misguided, or not love at all, but lust.

50 Foolishness and Folly John and Absolon are the characters in "The Miller's Tale" who appear the most foolish, which raises some interesting questions. John is an unlearned tradesman, but Absolon is an educated parish clerk. Both characters appear foolish in large part because of their devotion to Alisoun. It seems that, in "The Miller's Tale" at least, women are the great equalizers when it comes to foolishness and folly.

51 Even Nicholas has his moment of appearing foolish when, in his effort to impress Alisoun, he sticks his butt out the window and gets branded by Absolon's hot poker. In both Absolon and Nicholas's cases, they appear foolish because of the posturing they indulge in. John's case is sadder because his foolishness results out of a true but misguided devotion to his wife.

52 Madness Two characters are perceived as insane in the course of "The Miller's Tale." The first, Nicholas, pretends to be insane to get John's attention, while the second, John, is "holden wood" (held to be mad) by the townspeople when Nicholas and Alisoun paint him that way.

53 The fact that neither of these characters is truly insane emphasizes the way madness may just be in the eye of the beholder. In John's case, moreover, the story links the perception of madness to the inability to make oneself heard, suggesting that the label of madness may be one to which the powerless, who have a harder time getting people to listen to them, are more vulnerable.

54 Competition "The Miller's Tale" portrays one of the most classic competitions in literature: the love triangle in which two men compete for the affections of one woman. The woman is the "prize" to be won, which in "The Miller's Tale" accords with a characterization of Alisoun that objectifies her.

55 Yet something interesting happens to this competition by the end of "The Miller's Tale": Absolon, upset over Alisoun's crude prank and determined to "quyte" it, begins to view himself in competition with her, rather than with Nicholas. This shifting focus of rivalry also leads to a lost object of affection: when Alisoun is a rival, she can no longer be a "prize."

56 Religion Religion in "The Miller's Tale" seems mainly to be something characters use and abuse in order to get what they want. Absolon forgoes piety for attention when he takes a role in the local miracle play in hopes of attracting Alisoun. Nicholas uses the Biblical story of Noah and the flood, and a false piety, to set John up so he can frolic with Alisoun undisturbed.

57 And then, of course, there's the whole obscene religious allegory and symbolism in the story: the huge "Goddes pryvetee," or genitals, John hangs from his roof; the fart of thunder and cry of water that could allegorize Noah's flood; and the way in which Nicholas's God-role and John's fall play on the Fall of Man. As is true with love, the only character who seems to truly have faith in this tale (John) suffers for it in the end, appearing highly ridiculous. All of this adds up to a highly irreligious take on religion in "The Miller's Tale."



60 The Knight’s tale shows that the most honorable and greatest of men will always get the girl. The Miller insists that is not always the case. Sometimes, the smarter, more clever person gets the girl. The Miller is in love with loving women and booze.

61 The tale the Miller tells, a bawdy story about how a carpenter's wife cheats on him with a clerk, confirms the Miller's lustful proclivities. Yet the Miller's tale is also immensely clever, concluding with what literary types agree is one of the most successful and witty endings of any tale.

62 The Miller is not in the tale, of course, but is as vivid a creation of Chaucer as characters who are. The Knight presents us with an ideal to which he probably aspires; the Miller presents us with the real everyday world. While the Knight stresses the sublime nature of romantic love, the Miller considers love in sexual terms. Neither view alone is completely true; each is a corrective to the other: love embraces both of these elements.

63 The Miller is a character of commanding physical presence: he is a massive man who excels in such displays of strength as wrestling matches, and breaking doors "at a renning with his heed". He has a huge beard, wide nostrils, a vast mouth and a conspicuous wart, crowned by a tuft of hairs likened in colour to the bristles of a sow's ears. By stressing the Miller's physical attributes, Chaucer suggests to the reader the idea of a down-to-earth man who takes pleasure in satisfying basic appetites.

64 Being such an intelligent man he relates himself to Nicholas in the story to show the cleverness that was required by Nicholas to take care of John and get to be with Alisoun.

65 Such a cliché would only supply half the picture; though the Miller is a man of down-to-earth outlook and physical pleasure, he is a very intelligent man. His narrative style, if less complex and conventionally sophisticated than the Knight's, is masterly in its realism, economy and control, especially of the humorous elements.


67 1. How is the Miller’s condition at the beginning of the tale? 2. Why does the Reeve object to the Miller's proposed tale? 3.. Whom does the "old codger“(the carpenter) take in? 4. What is Nicholas’ obvious talent? 5. How does the Miller describe John the Carpenters wife? 6. How does Absolon act around women, especially Alisouns.

68 7. What does Absolon do outside the carpenter’s window? 8. When Nicholas hides in the carpenters room, what does he think happened to him? 9. What does the servant see through Nicks crack in the door. 10. How does the carpenter wake Nick from his trance? 11. What natural disaster does Nicholas foresee through astrology?

69 12. What will keep them safe from said disaster? 13. How does Alisoun react when John tells her about Nicholas’ prophecy and the rescue plan? 14. What did the carpenter make to help them reach the tubs? 15. What does Absolon do at daybreak? 16. What does Alisoun say to Absolon when he comes to see her?

70 17. What body part does Alisoun stick out the window for Absolon to kiss? 18. What does Absolon borrow from the blacksmith? 19. Why does Nick cry out for water? 20. What happens to the carpenter when he cuts down the tubs?

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