The Canterbury Tales 4: The Reeve's Tale Summary and Analysis
by Geoffrey Chaucer

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4: The Reeve's Tale Summary and Analysis

All the pilgrims have laughed and enjoyed The Miller's Tale, but the favorable reception has angered the Reeve, who is himself an aging carpenter. He says that he, like all old men, is motivated by boasting, anger, lying, and covetousness. When the Host tells him to quit philosophizing and get on with his story, the Reeve promises to get even with the Miller.

Scornful Simkin is a wealthy miller who is armed to the teeth at all times and is very dishonest in his business dealings. No one dares accuse him, however, since he will immediately attack with one of the four weapons always on his person. Simkin has a wife with relatives among the nobility and a beautiful and desirable young daughter of marriageable age. They also have an infant still in the cradle.

One of the miller's most lucrative accounts is with the manager of the estates belonging to the college at Cambridge. One day, when he goes to collect the wheat and malt to be ground for the college, Simkin finds the steward terribly ill. He is delighted because it means he can cheat the college even more than usual.

The sick steward persuades two poor students to deliver the grain and to watch the miller to prevent his usual cheating. John and Allan, young and high-spirited, agree eagerly. They pretend interest in the milling process and position themselves to watch the miller's every move. Simkin, however, turns their horse loose and the young men must run away and try to capture their mount. The miller is then able to cheat unobserved.

When the young men return it is so late that they must spend the night. They offer to pay for a meal and a night's lodging. The miller goes to great lengths to fulfill his duties as a host. After eating a fine meal and getting drunk on ale, all of the characters retire to sleep in the same room. The miller and his wife are in their bed with the infant's cradle at the foot; the daughter is in her own bed; and John and Allan rest on an improvised cot.

Soon every member of the miller's family is loudly snoring and passing gas in their sleep. The young visitors realize they will not be getting a wink of sleep. Furthermore, they know the miller stole some of the grain in their absence. Allan decides he will sleep with the maiden daughter as compensation for his loss and discomfort.

As Allan is loudly making love to the girl, who is soon very cooperative, John determines that he, too, will retaliate. By the time the miller's wife gets up to relieve herself, John has moved the baby's cradle to the foot of his own bed. Missing the cradle at the foot of the marriage bed, the wife gropes in the dark until she locates the cradle. Satisfied, she climbs into bed with John. It is dark, so she eagerly responds to John's lovemaking thinking him her husband and delighted with his newfound energy.

At about dawn, Allan leaves the daughter's bed to return to his own. He avoids the bed with the cradle and climbs into bed with the miller whom he mistakes for his friend, John. Allan brags of his sexual conquest to the miller who immediately attacks him. Wrestling in...

(The entire section is 836 words.)