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362 Study Questions for Chaucer's
fabliau, low comedy, fourfold interpretation, double entendre,
bed-trick, folkloric motifs, senex amans
Useful Middle English terms:
quit(e) (pay back, take vengeance), hende
(handy, courteous, skillful), privee (secret),
prively (secretly), privitee (secrecy),
nolde (would not), leman (lover)
Introduction: What does quit
mean? How does this Miller's tale "quit"
or repay the Knight's tale?
Lecture or Handouts: What
are some traits of a fabliau? How does this story
mirror the structure of the Knight's tale?
the following characters:
Prologue: Robin the Miller, The
Knight, Oswald the Reeve
Tale: John the Carpenter, Nicholas the
Clerk, Alison, Absolon the Parish Clerk, the servant Robin
and the servant Jill (Gille), Gervais the Smith
(From the Miller's Prologue):
- How do all the pilgrims react to "The Knight's
Tale"? Which group especially thinks it is worth
- Who does the Host ask to tell the next tale? (Hint:
It's not the Miller)
- Who interrupts the Host's request?
- Why is the Miller all pale and why is he having trouble
keeping in the saddle as the pilgrims ride?
- What does the Miller say his tale will do the Knight's
tale? What does this Middle English word mean?
- How does the Miller respond when the Host tries to talk
him out of interrupting?
- What "protestacioun" does the Miller make
about his storytelling and his own condition?
- If the Miller mispeaks or says anything wrongly, what
does he ask the audience to blame?
- What does the Reeve mean when he tells the Miller "Stint
- Why does the Reeve interrupt the Miller? (i.e., how
is the Miller's topic likely to hit a bit too close to
home?) Hint: Review lines 615-616
of the General Prologue to remind yourself of the Reeve's
- When the Miller goes on at length about God's "privetee"
(and a wife's "privetee"), what is the double
- Why does the narrator say he "must" recount
what the Miller said, even though his story is a "harlotrye"?
- If anybody doesn't want to hear a dirty story, according
to the narrator, what does he advise that reader to do?
How is this advice a bit strange--given that we are supposedly
sitting and listening to a storyteller? (How does this
break the conventions of verisimilitude, or break the
boundary between the "real world" of readers
and the "fictional world of Canterbury pilgrims?
- What should men not do when they hear something that
is a "game" according to the narrator?
(From "The Miller's Tale" itself):
- Who lives as a renter with John the
Carpenter and his wife?
- What knowledges or skills does this
- What does the nickname "hende"
mean, according to your footnotes? For what modern word
today is hende a cognate? [Try saying the word
aloud to see what it sounds like, if you are stumped.]
- Describe Nicholas's bed-chamber and
his lodgings. What stuff does he keep there? How does
this suggest two aspects of his identity? (I.e., which
items are associated with Nicholas as a student or scholar,
and which items are associated with his extracurricular
- Who has the Carpenter (John) recently
- How is old is she?
- What does Chaucer mean when he states,
"Jalous he was, and heeld hire narwe in a cage"?
(i.e, how does John treat his young wife?)
- Describe Alisoun's apparel.
- Describe Alisoun's physical features.
- When the narrator describes Alisoun,
within forty lines he compares her to ten different animals
and plants in nature. List three of these animals or plants
- What does Chaucer mean when he says
Alisoun was "a piggesnye, / For any lord to leggen
in his bedde, / or yit for any god yeman to wedde"?
- What does Nicholas do while John is
gone to Osenye?
- When Nicholas finds Alisoun alone, he
"prively . . . caughte hire by the queinte."
What does that mean, without going into too much anatomical
- Nicholas tells Alisoun, "but if
ich have my wille, / For derne love of thee, lemman, I
spille," what is the double-entendre?
- How does Alisoun initially respond to
Nicholas's advances? How does she respond after he tries
some "smooth-talking" when he "spak so
- What job or occupation does Absalon
- Look up the story of David's son Absalon
and Absalon's death in the Old Testament. Why did Chacuer
probably choose this name for the character? How is Absalon
like this character?
- What is Absalon's hair like? Describe
- What does Absalon know how to do "in
- What does Absalon's voice sound like?
- At the end of Absalon's description,
we find out there are two things he cannot stand. What
are these tewo things of which he "was somdeel squaimous,"
as Chaucer puts it?
- After Absalon falls in lust with Alisoun,
where does he go with his guitar? What does he do with
that guitar? (Be more specific than "play music".)
- Who (besides Alisoun) reacts when Absalon
plays this music?
- What are some of the things Absalon
does or sends to Alisoun to woo her after his serenading
- How does your textbook interpret the
line about about Absalon "playing Herod" on
the stage? [Lecture: what's another way
of interpreting the comment about Herod according to Brett
- Nicholas's plan to have his way with
Alisoun involves three stages. During the first stage,
between Saturday and Sunday, what does Nicholas pretend
- When John finds Nicholas staring catatonically,
what does he assume has happened to Nicholas?
- John recounts to himself the story of
a clerk (student) who gazed too much at the stars doing
his astronomy lessons. What happened to that clerk in
John's aside? What does John's choice of stories reveal
about his own attitude toward learning?
- What must John and his servant do to
get inside Nicholas's bedroom, since Nicholas is still
pretending to be "catatonic"?
- When John commands Nicholas, "thenk
on Cristes passioun," as a cure for Nicholas's catatonia,
what does this reveal about John's attitude toward medicine
- What is John doing when he says he "crouche[s]
thee from elves and fro wightes"? What does John's
concerns reveal about him as a character?
- Nicholas, after a drink, says he will
reveal to John special information. But if John tells
anyone else,what does Nicholas say will happen to John?
- What does Nicholas say will happen next
Monday, according to his astrological predictions?
- Whom does John express concern about
when he learns the world is going to end?
- According to Nicholas, how long will
the flood on Monday last?
- What three objects does Nicholas order
John to hang from the ceiling as emergency escape craft
before the flood hits? What three people are supposed
to sit in the three tubs?
- According to Nicholas, what will the
only three survivors of this disaster be? What will they
be lords of when the floodwaters recede?
- Who personally hand-builds three ladders
to place beneath the three tubs?
- What emergency food rations does John
place in each tub/boat?
- What happens to John about 8:00 PM as
he lies in the swaying boat waiting for the flood-waters?
- Where does Nicholas sneak ("stalketh")
John takes his nap?
- Who notices that John hadn't been out
working all day? What does this person mistakenly assume
about John's whereabouts?
- In lines 580 and following, what are
some of the preparations Absolon makes that correspond
to modern mouthspray?
- Who or what interrupts Nicholas and
Alisoun as they try to have sex?
- What does Absolon demand before he will
- What trick or prank does Alisoun play
- What unusual anatomical feature puzzles
Absolon when he closes his eyes to kiss the girl, "ful
- What does Alisoun say before she slams
the window shutters closed? (Famous quotation, here).
- What does Absolon do to his lips once
he realizes h has kissed Alisoun's "naughty bits"?
- Who does Absolon seek out in the middle
of the night to help him in his revenge?
- What does Absolon take out from Gervais's
- When Absolon tries to lure out Alisoun
with a cold ring, who overhears his enticement? Why was
this person up and about rather than asleep?
- What cunning plan backfires for Nicholas?
- As Nicholas lets his buttocks hang outside
the window, he lets fly . . . . what? How does this connect
earlier with Absolon's squeamishness?
- Nicholas's flatulence is described as
a "thonder-dent" it is so powerful. In fact,
it nearly does what to Absolon when it hits him?
- What does Absolon do to Nicholas's butt
- What does Nicholas cryout for when the
hot poker/cultour burns him? Why is this funny, given
- When John cuts the ropes and his tub
falls, what happens to John (i.e., what injury does he
- When the neighbours come to find out
what all the screaming and yelling is about, what do Nicholas
and Alisoun tell them about John?
- How do all the neighbors react to John's
- What prayer does the Miller make at
the end of his tale? (i.e., whom does ask for God to save)?
A."But first, I make
That I am dronke: I knowe it by my soun.
And therfore if that I misspeke or saye,
Wit it the ale of Southwerk, I you praye."
B. I moot reherse
Hir tales alle, be they bet or werse,
Or elles falsen som of my matere.
And therfore, whoso list it nought yeheere
Turne over the leef,a nd chese another tale,
For he shal finde ynowe, grete and smale,
Of storial thing that toucheth gentilesse
And eek moralitee and holinesse:
Blameth nought me if that ye chese amis.
C. But with his mouthhe
kiste hir naked ers,
Ful savourly, er he were war of this.
Abak he sterte, and thoughte it was amis,
For wel he wise a womman hath no beerd.
D. And on his lippe, he
gan for anger bite,
And to himself he saide, "I shal thee quite,"
Who rubbeth now,who froteth now his lippes
With dust, with sond, with straw, with cloth, with chippes?
quod she, and clapt the windowe to.