The Miller's Tale in The Canterbury Tales: Prologue & Summary

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you're reading Geoffrey Chaucer's ''The Canterbury Tales'', you'll most likely need all the help you can get, especially if you're not reading the modern language version. Let's take a look at the Miller's Tale and as the prologue leading to it.

We All Know the Type

If you have a friend who likes to tell inappropriate jokes (or if you are that friend), you will find the Miller a familiar character. His drunken tale is raunchy, funny, and revealing of his own sense of humor.

The Prologue

The Prologue gives us some background information on the Miller. Everyone is telling stories, and when the Knight finishes, the host asks who would like to tell a story next. The Miller is ''dronken was al pale'', in other words he is drunk and not looking so good (pale). He interrupts and announces that he has a story to tell, and it is going to outdo the Knight's tale.

The host tries to talk sense into the Miller by suggesting that he should let someone who isn't drunk speak, but the Miller isn't having any of that. Like a child, he throws a temper tantrum and tells the guests that either he gets to speak, or he is leaving. Someone needs a time out.

When the Miller tells them that this is going to be a raunchy tale, the Reeve (a politician) tries to tell him to shut it, but the Miller insists on telling his story. Even the narrator jumps in and says sorry to us for including this tale, but he wanted to record everything just as it happened.

John, Alison, and Nicholas

The Miller starts his story by telling us that there was once a carpenter named John who was rich but a bit dumb. He rented out one of the rooms in his house to a student named Nicholas. Nick was obsessed with astrology, and spent hours studying the topic. He is portrayed as a clever young man who is smooth-talking and can play the psaltery (a dulcimer-like instrument).

The carpenter is newly married to a woman named Alison who ''he lovede moore than his lyf.'' I bet you got the meaning of that sentence, even with the weird Old English spelling. John keeps his wife locked in the house because he is paranoid that she will cheat on him. The Miller tells us that her eyes are flirtatious, her lips are red, and her skin is soft.

Nick turns out to be a total jerk, and one day while John is away, he grabs Alison by her privates and tells her that he will die if he can't have sex with her. Alison tells him to dream on, and if he doesn't back off, she will scream rape. Nick backs off, but eventually convinces her to have sex with him. She tells him that she will need to find a way to get away from her husband since he is paranoid and jealous.


Meanwhile, another guy (a parish clerk named Absalon tries to win Alison's heart. She is only interested in Nick and makes it a point to embarrass Absalon every time he tries to woo her. Nick and Alison devise a plan to trick John. Nick convinces John that the world is going to be flooded and the only way to save himself and his wife is to find three wooden bathtubs and fill them with supplies so they can survive the flood. Nick even tells John to tie the tubs to the ceiling with a rope so that when the waters rise, all they have to do is cut the rope and fall into the water. John does as he is told and Nick, Alison, and John all wait in their tubs for the flood. However, as soon as John is asleep, Nick and Alison sneak away and have sex on John's bed. Classy.

Absalon hears that John isn't around and decides to make a move on Alison. He goes to her window and professes his love (again). Alison tells him to go away or she is going to throw rocks at him. He begs her for just a kiss. Absalon is kneeling at a low window and Alison agrees to lean out and give him a kiss. However, instead of her face, she sticks her rear end out the window and Absalon kisses her right in the butt crack. He realizes that something is up because he feels ''a beard'' when he puckers up. When Absalon realizes what happened, he swears that he would hand his soul over to the devil if he could trade it for revenge on the pair.

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