The Reeve'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.

The Reeve's Tale from ''The Canterbury Tales'' is full of twists and turns. If you are having a hard time following them all, take a look at this lesson where we take a close look at what happens with the Miller and his family.

When to Speak up

If you have ever seen something posted on social media that offended you, you may have had to take a few moments to consider whether or not you should reply and voice your concerns. This can be even more complicated if everyone else supports and likes the post. If you usually choose to speak up, regardless of being the minority, you will be able to relate to the Reeve from The Canterbury Tales.

Boo-Hoo (The Reeve's Self-Pity)

The Miller has just finished his raunchy tale of how a carpenter was tricked, made a fool of and cheated on by his wife. Everyone in the carriage is laughing their heads off - everyone except the Reeve. He is also a carpenter and finds the story offensive. He decides to speak up and tells the crowd that if he were young, he would whip up a tale that would put the Miller to shame. He is not young, in fact ''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.'' In other words, from the day he was born the tap was turned on and his life started to flow out. Now there is not much left in the tank. Still, he promises that he will tell a story even if it isn't as sharp-witted.

The Host interrupts the Reeve's pity party and tells him to stop whining. He tells the Reeve ''Sey forth thy tale, and tarie nat the tyme.'' In other words, he is saying 'tell your story and stop wasting everyone's time.' The Reeve finally says that he will tell a story and he will get even with the Miller, using his raunchy and rude language.

The Miller's Family

The Reeve begins by telling us all about a Miller who was strong, dangerous, and arrogant. He also carried multiple weapons and no one ever messed with him or his wife even though they were both jerks and the Miller was a thief. They have two children; a twenty-year-old daughter and a six-month-old son. Her grandfather wants to pass his fortune to the daughter and then encourage her to marry into a noble family. This is so that his name and legacy can live on.

The Students

Since the Miller's job is to grind grain, he can steal grain easily and does so. One day, a college sends their grain to be ground. The person in charge of the exchange is very sick and the Miller steals 100 times more than he normally does. He gets away with it too. Two students named John and Aleyn decide to go and watch the next time their grain is ground.

The two students tell the Miller that they are just curious about the grinding process, but the Miller knows they are there to make sure he doesn't steal. The Miller thinks to himself ''The moore queynte crekes that they make, The moore wol I stele whan I take.' In other words, the harder they try to catch him stealing, the more he will take. The first thing he does is untie the students' horse and set him loose. While the two boys run off after their horse, the Miller steals half a bushel of their flour.


By the time the students catch their horse, it is nighttime. They beg the Miller to let them sleep over. He allows it. They all eat and drink together until the Miller is wasted and goes to sleep snoring. The Miller's wife moves her baby's cradle to the foot of her bed so she can feed him and then also goes to sleep. So, too, does the daughter. John and Aleyn are awake, listening to the family snore. Aleyn tells John that he will be compensated for the theft of his flour. To this end, he sneaks up on the Miller's daughter and has sex with her.

When the Miller's wife get's up to pee, John moves the baby's cradle to the foot of his own bed. When the wife comes back in, she feels around for her bed and assumes it is the one with the cradle before it. When she gets into the bed, John has sex with the Miller's wife. The narrator tells us that the wife hasn't had such a good time in many years.

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