GENRE FABLIAUX: a short, humorous, bawdy tale in verse CHARACTERISTICS: 1. realistic 2. setting is spare and utilitarian 3. imagery is often associated with animals, food, baskets, chests, and other middle class furniture 4. characters: various rascals engaging in the Seven Deadly Sins 5. descriptive traits economically chosen
Characteristics, cont. 6. vivid action 7. dialogue: short and vividly conceived 8. set in contemporary, everyday world 9. concerns mankind’s most basic functions: sex, but also excretion, etc. 10. more concerned with cunning and folly than with virtue and evil 11. opposes all pretensions to authority
GENRE FABLIAUX: A humorous tale popular in Medieval French literature. The fabliaux were stories of various types, but one point was uppermost—their humorous, sly satire on human beings. These stories, which were often bawdy, dealt familiarly with the clergy, ridiculed womanhood, and were pitched in a key that made them readily and boisterously understandable to the uneducated.
FABLIAUX, cont. Although fabliaux often had ostensible “morals” appended to them, they lack the serious intention of the FABLE, and they differ from the FABLE, too, in always having human beings as characters and in always maintaining a realistic tone and manner.
AUTHORSHIP? Fabliaux were often written by monks practicing Latin Some are written in French Only 6 Fabliaux survive in English All are from The Canterbury Tales Tales of the Miller, Reeve, Summonor, Merchant, Shipman, and the Cook’s fragment
The Rise of the Middle Class The Monk should tell his tale after the Knight but the Miller is drunk and interferes. The Knight is courteous (knightly virtues) and lets him. This mimics the “vulgar” middle class encroaching on the formerly “aristocrats only” territory.
In the Middle Ages, bodily functions were readily discussed. The euphemism was rather new to the Middle Ages. Lechery was low on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride was first. Speaking of—Let’s review.
1. PRIDE Pride is excessive belief in one's own abilities that interferes with the individual's recognition of the grace of God. It has been called the sin from which all others arise. Pride is also known as Vanity. Pride sins against the virtue Humility. Your punishment in Hell: You'll be broken on the wheel. Pride is linked with the horse and the color violet.
2. ENVY Envy is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities or situation. Envy is a sin against the virtue Love. Your punishment in Hell: You’ll be put in freezing water. Envy is associated with the dog and the color green.
3. WRATH Wrath (anger) is manifested in the individual who spurns love and opts instead for fury. Wrath is a sin against the virtue Kindness. Your punishment in Hell: You’ll be dismembered alive. Anger is linked with the bear and the color red.
4. SLOTH Sloth is the avoidance of physical or spiritual work. Sloth is a sin against the virtue Zeal. Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be thrown into snake pits. Sloth is linked with the goat and the color light blue.
5. AVARICE Avarice (or greed or covetousness) is the desire for material wealth or gain, ignoring the realm of the spiritual. Avarice is a sin against the virtue Generosity. Your punishment in Hell will be: You'll be boiled alive in oil. Avarice is linked with the frog and the color yellow.
6. GLUTTONY Gluttony is an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. This does not pertain only to food, but to entertainment and other legitimate goods, and even the company of others. Gluttony is a sin against the virtues Faith and Temperance. Your punishment in Hell: You'll be force-fed rats, toads, and snakes. Gluttony is linked with the pig and the color orange.
7. LUST Lust is an inordinate craving for the pleasures of the body. Lust is a sin against the virtue Self Control. Your punishment in Hell: You'll be smothered in fire and brimstone. Lust is linked with the cow and the color blue.
Return to The Miller’s Tale In Fabliaux, everything is there for a reason. Reference to the window—necessary for plot. Reference to the floor of Nicholas’s room covered with rushes and spices—allusion to Nicholas’s namesake* Reference to Nicholas studying astronomy— necessary to plot Absolon squeamish about farting—necessary to plot
* St. Nicholas A wealthy merchant named Nicholas was out walking in the Christmas season. He got lost and came upon a poor cottage. He overheard three sisters inside talking about their poverty while mending their freshly washed stockings. They had nothing to eat, little fuel, and their parents were too ill to work.
St. Nicholas, cont. Unless a miracle occurred the maidens would be forced sell themselves as prostitutes. Weeping in despair over their impending fate, the maidens hung up their stockings to dry and went to bed. Nicholas found his way back to town, loaded up a donkey with goods, and returned to the cottage around midnight.
St. Nicholas, cont. Slipping into the cottage, he filled the girls’ hanging stockings with food, money, medicine, and other necessities. He stacked fuel by the fireplace. He felt so wonderful about helping those in need that he started a tradition of visiting the homes of the poor at Christmas and leaving desperately needed food and clothing. This was all done surreptitiously so that no one would know who had given these gifts.
St. Nicholas, cont. Of course, a secret like that cannot be kept. Word got out but Nicholas continued his good works. When he died, his tomb always smelled of sweet spices, indicating his purity of spirit. So, one should associate “hende” Nicholas with St. Nicholas—or not.
The Miller’s Tale, cont. When the Miller says that he will tell a legend and a life (biography) about a carpenter and his wife, who does the audience expect to hear about? Why is the Reve so angry at the Miller before he even begins this tale?
Why? Does Chaucer tell us that the Miller is a churl and tells a Churl’s tale? Does Chaucer say to turn the leaf and choose another tale? And why does he say that the Reve and others are churls also and only told tales of wickedness? Why does Nicholas live in John’s house?
Town vs Gown In Oxford, a law was passed requiring citizens with extra rooms to rent the room to a student. Town (average citizen) vs Gown (students) No one wanted to rent to rowdy divinity students. They were admired for scholarly learning and despised for lecherous behavior. Scholar = head Carpenter = hands
“The Knight’s Tale” was a flowery tale of chivalry and ideal love. “The Miller’s Tale” is a tale of what the Miller assumes is the reality of love. The tale is a parody of the The Annunciation “Hende” Nicholas sings “Angelus ad Virgenem” to Alison Irony: Nicholas is no angel; Alison is no virgin.
Mary was filled with fear (awe) at the Divine Plan Alison is thrilled by the “divine” plan Holy Trinity: Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Joseph, Mary, Angel) Unholy Trinity: John, Alison, and hende Nicholas (or Alison, Nicholas, and Absolon) Consider physical description of Alison. Conveys symbolic and literal meaning.
Alison Why compared to a weasel? Why are her apron and smock white? Did you notice how much of her description is tactile? Importance of the colors black and white?
Absolon Reference to King David’s son, Absalom (known for his beautiful hair and bad behavior. He killed his brother who raped their sister; he rebelled against his father and slept with his father’s concubines. When his army was defeated he fled but his long hair was caught in the branches of a tree. His father’s troops found and killed him.) Long, curly blonde hair; grey eyes Sings, dances, plays musical instruments Madly in love with Alison; so in love that he serenades her when she is in bed with her husband.
Absolon, cont He sends go-betweens to tell Alison how wonderful he is He sends Alison gifts: spiced wine, mead, and spiced ale He sends her wafers (sweets) He offers her money He is willing to be in a play
TWO MOTIFS THE MISDIRECTED KISS NOAH & THE FLOOD The plots are joined by one word: WATER Chaucer has brought John back into the story with the one word
THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN “The Miller’s Tale” is “The Knight’s Tale” upside down Unholy Triangle / Holy Triangle Chaos vs Order Lust vs Love Worldliness vs Religion Body vs Head
NOTHING SACRED The Miller mocks: “The Knight’s tale” The Annunciation The Holy Family And The Reve