Literary Criticism In Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper
There are numerous sources of literary criticism of The Canterbury Tales, as well as specifically about “The Miller’s Tale.” “Telling stories of low sexual intrigue (fabliaux)…There is nothing like [these tales] in Middle English and nothing like [these tales] anywhere in English literature” (Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 172). Chaucer often made apologies for “having to tell” these tales that did not fit with other literary traditions.
War of the sexes is a commonly discussed theme of Chaucer’s. “The war of the sexes is shown in such scenes of comic confrontation as that of the Knight and the Miller in the Miller’s Prolouge…” (Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 149). Other times the specific roles of women were discussed: “The husbands of the Miller’s Tale…think they have their wives tamed and in cages” (Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, 129). “The Miller’s Tale and [The Miller's] Prolouge are defenses of free speech and disavows of responsibility for the morality of the audiences” (Companion to Chaucer Studies, 175).
Many sources note Chaucer distancing himself from his readers: “His relative remoteness from this audience is registered in the absence of familiar banter. His admonitions to this audience have a tone of generality and seem to convey a certain unease about how his poetry might be received” (Social Chaucer, 69).
Time is a key thought that is pondered by many critics of Chaucer. Some mention that different aspects of time are played on in various tales. “…the Miller’s tale is relentlessly temporaral. One episode succeeds another in time, from Nicholas’ and Alisoun’s first compact to the Saturday when John the Carpenter leaves town and the would-be lovers hatch their plot to the Sunday when Nicholas informs Jogn of the impending flood to the Monday night denouement” (Social Chaucer, 134)
Concrete language is often discussed as well: “The [Miller's] Tale abounds in concrete details (tubs, axes, ladders) and definitive actions (hard embraces, kisses rightly and wrongly directed, stealthy ascents and preciptous descents)” (Social Chaucer, 135)
“One could argue that Chaucer chose a miller as his initial agent of disruption… (Chaucer and the Subject of History, 254) “There is an undercurrent of violence and deception, as often in a fabliaux…” (Social Chaucer, 49).
Policical correctness is not just a concept of today: “There is a specifically political appropriateness to the fact that the Miller’s Tale is a narrative staging of the vitality and resourcefeulness of the natural world. In part, these values are embodied in Alison, whose vernal beauty serves to elicit the male desire that motivates the Tale” (Chaucer and the Subject of History, 259)
Order, natural and arranged, is displayed rather apparantly: “The tale everwhere displays an apparantly flawless orderliness: not only does the apparantly random aimlessness of the plot reveal itself to be ordered by exquisite logic, but the unthinkable hedonism of the action leads to judgements of an impeccable nature” (Chaucer and the Subject of History, 259)
Biblical allusions, social authority, and the ethic of love are other commonly discussed themes in The Miller’s Tale. Many a literary critic has extensively thought and written about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, specifically The Miller’s Tale.
Chaucer and the Subject of History, Lee Patterson. New York, New York: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.
Companion to Chaucer Studies, Beryl Rowland. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer, Derek Pearsall. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1992.
Social Chaucer, Paul Strohm. Cambridge, Massachusetts: First Harvard University Press, 1989.