Canterbury Tales




With the presidential election at its boiling point, many try to provide their own joke every now and then. Late night comedians such as David Letterman and Jay Leno try to spit out a new joke during their ten-minute spiel, and sometimes one can assume that they are getting even with the election process. Throughout the one-hour show, the comedians do their best to trick both the viewers and all those involved with the election process by having people act out scenes, or imitate one of the presidents. Also, as just about every other comedian tries to achieve, he or she throws in a dirty joke about the president or his family to tie it all up right at the end of their spiel. These three aspects of comedy—revenge, trickery, and infidelity—can all be found in The Miller’s Tale. The Miller’s Tale encompasses a dark and infernal level of comedy, similar to that of comedy today.
In The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas, a clerk, is a student of astronomy and of young women, who represents the dark and infernal level of comedy where “love cannot dwell in such society; everyone is fundamentally along, though hypocrisy and self-serving may give the appearance of friendship” (Cowan, 11). Nicholas lives with a wealthy carpenter named John, who’s an old man who protects his beautiful wife, Alison, as if it were flies on scat. In the infernal state “the pretty girl… is either absent or, if she does enter the boundaries of this dark region, victimized” (11). Alison is caught between three disrespectful men. Her husband, John, won’t let his eye off his young and zealous wife; Nicholas always becomes as sly as a snake, wanting to make love to her, and trying to outwit his friend, John; the carpenters wife, fancied by Absalom, a parish clerk who has none of Nicholas’ attractiveness, but an eye for the ladies of the town. Although marriage is very rare in the infernal state, “old husbands tyrannize young wives, spouses are unfaithful, maidens are linked by opportunism to unsuitable mates…” (12). The old husband, John, tyrannizes his wife day after day with his over-protective personality,while she is unfaithful to him by making love and flirting with other men.
Trickery is a key part in The Miller’s Tale, and found in the infernal state: “deception and disguise, characterizing marks of comedy, are used in infernal society for the purpose of gaining advantage, usually to the harm of others” (12). Nicholas sweats more then one drop trying to make John believe a flood twice the size of Noah’s flood will sweep over the earth, killing all; he uses this to his advantage to make love to Alison. The outcome of the infernal state is “usually a reckoning in which the community is reaffirmed, even if in the sternest possible way; justice is meted out to offenders, and the innocent are vindicated” (12). While Alison and Nicholas are at it, Absalom comes by wanting a passionate kiss from Alison. Coming right up to the window, he calls out to her, but she harshly replies that she loves another. Nicholas whispers something into Alison’s ear, which makes her giggle, and she goes to the window and says she is ready. He leaps back, and ends up kissing her rear. To return the favor, Absalom acquires a red-hot iron poker to ram it into Nicholas’ rear.
Revenge in The Miller’s Tale is a prominent theme, which leads to the beginnings of the dark and infernal realm found in this tale. For example, John, who “loved [Alison] better than he loved his life,” (Miller, 87) is avenged by his own wife, Alison. Mentioned early in the tale, John is a “wealthy lout” (86), which is why Alison marries this old carpenter. Although John is a wealthy man with hard-earned money, he “deemed himself as like to be cuckold” (87), which Alison took advantage of to the greatest extent. Trying his best to protect the young teenager, “jealous he was and held her close in cage” (87), because of his jealousy he became more gullible, which Alison took advantage of. Alison herself “had a lickerish eye” (87) and “could play and sham” (88) with her outstanding beauty. Alison also uses her trickery