The Miller’s Tale is one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s best-known works. The story tells of a young man named Nicholas who falls in love with Alison, the wife of an older man named John. When John finds out about the affair, he tries to get revenge on Nicholas. The tale ends with a tragic twist, when Alison and John both die in a fire. The Miller’s Tale is a classic example of Chaucer’s humor and satire. The story is still popular today, and it has been adapted into several different forms, including film and opera.
The Miller’s Tale is the first time that courtly love is presented in a negative light by Chaucer. Rather than being noble, his characters are typical middle-class workers. There’s a contrast between the Miller’s people and those in two of Marie de France’s lais with similar plot lines. Rather of being idealized, Chaucer’s characters are gritty. There’s some indication that Alison and Nicholas’ relationship is one of lust rather than “courtly love.”
The purpose of this paper is to look at The Miller’s Tale in the context of courtly love and see how Chaucer’s work differs from that tradition. Courtly love is a term first coined by Gaston Paris in 1883 to describe a type of idealized love found in the literature of 12th and 13th century France. This concept of courtly love was then adopted by other scholars and applied to the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. The idea behind courtly love is that there is a very strict code of behavior that one must follow in order to woo their lady.
The rules are first set out by Andreas Capellanus in his work The Art of Courtly Love. He writes “Love is a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love’s precepts in the other’s arms” (Capellanus 3).
The man must always put his lady’s needs before his own and he must be willing to go to great lengths to prove his love for her. The woman is meant to be unattainable and she must always play hard to get. The idea is that this makes the love stronger and more pure.
While Chaucer was clearly familiar with the tradition of courtly love, as evidenced by his use of it in works like Troilus and Criseyde, The Miller’s Tale shows a different side of love. The characters are not nobility, they are workers. The man is not trying to win the favor of an unattainable lady, he is trying to seduce a married woman. The woman is not playing hard to get, she is actively pursuing the man. This is a very different portrayal of love than what we see in the works of Marie de France.
In Marie de France’s lais “Bisclavret” and “Guigemar” we see two very similar plots to The Miller’s Tale. In “Bisclavret” a werewolf falls in love with a lady and she spurns him. He then kidnaps her and takes her to his lair where he keeps her captive. The lady eventually falls in love with the werewolf and they live happily ever after.
In “Guigemar” a knight is wounded by a boar and taken to a castle where he meets a lady. The lady falls in love with him and nurses him back to health. The knight then leaves without telling her where he is going. The lady is so distraught that she dies of heartbreak. The knight then returns and finds her dead body. He dies of grief next to her.
While the plots of these two lais are similar to The Miller’s Tale, the portrayal of love is very different. In Marie de France’s works love is pure and idealized. The characters follow the rules of courtly love and their love is all the stronger for it. Chaucer’s characters, on the other hand, are much more realistic.
Their love is not pure or idealized, it is lustful and gritty. The Miller’s Tale shows us a side of love that is rarely seen in literature. It is a welcome change from the idealized portrayals of love that were common at the time.
While Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale may not be a traditional portrayal of courtly love, it is an important work in the development of English literature. Chaucer’s use of average middle class workers as his characters was groundbreaking at the time. His portrayal of their lustful relationship was also very different from what was typically seen in literature. The Miller’s Tale is an important work that provides a different perspective on love.
Chaucer’s use of the lower class emphasizes the absurdity of what they are doing. Guigemare and Yonec, two lais written by Marie de France, are based on the same archetype as Chaucer’s Miller’s tale. Marie’s lais might supply a set of “ground rules” for this archetype. The two lais have several similar aspects in common. They both feature three fundamental characters with similarities in terms of their beginning plot line and themes.
The first two lais also have an ending that is the same in many ways. The Miller’s Tale is a comical story, while Guigemare and Yonec are both tragic. The Miller’s Tale contains several elements of the supernatural, which are not present in the other two lais.
The three central characters in The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas, Absolon and Alison, possess several fundamental similarities to their counterparts in Guigemare and Yonec. Firstly, they are all young men who are in love with women who do not love them back. In The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas is in love with Alison, while Absolon is in love with her as well. In Guigemare, the eponymous hero is in love with Melusine, while in Yonec, the central character is in love with Theophile.
Secondly, all six of these characters are of relatively low social status. In The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alison are both peasants, while Absolon is a town clerk. In Guigemare, the hero is a knight, while Melusine is a countess. However, their social status is not as high as that of most other characters in the story.
In Yonec, Theophile is also a knight, but his wife is only a lady-in-waiting. Thirdly, all three pairs of lovers are forced to live together in close quarters. In The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alison share a room in Absolon’s house. In Guigemare, the hero and Melusine are both shipwrecked on an island and have to share a cave. In Yonec, Theophile and his wife have to share a bed because there is only one in the castle.
The plot lines of The Miller’s Tale and Guigemare are also very similar. In both stories, the central male character gets the woman he loves by tricking her into thinking that he is going to kill himself. In The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas pretends to hang himself in order to get Alison to agree to sleep with him.
In Guigemare, the hero tells Melusine that he is going to kill himself unless she agrees to marry him. The plot line of Yonec is also similar to that of The Miller’s Tale in that the central character gets the woman he loves by pretending to be someone else. In Yonec, Theophile pretends to be a lady-in-waiting in order to get close to his wife.
There are also several themes that are shared by The Miller’s Tale and the other two lais. Firstly, all three stories deal with the theme of deception. In The Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alison deceive Absolon by pretending to be lovers. In Guigemare, the hero deceives Melusine by pretending to be someone he is not. In Yonec, Theophile deceives his wife by pretending to be a lady-in-waiting. Secondly, all three stories deal with the theme of cuckoldry.
In The Miller’s Tale, Absolon is cuckolded by Nicholas and Alison. In Guigemare, the hero is cuckolded by Melusine and her lover. In Yonec, Theophile is cuckolded by his wife and her lover. Lastly, all three stories deal with the theme of revenge. In The Miller’s Tale, Absolon takes revenge on Nicholas and Alison by trying to burn them alive. In Guigemare, the hero takes revenge on Melusine by killing her lover.