The Miller's Prologue and Tale – Analysis In the Miller's tale Chaucer is concerned with the accurate depiction

of what was once called 'Courtly Love', romantic ideal that saw gaining the affection of a woman as a conquest, originally inspired by the pursuits of Knights. The knight's love for the lady inspires him to do great deeds, in order to be worthy of her love or to win her favour. Thus "courtly love" was originally construed as an ennobling force whether or not it was consummated, and even whether or not the lady knew about the knight's love or loved him in return. Chaucer's poem seeks to mock this ideal of love as unachievable in the context of real life, using the attitudes to love that his characters Nicholas and Absolon possess. The ideal of courtly love clearly sees love as a conquest or challenge for the man involved. Chaucer explores through his character, Nicholas how this idea of conquest overrides all moral judgement, demonstrating the attitude of love and lust encouraging dishonesty. Chaucer describes 'with this young wyf to rage and pleye, Whil that her housbonde was at Oseneye'. Nicholas takes the opportunity to 'rage and pleye' or rather 'play about with' Alison when her husband is away. Chaucer creates the idea that he is encouraging her to break her vows not for true love, but simply for lust in his use of language, 'rage and pleye' clearly describing sexual behaviour. Chaucer uses the aen byctions of Nicholas to present the attitude of infatuation and lust allowing people to take leave of their morals. The actions of Nicholas present the attitude of those who view 'love' and 'lust' as the same emotion. Nicholas is driven by sexual desire, 'heeld hire harde by the haunchebones' and it is because of this that when he speaks of his 'love' for Alison, the reader is sceptical and reduces this to pure lust. An example of Nicholas's confusion of lust for love can be found in the line, 'For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille'. This can be translated as 'for secret love of you, darling, I die'. In its translation it can be seen as a romantic sentiment, yet the words 'I spille' can be seen as having a sexual reference (the idea of dying can be seen as the point of sexual climax). Chaucer creates a sexual driven character such as Nicholas to present the attitude often found in Courtly love of confusing desire and lust with true love. Absolon's attitude to love differs to that of Nicholas and this is most clearly demonstrated in the difference in their language towards Alison. Where Nicholas communicates his desperation for Alison in sexual terms, 'lemman, I spille', Absolon's desperation is thoroughly unattractive to Alison, conveying an almost Maternal need, 'I moorne as dooth a lamb after the tete'. Chaucer uses the character of Absolon to convey how the attitude of love being needed is at a certain point, very unattractive. In terms of the poem's form, the voice itself is important when inferring meaning. Chaucer adopts the voice of The Miller. The poem can be seen as a mockery of people emulating what they are not. A Courtly lover was traditionally a Knight. Yet Nicholas is a Scholar and Absolon is a Priest. To add to this idea the voice itself is not a courtly lover, yet is given the voice of authority on the subject in hand. The idea that not even the superior voice is experienced in courtly love adds to the irony of the poem and further creates the idea of courtly love being an impossible ideal. The structure of the poem is key to interpreting what Chaucer sought to achieve in his demonstration of love. The entire poem is written in rhyming couplets and this in itself adds layers of meaning to the poem. A Rhyming scheme of couplets has many romantic connotations, with ideas of perfection, unity and completion in love. However, the language and content of Chaucer's poem depict anything but perfect and romantic love as the language between Alison and her husband suggests, ''Go fro the wyndow Jakke fool,' she sayde, 'As help me God, it wol not be 'com pa me''. The idea of the structure and the content generating different ideas of love adds to Chaucer's

aim of depicting the shallow nature of courtly love. The structure (the rhyming couplets) can be seen to demonstrate how on the surface courtly love is worthy and true, but the contrast of the content, 'Jakke fool' demonstrates how past the surface courtly love is riddled with corruption and desire. Chaucer uses idea of irony in his language to create his characters and their nature to his reader. The character of Alison, despite her attempts to create an image of a lady, is completely promiscuous, and from this emerges a dishonesty. Chaucer communicates this contrast between the image she creates for her self and what she truly is through irony. In relation to her affair with Nicholas she procliams her love, 'ans swoor hir ooth, by seint Thomas of Kent'. It is ironic that she swears an oath to another man when she is already married. It is through such playful irony that Chaucer creates his characters such as Alison. Chaucer's humour can be seen as 'universal' in that the reader can see that human nature has not changed, and that there still exists in society the types of characters Chaucer wrote of. Chaucer's characters can be seen as basic stereotypes. For example, Nicholas can fall into the stereotype of a persona words and actions contradicting themselves. Nicholas treats Alison with no respect or courtesy when he 'caughte hire by the quente', acting completely inappropriate, yet Chaucer describes him as speaking 'so faire', i.e. charmingly. This idea of a person speaking in one manner but acting in another is common to all generations, and Chaucer's shrewd observation of this allows his work to be universally humorous. Furthermore, one could say that it is not simply what Chaucer describes but the way in which he describes it that is where the essence of his universal humour lies. 'He heelde hire harde by the haunchbones', creates the humorous imagery of a girl being held by her hips by a man who claims to love her. This is both ridiculous and almost slapstick. Chaucer's ability to create such a graphic picture of lust is universally humorous as this particular example shows. Written in the fourteen hundreds, 'The Millers tale' is of an English language radically different from ours today. Words would have multiple spellings and many of the unchanged words would have been pronounced differently at the time. One could say that this may at times distance a reader. Humour is often known to be instant but some of Chaucer's language may require careful and laborious translation. For example, the line, 'I may nat ete na moore that a mayde' is mocking Absolon in his pursuit of his wife's affection, and translates as, 'I cannot eat more than a a girl', yet few people would not require a translation. One could say that Chaucer's work is not universally funny due to the need for translation. Furthermore, some of the references made for humour require a real knowledge of the period to understand the joke being made. In response to Nicholas molesting her, Alison tells him, 'do wey youre handes, for youre curteisye'. Courtesy is know today as good manners, but in the time of Chaucer, it meant far more. It existed as part of the Knight's courtly code of conduct and referred to impeccable behaviour and respect. It is quite obvious that Nicholas is unfamiliar and unconcerned with this concept and so adds to the humour of their situation. Yet without knowledge of the context, this meaning, and joke, would have gone unnoticed. Chaucer's humour therefore is not universal as some of the key references are specific to the period it was written in. Chaucer's humour is largely comments of society and human nature, because of this it is widely recognised by a large audience as many aspects of both have not changed. However, no writer is exempt from the society and period in which they are writing. The society hat Chaucer was speaking of is different to our own (as all societies are different) and furthermore, so was the audience. It is because of this that 'The Miller's Tale' is not universally funny.

Eleanor Pickering 13GD

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