illustration of a clergyman with Canterbury cathedral behind him

The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Miller’s Tale Summary

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Last Updated November 9, 2022.

The Miller’s Prologue

The company of pilgrims is pleased with the Knight’s noble tale, and the Host now calls on the Monk to do his narrative duty. The Miller, who is already quite drunk, insists that he has a noble tale of his own. The Host tells him to wait his turn, but the Miller will not. The Reeve takes offense, especially since the Miller’s tale will be about a foolish carpenter (for that is the Reeve’s profession). The narrator Chaucer breaks in to warn readers that the Miller’s tale is a bawdy one, but he must tell it faithfully as he has promised to do. Sensitive readers should turn to another story, he advises, and not blame him for what he is about to relate.

The Miller’s Tale

A carpenter named John has a beautiful young wife named Alison. A clever clerk called Nicholas boards at their home, and he has a taste for astronomy and a talent for music. Alison is only eighteen, and she presents a fine appearance and a rather wanton personality.

When John goes off to Oseneye for the day on business, Nicholas tries to seduce Alison. At first she resists, but Nicholas presses his case, and the young wife agrees, telling him that they must be secretive to prevent her jealous husband from finding out. Nicholas kisses her and plays for her on his psaltery.

There is another young clerk in town named Absolon, and he, too, is in love with Alison. Absolon is a foppish fellow who prides himself on his appearance and musical abilities. He stands under Alison’s window at night singing lustily and begging for pity. Alison, of course, spurns him, for she now loves Nicholas.

Nicholas and Alison plan their dalliance, deciding that they can trick John and get him out of the way. Nicholas goes to his room and stays there until John becomes worried enough to take the door off its hinges. Nicholas then tells him that a flood is coming and will kill them all unless John gets three tubs and hangs them from the ceiling so that he and Nicholas and Alison will not drown. John believes him and begins his preparations.

On the night of the supposed flood, the three climb into their tubs, but when John falls asleep, Nicholas and Alison scurry off to the bedroom to play. Meanwhile, Absolon stands under the window and begs Alison for a kiss. She sticks her rear end out, and he kisses that. His love for her quickly diminishes, and he decides to punish her.

Absolon gets a hot iron from the blacksmith and returns to the house. This time, Nicholas sticks his rear end out the window, and Absolon brands him with the hot iron. Meanwhile, John wakes up and falls out of his tub, breaking his arm. Nicholas and Alison manage to convince the townsfolk that John is crazy.

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The Knight’s Tale Summary


The Reeve’s Tale Summary