Canterbury Tales (Reeve Character Analysis) Essay, Research Paper
In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer s descriptive technique used to present the
Reeve emphasized his physical characteristics as well as the success he
attained in his occupation. It is evident that Chaucer gives two different
perceptions of the Reeve, one perception is of his physical makeup and the
other is of his success achieved in his occupation.
In Chaucer s introduction of the Reeve, he immediately begins with the
Reeve s physical makeup, as shown in this excerpt from The Canterbury
His beerd was shave as neigh as evere he can;
His heer was by his eres ful round yshorn;
His top was dokked lik a preest biforn;
Ful longe were his legges and ful lene,
Ylik a staf, ther was no calf yseene (590-594).
This excerpt shows the attention to detail Chaucer selected to introduce the
Reeve. Chaucer also gives the Reeve a name, which is not commonly done
for most pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer announces the Reeve s
name in The Miller s Tale, as shown in this excerpt:
The Reeve looked up and shouted, Shut
your trap! . . . To this the drunken Miller responded,
My dear old brother Oswald, such is life…
This excerpt from The Miller s Tale shows Chaucer getting very specific by
connecting the Reeve with a name. This act of naming the Reeve gives
evidence to support the argument that the Reeve seems to be more of a
specific individual than a representative of a large class of people.
After Chaucer presents the physical characteristics of the Reeve, he
then describes the Reeve s occupation. A reeve by definition is a minor
official or superintendent on an estate, generally an intermediary between a
lord and his serfs. His job included being responsible and accountable for
all his master s accounts and animals, as shown in this excerpt from The
His swin, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye
was hoolly in the Reeves governinge,
and by his covenant yaf the reckeninge,
sin that his lord was twenty-yeer of age (600-603).
This excerpt shows the Reeve controlling what happens with his master s
property and taking care of his financial situation because the master himself
was too young to do it.
The Reeve was excellent at managing his master s estate and he
himself had grown rich from his success as a superintendent, not hesitating to
shower his master with gifts to gain even more favor with him:
He coude bettre than his lord purchace.
Ful riche he was astored prively
His lord wel coude he pleasen subtilly
To yive and lene him of his owene good
And have a thank, and yite a cote and hood(610-614).
The Reeve was a successful superintendent for his master and even
bargained better than the master himself, which is why he was in control of
the master s estate in the first place.
The Reeve was also respected for his accomplishments by those in the
position of officials:
There coude no man bringe him in arrerage
Ther nas balliff, hierde, nor other hine,
That he ne knew his sleighte and his covine–
They were adrad of him as of the deeth (604-607).
Chaucer also makes mention of the Reeve s horse and the fact that he
carried a rusty blade at his side. His horse was only a stallion-cob and his
blade was rusty, showing that he really did not have use for either the horse
Chaucer, in his description of the Reeve, decides not to make a
mention of his religious practices or beliefs. This was not Chaucer s intention
because it has no relevance to the character of the Reeve at all.
As Chaucer presents these pilgrims in a social order from the highest in
society to the lowest, the Reeve ends up falling between the Miller and the
Summoner. Although from the character analysis the Reeve appears to be a
successful superintendent of a prosperous estate, his position in society is low
because he does not own the land that he presides over. Even though he is
successful and has gained some wealth through his occupation, he still does
not own the property and possessions and therefore cannot attain the higher
In conclusion, Chaucer presents the Reeve in detail uncommon to most
of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. This detail along with the fact that
the Reeve was given a name suggests that the Reeve tends to be more of a
specific individual than a general presentation of a class or type of person.
He also was prosperous in his occupation of superintendent of his master s
estate, and even though he was respected and acknowledged for his
accomplishments and wealth, he did not have the high social status because
of his lack of land ownership.