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Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Miller's Prologue and Tale" from The Canterbury Tales.

The Canterbury Tales

(from Norton)

- originally conceived as a series of 120 tales x but: completed 22 tales, began 2 others

- the title: the Canterbury Cathedral was a favourite pilgrimage site, the site of murder of archbishop Thomas Becket, a famous English saint (murdered 1170)

- uses a fictitious pilgrimage as the framing device for a number of stories

<> collections of tales linked in such a way were common in the later Middle Ages (e.g. Boccaccio's Decameron with 10 narrators telling 10 tales within 10 days)

x unlike in Boccaccio, Chaucer represents a wide spectrum of ranks and occupations in his narrators

- the variety of tellers is matched by the diversity of their tales: the stories contrast in genre, style, tone and values

- some of the stories are linked by the interchanges among the pilgrims who react to the tale and sometimes quarrel

- several narrators' stories also respond to topics taken up by previous tellers



(from Norton)

- a 'fabliau': a short story in verse dealing satirically, grossly and hilariously with intrigues about sex and/or money

- the tradition of fabliau exists everywhere in oral literature, flourished especially in the 13th century France

- Chaucer warns his presumably genteel audience to expect rude speaking and dealing

- the Miller's tale pays back the Knight's aristocratic romance which it immediately follows > sets up a dialectic between classes, genres and styles exploited throughout The Canterbury Tales


"The Miller's Prologue"

Both the Prologue and the tale comprise irregular stanzas of varying length, rhyming aabb.

The Knight finishes his tale. The narrator gives a brief comment on it. The Host suggest that the Monk should tell the next tale. The Miller, drunk by ale, however insists to be the next teller. He introduces a story about a carpenter and his wife.

The narrator takes distance from the tale to be presented and asserts that he only records what the Miller said. The narrator addresses the reader who should skip the tale if he dislikes it.


"The Miller's Tale"

In Oxford there lived the old carpenter John, his young wife Alison, and the clerk Nicholas, their lodger. The carpenter was a well-meaning but simple man, extremely jealous of his wife. The clerk was a cunning creature known for telling future from astrology. The wife was no simpleton either, and her beauty attracted many admirers.

First Nicholas courted Alison and his advances were anticipated. The two agreed to act in secret so as not to attract the attention of the carpenter. At the same time Alison was courted by the parish clerk Absalom who played guitar and sang for Alison at nights under her window. Alison however preferred Nicholas to Absalom.

In order to trick the carpenter, Nicholas locked himself in his room, pretending illness. When attended by the carpenter, Nicholas claimed his astrology told him there was a flood coming worse than that of Noah. He advised the carpenter to prepare for the flood and save himself, his wife and Nicholas. The carpenter obeyed. While the carpenter fell asleep in a tub waiting for the flood, Nicholas and Alison retired to bed.

The next morning Absalom knocked at the wife's window. He expressed his love feelings and demanded a kiss. Alison ordered him to close his eyes and offered him her naked bottom to be kissed. Absalom, his eyes closed, did so. On finding out what had happened, he decided to take his revenge. He borrowed a hot iron from a blacksmith and returned to the wife's window. This time Nicholas put out his bottom to have it kissed, but Absalom burnt him with the hot iron.

Nicholas's crying for water woke up the carpenter who had spent the night in a tub hung at the roof of his house. He thought the flood was coming and cut the rope binding his tub to the roof to let it float on water. He ended up on the floor, hurting himself in the fall. The villagers gathered at the noise, and the wife and Nicholas spread tales about his fanciful fear of flood. The carpenter ended up a subject of universal amusement and laughter.


  • Author

    Geoffrey Chaucer. (c. 1343 - 1400). 
  • Full Title

    "The Miller's Prologue" and "The Miller's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales.
  • Composed

    Between c. 1386 - 1400. 
  • Form

    Narrative verse.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Miller's Prologue". The Canterbury TalesThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams.  7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999. 235-237.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Miller's Tale". The Canterbury TalesThe Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M. H. Abrams.  7th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 1999. 237-252.


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