The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Miller’s Tale” is a comic narrative of lust, deception, and infidelity. The second of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it follows directly upon the tale of chivalry told by the Knight. Although the Host expects to call upon the Monk to tell an edifying tale, the Miller, by now quite drunk on the “ale of Southwerk,” thwarts Harry Bailly’s plans, insisting instead on telling his story, much to the irritation of its intended target, the Reeve.

Over the Reeve’s objections, the Miller begins his tale of John, a prosperous but gullible carpenter; his young, robust wife Alisoun; and her two admirers—the fastidious clerk Absolon and the clever Nicholas, also a clerk. John and Alisoun have enterprisingly rented their upstairs room to Nicholas, a student of astronomy, who has outfitted the chamber with sweet-smelling herbs, his favorite books, and his “gay sautrye” (a harp-like instrument). Nicholas is understandably attracted to Alisoun, a licorice-eyed lass of considerable charm. Bored with John and feeling trapped by his jealous vigilance, Alisoun soon succumbs to Nicholas’s amorous overtures, and the two conspire to find a time when they can be alone.

Their relationship and their plans, however, are complicated by the presence of Absolon, a parish clerk, also in pursuit of Alisoun. Absolon is an accomplished dancer who emulates the refined manners of the court. Like the courtly lovers whom he admires,...

(The entire section is 592 words.)