Saturday, October 08, 2011

Canterbury Tales 3: the Reeve's tale

The next couple of weeks (at least) will be focused on the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I have listened to it in its entirety once and then when I was thinking about how to talk about them I decided to break it down into the individual tales and give a post of each one.  I am going to limit my self to one post per story because some of them are so full of interesting things that I could post for a month and still have more to explore. 

WHEN folk had laughed all at this nice case
Of Absolon and Hendy Nicholas,
Diverse folk diversely they said,
But for the more part they laugh'd and play'd; were diverted
And at this tale I saw no man him grieve,
But it were only Osewold the Reeve.
Because he was of carpenteres craft,

The Reeve is an old man, but don't let his age fool you, he can and will play the miller's game with no hesitations.

100 Word Summary: There once was a miller who had a beautiful wife and daughter. This miller was a beguiling sort who stole flour from the grains he milled. Two clerks came and vowed they'd keep the miller from stealing their grain. but the crafty miller stole over half, and the clerks were forced to stay the night. In the room while the miller slept in a drunken stupor the clerks swived both the wife and daughter. then made their get away. Thus A guiler shall himself beguiled be.

First can I say that one of my favorite things about reading Chaucer is the new words I am learning? this week it is Swived which means had sex. Oh words are so much fun! And old words are the best!

Any way the two things that I want to talk about with the reeve's tale are death and revenge. so...lets talk about death, that is a cheery topic right?

Like I already said the Reeve is old. but he describes life and death in a very interesting way, this is in his prologue by the way. he says that his tap has run for a long time. he is describing life as a big beer barrel which a tap is put in and as we live life the beer streams out of the tap. eventually the barrel runs dry and that is when we die. I like this picture, it is very practical and I like beer. the thing is that there is no way to add more beer to the barrel. the barrels are sealed to keep the beer good. if you open the barrel there is a chance that something could get in that will destroy the beer. So from that we only get one life, and only so much of it. but here is the other thing, if life is a beer barrel then the tap is running and it is running so other people can share in the goodness that is beer. (okay I understand if you don't like beer but please stay with me) So our tap of life is meant to be shared. it is never good to drink alone. So you only get so much life and that life is meant to be shared with the people around you. I could develop this more and maybe some day I will but there is something else I want to discuss.

The Story told by the reeve is mostly about revenge. But a very strange sort of revenge. it is a Bawdy story, belonging to a medieval genre called fabliau. which is a story that has adultery in it and many times a motif of a cradle switch to get someone into the wrong bed. The Revenge starts with simply why the story is told. the miller just told a story about how a carpenter was make a complete fool by his wife and his wife's lover. the reeve takes offence at this because he is a carpenter. I find this amusing, the Reeve tells a story about how a miller is made a fool of.

Generally as a culture we like stories of revenge, we like to see the bad guy get whats coming to him. this story, had hugely disproportional revenge. The miller was a bad man, make no mistake. He was a thief and he prided himself in his abilities to steal even from those who were going out of their way to make sure he didn't steal. So the miller ruins the day of the two clerks, not only does he steal their flour and bake it into a cake, but to get them out of his mill he lets their horse lose so they have to spend the day running after the horse through the mud and the muck. Now the miller tells them they can stay in his house and he sets them up a bed in the same room as himself and his children. (his daughter is 20). One clerk says to the other:  there is a law that sayeth thus,
That if a man in one point be aggriev'd,
That in another he shall be relievd.
Our corn is stol'n, soothly it is no nay,
And we have had an evil fit to-day.
And since I shall have none amendement
Against my loss, I will have easement:

Okay so he decides that sense the miller has ruined his day, he has the right to have sex with the miller's daughter. Well then his friend thinks, "well that isn't fair, my day was just as ruined as yours, why don't I get easement?" So he plays a trick on the miller's wife. she falls for the Cradle-switch and crawls into the wrong bed. she does't know that it isn't her husband that up leap and laid on full sore

Of course they didn't think about what to do in the morning. Silly cocksure clerks. Well violence is always a good answer right? So they beat the miller to a bloody pulp and run away with their bread. 

So let me end with this question: Is this what the thieving, beguiling miller deserved? sure he was a bad man, but was he really as bad as all that?

I could go on- I really like this tale but I will end it here, next week: the Cook's tale. 

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