Presentation on theme: "The Miller’s Tale: Sacred Past, Profane Present. Themes The rejection of neoclassical epic The turn to the contemporary The present as burlesque of the."— Presentation transcript:
Themes The rejection of neoclassical epic The turn to the contemporary The present as burlesque of the past The present as haunted by the past
The Rejection of Neoclassical Epic Art and Eternity Exegi monumentum aere perennius, regalique situ pyramidum altius, quod non imber edax, non Aquilo impotens possit diruere aut innumerabilis annorum series et fuga temporum. (Horace, Odes 3.30) I have created a monument more lasting than bronze, And higher than the royal site of the pyramids, Which neither harsh rains nor the wild North wind Can erode, nor the countless succession of years And the flight of the seasons The First Intertale Whan that the Knyght had thus his tale ytoold, In al the route nas ther young ne oold That he ne seyde it was a noble storie And worthy for to drawen to memorie, And namely the gentils everichon. “Now telleth ye, sir Monk, if that ye konne, Somwhat to quite with the Knyghtes tale.” Knight’s Tale Thus endeth Palamon and Emelye And God save al this fare compagnye! Amen. Miller’s Tale Thus swyved was this carpenteris wyf, For al his kepyng and his jalousye; And Absolon hath kist hir nether ye; And Nicholas is scalded in the towte. This tale is doon, and God save al the rowte!
The Turn to the Contemporary The Miller’s interruption: the modern and disruptive breaks into the historical and decorous Drunkenness Profanity Social indecorum Change of pace Collapse of gap between world of pilgrimage and world of tales Collapse of gap between pilgrimage and readers Shift of genre: from tragedy to comedy and from epic to fabliau New anxieties about the validity/purpose of the project Fabliau: comic obscene tales of bourgeois life. Social realism at level of setting. Stock characters and absurdity at level of plot Here: senile old man; oversexed young wife; clever-clever university student; romantic but stupid local boy “Comic justice” prevails: the stupid are punished more harshly than the bad Millers and Knights: Millers wealthy rural businessmen, essential to agrarian economy. Specialists who work for cash and are thus outside traditional rural social structure, based in obligation and service. Become more important as cash economy spreads in periods of food surplus such as late C14
The Turn to the Contemporary II QUITING Quit: respond to, finish, avenge, leave behind Initially, the Host asks the Monk to “quit” the Knight’s Tale = “respond to.” In the rest of Fragment A, “quit” rapidly comes to mean “revenge.” A parallel process takes place inside the Miller’s Tale The Miller I kan a noble tale for the nones, With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale. Absolon in The Miller’s Tale This sely Absolon herde ever deel And on his lippe he gan for anger byte, And to humself he seyde, “I shalle thee quyte!” The Reeve ‘So theek’, quod he, ‘ful wel koude I thee quite With bleryng of a proud milleres ye, If that me liste speke of ribaudye.” “And, by youre leve, I shal hym quite anoon …” “Thus have I quyt the Millere in my tale.” The Cook Be thou nat wrooth, er we departen heer Though that my tale be of an hostileer. But nathelees I wol nat telle it yit; But er we parte, ywis, thou shalt be quit.
Present as Burlesque of the Past 1 Knight’s Tale Egeus Theseus Hippolita ArciteEmilyPalamon Miller’s Tale John AbsalomAlisounNicholas Egeus and Theseus are combined into John the Carpenter. Theseus’s wisdom turns senile Hippolita and Emily are combined into Alisoun. The desired woman is married Arcite and Palamon reappear as Absolom and Nicholas. Enemies, not friends Knight: I have, God woot, a large feeld to ere, And wayke been the oxen in my plough (886- 87) Miller: Yet nolde I for the oxen in my plogh Take upon me moore than ynogh (3159-60) Arcite: Now with his love, now in his colde grave, Allone withouten any compaignye (2778-9) Nicholas: A chambre hadde he in that hostelrye, Allone withouten any compaignye (3204-5)
Present as Burlesque of the Past 2: Differences between Knight’s Tale and Miller’s Tale Nicholas and Absalom are not equal Alisoun is complicit, at least partially an agent The plot is in Nicholas’s hands, not those of John parallel via astrology Punishment is meted out differently: John is also punished, as are both Nicholas and Absalom parallel via layered ending with unexpected reversal The final situation is unchanged: there is no new marriage, no breakthrough into a new political order
Present as Burlesque of the Past 3 Miller’s Tale John the Carpenter AbsalomAlisounNicholas ECHOES 1 Joseph the Carpenter HerodVirgin MaryAngel Gabriel ECHOES 2 Noah the Carpenter Mrs Noah I wol tell a legende and a lyf Bothe of a carpenter and of his wyf (Miller’s Prologue 3141-2) And al above there lay a gay sautrie On which me made a nyghtes melodie So swetely that al the chambre rong. And Angelus ad virginem he song Now sire and eft sire, so bifel the cas That on a day this hende Nicholas Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye Whil that hir housbonde was at Osenaye. As clerkes been ful subtile and ful qyente. And prively he caughte hire by the queynte And seyde, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille, For deerne love of the, lemman, I spille.” In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. (Luke 1.28-30)
Giotto, The Nativity (c. 1300) Joseph, an elderly carpenter, is off to the side while all the action takes place without him. The sacred version of the Old Man marries Young Woman motif from the fabliau.
Taking The Miller’s Tale To Pieces Motifs 1: Old Man Young Wife (cf Theseus?) “Men sholden wedden his similitude” PLUS: “A legend and a lif/Both of a carpenter and his wif” Motifs 2: Two Boys One Girl (cf Arcite/Palamon) PLUS: Herod and the Angel Gabriel Motifs 3: Tale of Three Tubs (cf Temple Prayers) PLUS: Noah’s Ark: The Flood Returns Motifs 4: Misdirected Kiss (cf death of Arcite) PLUS: The Last Judgment Denouement: Simultaneous resolution of all four
Unexpected Themes 1. Learned versus Lewd, in Love and Theology 2. The Power of Rhetoric (Alisoun’s description) 3. Modernity: How the present uses the past; how traditional stories and ideals are reflected in the present (cf General Prologue) “A clerk hadde litherly biset his whyle, But if he koude a carpenter bigyle.” (Nicholas, 3299) “Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man That noght but oonly his bileve kan!” (John, 3455) “For every clerk anonright heeld with oother. They seyde, the man is wood, my leeve brother; And every wight gan laughen at this stryf.” (3847)