The Miller’s Tale
In the Miller’s Tale, each of the men involved seem to receive a punishment for their actions, each in different ways. However, Alisoun, the main instigator of the story, was never punished in any specific manner. The question of why this is is further explained and answered in her portrayal as a character. There is what appears to be contradiction in her portrayal. However, the tale reflects general misogynistic ideals of the time. Alisoun is not so much a three-dimensional character as she is a device for the intentions of the story.
Alisoun is depicted as a stereotypical female character of the time; she’s young, desired, and a reputable beauty. The story, like many that feature a young woman as a love interest, gives a grand and vivid description of Alisoun. However, unlike typical descriptions where a woman’s eyes might be compared to the stars or her hair to golden wheat, Alisoun is described by animal characteristics. She is described as having a body like a weasel, a spirit like a young colt, etc. However, the most interesting of comparisons is the final one, that she is “a piggesnye/ for any lord to leggen in his bede” (160-161). The reasoning for these animal comparisons, as depicted by the final comparison, is to reveal Alisoun, not merely as a beauty, but as a sexual entity. The tale infers that her sexuality is her main characteristic. She is also later described as “silkerly” and having “a likerous eye” (136). These comparisons reflect her animalistic sexual desires, suggesting that, like animals, Alisoun cannot control her lust easily. However, at the same time, she is consistently compared to prey. Just as she is “fit to be laid in a lord’s bed” she’s a colt to be tamed when Nicholas goes after her and a mouse to be snatched when Absolon takes a liking to her. These descriptions seem rather contrary to her previous animal sexuality, which presents her as more independently sexual, but in fact only more fully illustrate her misogynistic portrayal. These metaphors imply that Alisoun does not in fact make decisions about her sexuality, but rather is meant, almost, as an object of sexuality, to be ravaged by the men around her. Alisoun’s betrayal, therefore, is expected. Her character is exactly the “type” who would cause such trouble amongst men.
Alisoun is very much a depiction of the stereotypical misogynistic depiction of women at the time, and through much of history, as temptresses. It is the way all women are, by nature; meant to destroy men. The idea is also well presented by the example in Hunchback of Notre Dame. The judge, Frollo holds a great desire for the gypsy, Esmerelda, and rather than it being his lustful sin, he claims it to be her doing. While Frollo reaches a different conclusion, it represents the same idea of women as dangerous to men, by nature. Alisoun is the same way. Her sexuality is who she is, as she is described; it is her nature. It is not because she was not at fault for her betrayal, but because her purpose in the tale was to make fools of the men. She is not a character meant for redemption, but rather a demonstration example of how women make men into fools. It is for this reason that she is not punished, not because she doesn’t deserve it, but because her betrayal is expected and her punishment would not serve the intention of the tale.