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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer
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Provide a commentary for lines 3867–82 and 4234–48 from "The Reeve's Tale." Comment on the thematic engagements of the passages and the language used to pursue them. Comment on the relationship between the passage and other moments in the text.

In "The Reeve's Tale," themes within the first passage include age and the decline of passion. The language links to images of decay and rot. Themes within the second passage include sexual prowess and father-daughter relationships. The language is quite effusive, and there's quite a few exclamation marks.

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The first passage mentioned is in the words of the Reeve. A reeve was a top government official in a town or district. This reeve or official addresses the theme of age. According to him, both his heart and the hairs on his head are moldy. The theme of age links to the theme of sexual desire or, more specifically, the lack of sexual desire. Using fruit as a symbol, the Reeve suggests that his sexual appeal has gone bad or is in a state of decay.

The Reeve’s passage contrasts sharply with other moments in the tale. As you probably already know, this tale features two younger students who remain quite sexual. They end up having sex with the Miller’s wife and daughter.

During the second passage, you might identify three different speakers. There’s the narrator (the Reeve), Aleyn, and Malyne.

You could also identify several themes. One theme could be the sexual prowess of Aleyn. As the Reeve says, Aleyn had “swoken al the longe nyght.” Another theme could be Malyne’s relationship with her dad or, more generally, father-daughter relationships. As you might recall, Malyne betrays her dad by telling Aleyn where the cake is. It seems like after their night together, Malyne is much more attached to Aleyn.

Malyne’s feelings for Aleyn seem to connect to the language of the passage. As you might have noticed, the words are rather effusive. Both Malyne and Aleyn require several exclamation marks.

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