The Late Fourteenth Century in Chaucer’s the “Miller’s Tale”
Geoffrey Chaucer’s the “Miller’s Tale” presents a realistic, sharply detailed picture of common medieval village life in the late fourteenth century by focusing on personal, familial, social and occupational aspects of the characters John, Nicholas and Absolon. Chaucer created many works in the late fourteenth century but in or around 1378, Chaucer began to develop his vision of an English poetry that would be linguistically accessible to all—obedient neither to the court, whose official language was French, nor to the Church, whose official language was Latin. Instead, Chaucer wrote in the vernacular, the English that was spoken in and around London in his day. Through his choice of language, Chaucer shows how the late fourteenth century medieval society influences his writing. Although the “Miller’s Tale” is only one of about twenty-two completed tales of The Canterbury Tales, the tale of the Miller represents evident examples of striking medieval characterizations. The tale of the Miller is set in Oxford in the medieval era of the late fourteenth century. The characterizations of John, Nicholas and Absolon in the “Miller’s Tale” support a detailed picture of a typical medieval life through the focus of the character’s occupational, familial, personal and social aspects of their lives.
John’s occupational, familial, personal and social aspects of his life contribute to the image of an ordinary medieval village life. The descriptions of John’s occupation support the view of Chaucer’s portrayal of the normal and daily activities in the fourteenth century. John is a wealthy carpenter and owns a house in Oxford which he is courteous enough to rent out a room to Nicholas who is a poor student of astronomy. Chaucer states clearly at the beginning of the tale that John is of wealth due to his profession but acts oafishly, “Whilom ther was dwelling at Oxenforde / A riche gnof that gestes heeld to boorde, / And of his craft he was a carpenter” (lines 79-81).
Chaucer emphasizes the idea that John has married a woman much younger than he which portrays a realistic image of familial expectancies during the late fourteenth century. Because John’s wife is so young, John expresses jealousy in the way that, “This type of bileve, or faith respecting the married state, is ironically necessitated by the low view of women which is impressed upon Alisoun” (Miller, 158). Chaucer underlines the reality of medieval marriages and the lack of choice that women possess in regard to their own marriage. According to Robert P. Miller’s literary criticism, he suggests that, “…it is perhaps a more offensive thrust at women that such behavior should be accepted as normative and, indeed, a perfectly good justification for regarding wives simply as sexual instruments” (158). John’s personal characteristics support the expected qualities of an older wealthy man with a young and beautiful wife in the late fourteenth century. Chaucer shows John’s jealousy and possessiveness of his young wife when the Miller says, “Jalous he was, and heeld hire narwe in cage, / For she was wilde and yong, and he was old, / And deemed himself lik a cokewold” (116-118).
John’s personal characteristics support Chaucer’s picture of medieval village life in the late fourteenth century. John’s skepticism of Nicholas’ focus of studies in astronomy are expected of a man who believes in God’s divine power. John’s religious beliefs are those of the vast majority of people during the late fourteenth century. When John finds Nicholas in a state of “ill meditation” he says, “This man is falle, with his astromye, / In som woodnesse or in som agonye. /I thought ay wel how that it sholde be: / Men sholde nought knowe of Goddes privetee. / Ye, blessed be always a lewed man / that nought but only his bileve can” (343-348). John is expressing his continual concern for those who he thinks do not acknowledge the divine power...
Cited: Blamires, Alcuin. “Philosophical Sleaze? The ‘strok of thought’ in the Miller’s Tale and Chaucerian Fabliau.” The Modern Language Review 102.3 (2007): 621-640. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Miller’s Tale.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et. al. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton; 2006. 239-256. Print.
David, Alfred. “Geoffrey Chaucer.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. Et. al. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton; 2006. 213-216. Print.
Miller, Robert P. “The ‘Miller’s Tale’ as a Complaint.” The Chaucer Review 5.2 (1970): 147-160.
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