Millers Tale The 275

One Saturday while John is out of town, Nicholas and Alisoun finally put their plan into action. Nicholas hides in his room over the weekend, and when John finally seeks him out on Monday, he finds Nicholas apparently passed out in his room. upon reviving, Nicholas reports his findings from the stars: The following Monday will witness a flood similar in proportion to Noah's Flood in the Bible. Nicholas instructs John to save himself by constructing three tubs in which to hide and fastening them to the roof. The three of them will then lie inside the tubs awaiting the flood—perfectly silent so as not to disrupt prayers.

Dutifully, John secures and provisions the tubs, and on Monday night, all three participants—Nicholas, Alisoun, and John—climb in. As soon as John is asleep, however, Nicholas and Alisoun sneak down to the bedroom, where they sport all night.

The next morning finds Absolon thinking of Alisoun. Boldly, he decides to approach her house. She castigates him, but he is so persistent that she agrees to give him a kiss if he agrees to leave her alone afterwards. Planning a practical joke, Alisoun "at the wyn-dow out she putte hir hole" (l. 3732). Absolon realizes that he has kissed Alisoun's nether region and not her mouth when he encounters a beard (pubic hair) and, instantly furious, plans revenge. Running across the street, he borrows a hot poker from the local smith. Returning to the window, he calls up to Alisoun, begging another kiss. This time, Nicholas sticks his behind out the window, and when Absolon calls out, Nicholas releases a tremendous fart. In retaliation, Absolon "Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot" (l. 3810). In pain, Nicholas shrieks and yells for water. John wakes up, hears the shouts for water, and, thinking the flood is beginning, cuts the ropes of his tub. The tub crashes to the floor, breaking John's arm. The neighbors all come running. Nicholas and Alisoun convince everyone that John has gone mad, and so his reputation remains.

"The Miller's Tale" is a fabliau in form. It is told by the Miller to "quite"—that is, match—the Knight's Tale, which is a romance. As a fabliau, it is heavily dependent on plotting and staging. It features a typical fabliau love triangle—an older husband (John), a young wife (Alisoun), and a young suitor (Nicholas)—with the addition of a fourth party, Absolon, who is portrayed as a

"courtly lover." The characters are, for the most part, stock types: John, the cuckolded husband, is a wealthy would-be social climber who is ridiculed at the end; Alison is an attractive and lusty young wife; Nicholas is a scheming student; Absolon is a squeamish fop. Con-textually, it perfectly offsets "The Knight's Tale." Both feature two men in love with one woman, dreams (prophetic and unprophetic), love versus sex, seeking beyond one's means, and rash promises.

A number of analogues for "The Miller's Tale" have been identified, though no direct source has been uncovered. The earliest of these is the Flemish fabliau Dits van Heilan van Beersele, in which similar adventures (ass-kissing, fake flooding, limbs breaking) befall a woman's three lovers. The Tale also features a number of biblical allusions, although Nicholas is the only character to quote it accurately. Geoffrey Chaucer also firmly grounds his tale in its local setting of oxford through location details, as well as the invocation of local saints (e.g., Saint Frideswide and Saint Neot).

Early criticism of the Tale focused, typically, on its sources, analogues, and textual variants, but a number of critics also sought to establish its moral code. However, like many fabliaux, it metes out its own warped sense of justice, not standard morality. The punishments seem disproportionate, and the Tale as a whole seems generally amoral. Is it, then, a celebration of adultery?

Recent criticism has examined the economics of exchange in the Tale, the treatment of Alisoun, and the various interactions between the men. There are a number of references to exchanges, monetary comparisons, and reprisal. In fact, the Miller sets up the principle of exchange—of women and their sexuality—in the Prologue, and the idea carries through the narrative. Marxist critics have also suggested that the varying degrees of social classes presented in the Tale—considered more nuanced than in many fabliaux—also reflect historical imbalances and shifting economic relations among and within the classes.

Feminist critics have examined the role and presentation of the only woman in the Tale, Alisoun. Though she escapes relatively unscathed, Alisoun's life is not unprob-lematic. She is depicted in nonhuman terms, being kept "narwe in cage" like a bird, but also as various barnyard

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