What events led up to the telling of "The Miller's Tale"?
Some critics have actually argued that the most fascinating tale in The Canterbury Tales is actually the various altercations and discussions between the different pilgrims as they wend their way towards Canterbury. Often the tales are used by the various characters to make a personal attack on another pilgrim, and this is certainly the case with "The Miller's Tale." The Miller tells his tale straight after the Knight has shared his story, which is a dignified tale of nobility and love, befitting his character and station. The Host actually plans for the Monk to go next, but instead, the Miller drunkenly interrupts, and says he will go next instead:
Christ's arms and blood and bones,
I've got a splendid tale for the occasion
To pay the knight out with, and cap his tale.
This leads to an argument with the Reeve, who tells the Miller to be quiet, to stop swearing and also to not tell a tale that will slander other men and bring their wives into disrepute. The Miller responds angrily to the Reeve and then settles down to tell his tale, which, as the narrator says, is a "vulgar tale" because the Miller is a "lout." The Miller's Tale is therefore distinguished through juxtaposition from the Knight's Tale, and also is born out of the desire to "cap" or better the Knight's Tale. However, importantly, it is a story that is told to spite the Reeve, and this is something that continues with other tales, as various characters tell stories to get back at other pilgrims.