The Miller’s Tale

February 2, 2011

The Miller’s Tale is written in the genre of the fabliau, a medieval French tale that is generally bawdy in nature and that tends to involve the lascivious doings of a member of the clergy. Chaucer’s tale is a loose adaptation of one particular fabliau, though it certainly contains the scatological humor and sexual infidelity characteristic of the fabliaux.

The Miller’s Tale centers around an elderly carpenter, John, who is described as being nescient and overly protective of his young wife, a beautiful and lustful woman named Alison. Though John tries indefatigably to keep his wife contained, she manages to meet a clerk, or scholar, at Oxford named Nicholas with whom she falls in love. Nicholas, an attractive, intelligent young man skilled in astrology and music, falls in love with Alison and begs her to have sex with him. She initially declines the offer and proffers the excuse that her jealous husband would learn of the tryst. Eventually, however, through flattery, Nicholas convinces Alison to have sex with him.

Meanwhile, a parish clerk named Absolon also discovers Alison’s pulchritude and becomes enamored with her. Absolon comes to the carpenter’s house daily and nightly to sing a song of love to Alison, but he is ignored both by her and her husband until later in the story.

Meanwhile Nicholas, believing himself much more perspicacious than the dim-witted John, decides to beguile John so that he (Nicholas) may spend a whole night with Alison. To do this, Nicholas pretends to be ill at home because of an astrological omen he witnessed telling him that the earth is to be flooded again as in the time of Noah. John’s knave, a squire who does his bidding, hears from Nicholas that to prevent being swallowed in the inundation, John must prepare three tubs for his household to sleep in, fill them with food and wine, and tie them up to the rafters in the roof. John does this diligently, being a god-fearing and ignorant man. While John is sleeping in the rafters on the appointed night, Nicholas and Alison have sex. However, they are interrupted by Absolon who, on false information from a cloistered monk, believes that John is out-of-town and that Alison will be free to have sex with him. Absolon begs for a kiss at Alison’s window, and she sticks her hairy butt-hole out the window for him to kiss, which he does. Upset that he kissed an anus and not lips, Absolon acquires a hot poker from a smith and returns to Alison’s seeking retribution. He asks again for a kiss, and Alison instructs Nicholas to stick his butt out the window this time. When Nicholas farts, Absolon inserts the hot stick into Nicholas’s anus, burning him and causing him to shout out for water. John awakes at this, thinks the shout for water is an announcement of the flood, cuts his tub from the rafters, breaks his hand from the rough landing, and becomes the laughingstock of the entire city, all of whom believe he is insane for having believed in the flood.

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