The Reeve Quotes in The Canterbury Tales

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 are reading ''The Canterbury Tales'' you may find yourself wondering what's up with the Reeve and why he is so angry with the Miller. In this lesson, we will take a look at the Reeve's most important quotes and what he is trying to say.

Stuck in the Middle

If you have ever been stuck in the middle of an argument between two of your friends, you will probably understand what is going on with the Reeve in The Canterbury Tales. The Reeve has taken offense to the story told by the Miller. The reason is that the Miller's story (in graphic detail) insults and attacks a carpenter. The Reeve is trained as a carpenter and sees it as a personal attack on his profession and himself. So he promises to return the insult. Before he tells his story he makes it clear to the other members of their road trip that the Miller has attacked an old man who wants nothing more than to follow the rules.

The Old Man

The Reeve is the only one who did not seem to enjoy the Miller's lewd tale. He speaks up and says that he could tell a story that would put the Miller to shame, but he is too old for that. He tells us ''But ik am oold, me list no pley for age, Gras-tyme is doon, my fodder is now forage, This white top writeth myne olde yeris,'' In this quote, the Reeve is saying that he is old and compares himself to a cow that has been moved away from the green pastures. The mention of the ''white top'' is a reference to his gray hair that shows his age.

The Reeve does not stop with the physical description of his age. He continues by explaining that older men are more likely to follow the rules, say ''We olde men, I drede, so fare we,'' in other words, old men are afraid of the law and abide by it to avoid trouble. This helps back up the Reeve's explanation of why he is not going to verbally destroy the Miller in retaliation for his story. He is just an old law-abiding man.

Death's Tap

The Reeve continues with his somewhat dramatic whining by talking about how the 'tap of death' was turned on when he was born and that the tank has almost run dry. He tells his listeners ''Deeth drough the tappe of lyf, and leet it gon, And ever sithe hath so the tappe yronne, Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.'' Okay. We get it, Reeve - you're an old guy.

The host seems to have had enough of the Reeve's complaining and finally interrupts, telling the Reeve to tell his story already. The Reeve replies that he will tell the story, but asks that everyone they are traveling with withholds their anger as he tells the story. He promises to tell the story ''right in his cherles terms'' which means that he will tell the story in the same rude vulgar language that the Miller told his.

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