545-68 The Portrait of the Miller in The General Prologue is one of a sturdy, strong guy who enjoys fighting and whose major talent is knocking down doors with his head. This will come in useful later when Nicholas's door is knocked down. He is ugly, depraved and shared the medieval image of millers as thieves. Tenants were obliged to go to their local mill to have their corn ground into flour and the miller, who thus had a captive clientele, would keep some flour back for his own use, as happens in The Reeve's Tale. The fact that this miller disrupts the hierarchy and leads the pilgrims out of town also reflects his aggressive and assertive character.
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The Miller's Prologue

Miller's Tale Commentary

1-11 The Knight has just told the first tale, as is fitting given his social standing. Harry Bailey is the Host who introduces the narrators and sums up the tales, thus creating links between them. Harry thanks the Knight and then asks the Monk to tell the next tales, as he is next in the hierarchy and the most senior of the clerical pilgrims. However, the drunken Miller interrupts the correct order of things.
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16 in Pilates vois 'in Pilate's voice'; this is a direct reference to the contemporary Mystery Plays. Pilate would have a loud, commanding voice. Pilate, Christ's judge, was portrayed as an evil man who ranted on the stage.
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36 The Reve 'the steward' (giving us PDE 'shire reeve' > sheriff) in the CTs is also a carpenter and so the quarrel between the two characters in the CTs creates a link. The Reve will tell the next Tale which is, naturally, about a miller who is made a fool of by students.
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50-8 The Miller state that there are indeed many good wives, but advises the Reeve (and husbands in general) not to investigate the fidelity of wives; as long as the husband gets enough [sexual] pleasure from his wife, he shouldn't question what his wife is otherwise up to. Don't question the secrets of God or your wife (lines 55-6) becomes a major theme; Nicholas stresses this to John the Carpenter when he plots to make him a cuckold.
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61 cherles tale the story told by a churl or low person. The expression FABLIAU (plural fabliaux) is not used by Chaucer, but is a later invention. The churl's tale is a common medieval genre and may be defined as:

a comic tale in verse of low style, often obscene and involving sexual trickery, full of action, often parodying or mocking the courtly. Frequently there is a love triangle that leads to slapstick humour, and, for some modern sensibilities, the results can be cruel. It is visual, dramatic, concise without any extraneous detail, and fast-moving; its style is simple and straightforward It is sometimes thought that the fabliau is a bourgeois rather than a working class genre, as the action often makes fools of both the gentry and manual workers. In this tale the Carpenter is shown to be gullible and foolish and Nicholas, the students, equally lacking in common-sense. Critics suggest that this genre allows the middle classes to be subversive and criticise authority, e.g., the Church; it gives poets a chance to show 'life as it is' or at least a caricature of life. The church teaches the sanctity of marriage, and in this tale we see the realities of an unequal marriage and the l imitations of book learning.

In the CTs the following Tales might be called fabliaux: The Miller, The Reeve, The Cook, The Friar, The Shipman and The Merchant. The genre flourished particularly in France in the thirteenth century.
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106 Angelus ad Virginem 'The Angel to the Virgin'. This religious hymn is about the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel announces Christ's birth to the Virgin Mary. The choice of title might be ironic (and slightly blasphemous) if one compares the triangle of Mary, Joseph and Gabriel with Alisoun, John and Nicholas, as Nicholas is about to approach Alisoun, as Gabriel approached Mary.
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119 Catoun 4th cent. Dionysius Cato, who is supposed to have written the extremely popular Disticha or Dicto Catonis, a collection of maxims or proverbs. It was a common school book. But the joke is that one does need Latin learning to know that married couples should be compatible, and so lack of education should be no excuse.

his wit was rude. 'his knowledge was basic', 'he was unlearned.

The debate between the educated (Nicholas) and the artisan (John) will run throughout the tale; each thinks he is superior; John mocks Nicholas's lack of commonsense and the fact that his learning makes him mad and Nicholas thinks that a student is wasting his time if he can't make a fool of a carpenter (lines 192-3), but neither seems to have the common sense or wisdom that transcends education or manual dexterity.
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126 wezele The dominating image in the portrait of Alisoun is that of nature and specifically animals. It would appear that Chaucer wishes us to see her as a lively child of nature with animalistic desires and natural instincts, such as the desire for freedom; there is also something of the amoral about her -- neither moral or immoral -- that is found in nature. The weasel, apart from being slim like Alisoun, is generally thought cunning and devious. In this portrait she is compared to a sheep (wether), a swallow, a kid or calf, a colt, and other nature images such as milk, sloe-berry, pear tree, barn, ale and meed (bragot or the meeth), apples, hay or heath, and primula all add to the portrait of her as a child of nature. Whether this excuses her from any moral judgement is up to the reader to decide.
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127 Alisoun wears an apron and a smok 'shift', has a shining face, etc., which one might expect to find on a miller's wife, yet these lower class features are contrasted with the expensive silk on smock, headband and purse tassles and the embroidery that suggest a lady. Another fearure of this portrait is the fact that only the colours black and white are used. Both these details point to a creature of contrast both socially and morally. Much of the loveplay between her and Nicholas and Absolom mimick the courtly, and in spite of an outer show morality, she does not need much convincing to agree to Nicholas's plans.
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130-1: 'Her smock was white, embroidered with coal-black silk around the collar from the front round to the back inside and outside the material.'
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136 likerous eye 'lecherous eye'; this is the only explicit comment on her sexuality in the portrait; otherwise, as is typical with Chaucer, we are left to make up our own minds.
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142 purs Alisoun's mercenary interests are stressed in the portrait. It would be normal for a mistress of a house to have a purse hanging from her belt, but much attention in given to this purse and it is followed by complexion compared to a newly f orged coin (noble). Later we hear that Absolon (272-3) offers her money as a bribe and at the end promises her his mother's gold ring in exchange for a kiss.
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147-8 These lines mean: 'Her complexion shone much brighter than the newly forged gold coin, the 'noble' [that was forged] in the Tower [of London mint].
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150 berne 'barn'; loud, lively singing like swallow on a barn and her fooling around like a kid or calf again detracts from the ladylike image and makes her a lively child of nature, a healthy country wench.
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161-2 'For any lord to sleep with or any good farmer to marry'; Alisoun is seen as a sexual object and such a comment reflects as much the society in which she lives as her own moral stance.
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168 Nicholas is described as hende 'courteous' or 'handy'; and uses the language of the courtly lover in his speech to Alisoun (169- 70 and 172-3), while groping and grabbing her in a very uncourtly fashion. The courtly lover is also supposed to be secretive, but, of course takes many months or years before he even speaks to the lady,far less touches her. If we remember that this tale follows the courtly Knight's Tale, we can see how the Miller is 'quiting' the Knight and parodying the formality of courtly love.
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182 atte laste 'eventually'; this is intended to be itonic. The courtly lady would take ages before accepting the lover; Alisoun takes exactly two lines of text!
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183 Thomas of Kent This Thomas à Becket. The Canterbury pilgrims are on their way to his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral. He was martyred in that cathedral in 1170; see T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. The shrine was the place where many miracles took place; perhaps there is an irony here that she miraculously accepts Nicholas?
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198 'maketh melodie': here and elsewhere this is a euphemism for making love; see line 544 where the couple 'make melodie' in bed. In contemporary illustrations there are many examples of someone playing a musical instrument while a couple make love. Note the change of tenses; when Chaucer is describing swift action he often uses the present tense.
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199 Note the juxtaposition on the sexual and the religious. Another good example of this is at line 547: Nicholas and Alisoun are in bed 'making melodie' and outside the church bells are ringing.
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204 parrish clerk 'a parish lay priest'; probably not a priest, but one of the lay clergy who helped the priest by taking the offering and at the altar. A regular priest would be tonsured.
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205 Absolon This unusual name was probably chosen because of the biblical Absolon, son of King David. See 2 Samuel 14:26. He came to symbolise Pride in the Middle Ages, as the original character had been so proud of his fine hair that it was the cause of his death. Whilst fighting his beautiful hair was caught in a tree and his enemy stabbed him. Hence the stress on Absolon's hair in the following lines. It also suggests that he was as much in love with himself as any girl. The portrait is one of a dandy or fop, who thinks that he is both fashionable and a ladies' man; Chaucer gently undercuts this image and makes him appear effeminate and ridiculous. He is particularly ridiculous as all the 'cool' clothes are covered in his clerical white gown or surplice.
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209 grey as a goos much of the description of Absolon comes from the traditional, rhetorical handbooks on how to describe a lady.
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210 Poules window St Paul's window: this could either be a gusset resembling a gothic arch window or a round rose window. Whatever, it is meant to be in the most modern, fashion.
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214 this line means: 'very attractively and plentifully were the fasteners'. Chaucer's Parson critices those who wear tightly fastened clothes -- they are guilty of pride. The lover in Roman de la Rose, a work Chaucer translated, also has tightly fastened sleaves, as he goes in search of love.
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215 gay surplis 'an attractive surplice'; one would not expect this clerical garb to be described a 'gay', but Absolon obviously decorated his in an unclerical fashion. It is called in the following line 'as white as is the blossom on the branch', an expression that one might expect in a courtly lyric, and yet it has a blasphemous overtone, as it suggests the white lily associated with Mary.
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218 Absolon appears to be a man of many parts; he also is a barber, who traditionally would let blood from patients, and did some legal work by selling property (conveyancing) and preparing deeds of settlement. Then come his abilities at dancing, music and socialising in pubs. His dancing talents are undercut by saying that he dances after the scole of Oxenforde tho: Oxford, in spite of its many attributes in learning was not well known as a centre for dancing. In the same way Chaucer mocks the Wife of Bath by saying that she speaks French, but as in Stratford-atte-Bowe. This ridiculous figure is further mocked at line 222 where his dancing is described as throwing his legs back and fore.
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229-30 This is a typical example of Chaucerian undercutting. We're presented with an effeminate, foppish, ridiculous lay clergyman and then the narrator says But he was particular about one thing and we await some redeeming feature, and instead of a virtue it turns out to be farting and delicate speech!
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231 jolif 'jolly', 'lively'; jolif is commonly applied to Absolon, just as hende is to Nicholas; Absolon becomes far from 'jolly' after he finds out how he's been tricked!
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242 Absolon's behaviour in church reflects his ridiculous nature; firstly, he uses this function as bearer of the censer to oggle the women as he walks up and down, and he also refuses to take the offerings from the ladies for curteisie; the religious service is turned into some parody of courtly love with himself as the lover. The women of course are not offering their money to him but to the church.
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253 Absolon's song is a parody of a courtly lover's: he calls her 'dear lady', but confuses the familiar and the polite forms of the 2nd pers. sg. pronouns (thy (253) and yow/ye (254))
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258 The fact that the carpenter, who we know is exceptionally suspicious of his young wife and terrified of being cuckolded, is not at all worried when this young man sings love songs outside their bedroom window, reflects Nicholas's reputation; he is no threat at all to women, and must have been considered a harmless fool, more in love with the state of being in love or indeed in love with himself.
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267 by meenes and brocage 'by go-betweens and brockers'; he never confronts her -- unlike the active Nicholas -- and uses go-betweens. The use of brockers in love affairs is expected in courtly love when letters and others are used to advance the love affair at snail's pace.
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271 There is dramatic irony in the fact that he sends her piping hot wafers. considering what he is later going to send through her window.
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272 A social comment that, whereas country girls are wooed by ale, town girls need financial bribes; it might also reflect on the financial streak in Alisoun suggested earlier. Ironically, Alisoun is won over by none of these, but by Nicholas's 'direct approach'!
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276 Herod This is a reference to the Mystery Plays again (see line 16). Herod in the drama was portrayed as a ranting, mad, evil character who traditionally shouted. Hamlet talks of 'outheroding Herod', that is over-acting in a wild fashion. The thought even of Absolon playing the part of the wild evil king with his tiny, high voice is ridiculous.
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346-56 John here reecites a common complaint by the uneducated about the educated, namely that they lack common sense and as their heads are in the clouds they don't look where they're going. The Miller, however, may be down-to-earth, but he also lacks common-sense. He has already told us that we shouldn't know God's secrets.

John's example of the learned man who falls into the pit because he wants to find out the future boomerangs on John, as it is he who ironically falls for the trick -- and falls from his tub!
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364-71 Note the simple syntax: and...and...and, the list of preterite verbs, mostly describing action, and monosyllabic words ('What...what, how, what, looke doun!'); all this builds up an image of quick, strong action; cf also line 362 with the apirates 'haspe he haaf' which reflects the breathless effort in knocking down the door.
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370 'Awake and think of Christ's Passion' (that is, the suffering of Christ on the cross to atone for mankind's sins); this was the cure for the Deadly Sin of Despair (line 365), which was called 'the passion furthest from the love of God' and would (as in The Faerie Queene lead to suicide).
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371-8 In spite of John saying that all you need to know is the Creed, he embarks here on some very shady, unorthodox sorcery. he recites a prayer at the four corners of the house and beyond the threashold; then he comes up with some mumbo- jumbo about 'the white pater noster' and St Peter's sister. At this moment of crisis he seems to have reverted to some spell and folk prayer against evil spirits.
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378 Seinte Petres soster 'St Peter's sister': she is mentioned in a 'white pater noster'; all these terms reflect the dubious orthodoxy and naivety of John's faith.
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381 Nicholas is here preparing John for the Flood hoax, by saying that all the world will be list again.
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388-99 The drink both reflects the Miller's weakness for alcohol and is necessary to make John believe the wild prediction that is about to come. Secrecy is also mentioned here, as before, and is a leit motif throughout the Tale. It is of course vital for Nicholas's plan that no one else hears of the Flood. In line 399 Nicholas threatens John with madness if he tells anyone, while at the end of the Tale the narrator states that John is considered mad for believing this story.
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406 by him that harwed helle 'Christ'; lit. 'by him who harrowed hell'; according to the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus and the Creed Christ descenced into hell on Holy Saturday and rescued all the good, Old Testament characters, beginning with Adam and Eve, then all the Patriarchs. This event was considered an important event in Passion, and was mentioned in most vernacular narratives of the life and passion of Christ. Could there be irony intended in the two "descents": that of Christ and that of John from the rafters?
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407 moone bright this astrological observation, 'I have looked at the bright moon' implies both rain and madness; rain, as, according to contemporary astronomical teaching, the moon influenced rainfall and madness, as it was also meant to cause madness, e.g., 'lunacy'.
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408 Monday next As it is already Sunday, he's talking about the next day. An important element in all farce is speed; also, if John had time to think about things, he'd have realised how ridiculous it was, or even remembered that God by the rainbow promised never to send another Flood. Details such as dates and props (e.g., being able to open the window) are important in the fabliau -- or any farce.
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421 Salomon King Solomon is supposedly the author of the biblical book, Proverbs; he had the reputation of wisdom:"As wise as Solomon". But in fact the quotation here is from Ecclesiasticus 32:19-- 'Do nothing without counsel and you will not repent later'. Nicholas is building up a case by giving his mad idea the veneer of respectability.
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424 Nicholas drops in the hint of sailing here; he also says that he, Nicholas, will be saved along with John and his wife. At no point does John think it strange that the world will be repopulated by this threesome!
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432 the sorwe of Noe 'Noah's sorrow'; there is an apocryphal story, very popular in the Middle Ages, that Noah's wife (representing the flesh) was unwilling to enter the ark, but wanted to drink and gossip with her friends. Noah has great trouble with this domineering wife and eventually he gets his sons to carry her forcefully into the ark. The story was interpreted as reflecting Christ's (Noah's) difficulty in convincing mankind (Mrs Noah) to be saved. This story appears in many vernacular narratives of the old Testament, e.g., the Mystery Play of Noah's Flood. It suggests that John does not know the biblical account in whicy Mrs Noah does not feature, only the popular retellings.
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437 Nicholas has the brilliant plan that Alisoun must have her very own ark; the excuse is the trouble that Mrs Noah gave her husband, the reason is that Alisoun must creep out of the 'ark' without wakening John!.
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444 Although was forty days on the ark, Nicholas just want to be one night with Alisoun; he also realises that the tub won't hold food for over a month and so realistically suggests only one day's supply!
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450 The irony here is obvious. The Miller initially said that man must not know God's secrets, and this is repeated by John (346); then Nicholas tells John God's secret about the Flood, and now brushes aside any possible questions by saying that he will not tell God's secrets!
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452 as greet a grace Noah, although saved from the Flood, had a shrewish wife, and so the offer may not be so promising. The entire argument is logically flawed, and all depends on the speed and action that forbid sensible consideration -- and on John's rather touching desire to save his wife; at line 414 Alisoun is the first person he thinks of.
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456 Nicholas presents those to be saved in the order most appealing to John: her, thee and then me.
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461 Nicholas tries to make it as realistic as possible and suggests that John brings an axe to break a hole in the roof when the flood comes, so they can sail away. Of course the axe is necessary for the fabliau plot as well.
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468 doke after hire drake The animal imagery reminds us of Alisoun's initial portrait; it implies that the wife follows the husband, yet it's not John that Alisoun will be after! In addition, there will be two 'drakes' after one 'duck' after the flood, if Nicholas's plan works.

The scene that Nicholas evokes is very funny and ridiculous: he imagines them all sailing in their respective tubs passing the time of day and even suggests what they will say to each other the morning after the flood, as if they were neighbours speaking over the garden fence.
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473 lordes al oure lyf Again, Nicholas makes it seem natural that they will be a threesome. Nicholas's language here echoes that of Satan who in his pride wished to rule the world.
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479-80 Note all the negatives -- five in two lines. This is to stress the seriousness of the warning not to speak. The reason of course is that John will not find out that his wife is not in her tub if he wakes in the night and speaks to her.
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481 Nicholas also insists that John and Alisoun are hanging far apart on the roof, so that they have no sexual contact; again highly ironic, as the whole plot is to create sexual contact.
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490 'Men say "Send a wise man and leave everything to him"; you are so wise, I don't have to tell you what to do'. Nicholas has spent some time sermoning 'preaching' and now he compliments John by calling him a wise man who doesn't need to be told what to do. This is good psychology, giving the implementation of the plot to John who is going to slave away to prepare the house for his own downfall.
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499-502 Alisoun is the perfect actress, feigning surprise when told of Nicholas's vision and plan and urging her husband on to execute the plot; she finally claim to be John's 'true and faithful wedded wife' (501).
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503-5 This reflects the Boethian concept of perception coming to us via emotions. This exclamation by the narrator -- 'What a great thing emotion is!' -- is ambiguous; it could either be an ironic comment on Alsoun's promise to remain true to John, or on the following description of the frightened carpenter.
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510-12 Note the rapid succession of active verbs in the present tense, which gives a sense of immediate and rapid movement.
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545-7 melodie This is an example of 'melody; being used as euphemistically, implying sexual activity. Chaucer neatly juxtaposes this secular 'music making' with the clerical that follows when he introduces the bells of lauds, the first church 'hour' or service of the day. James Winny suggests that this juxtapositioning makes the monks seem to sing out in praise of Nicholas's sexual success. Film makers have achieved the same effect with the Allelujah Chorus.
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569 ful lowe in typical fabliau style, every feature has a function, and here we are told that the window is low, so that the later hanky-panky is possible.
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571-2 'yet I cannot but succeed or at least I shall kiss her'. There is a pun on misse, as he does miss the kiss, yet the second time he doesn't miss his target! The itching mouth (line 574) is also ironic, as he is going to have an itchy mouth after Alisoun's 'kiss'.
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590-9 Absolon here is acting as the courtly lover. He has dressed fastidiously (though it's darkest night), made sure his breath smells sweetly and gives a gently cough outside Alisoun's window which, we are told, is low on the wall. His ensuing speech is a parody of a courtly lover's speech, and also of the imagery in the biblical Song of Solomon (sometimes called The Song of Songs). This biblical book is a love poem interpreted in the Middle Ages as a metaphor for the love between Christ, the husband, and the Church, his spouse. As Absolon is also a cleric, this parody is all the more poignant. The expressions that echo the Song of Solomon are: 4: 10-11 'How much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointment than all the spices! Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon. Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon' [are among the spices mentioned in 4: 14]; in chapter 2 the lover is compared to a fair dove (faire brid 591) and the voice of the turtle dove (a turtek trewe 598).
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594 The entire effect of the courtly love song is drastically undercut by the realistic and personal details that Absolon adds, such as sweating, and comparing himself to a lamb wanting to suck a ewe, as if a big baby wanting his bottle, and to a maiden off her appetite. This completely spoils the courtly effect he desires and makes him a ridiculous figure.
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601 pa probably means 'kiss' and may be a childish word; Alisoun simply says: 'God help me, I'll not go along with your "Come give me a little kiss"'.
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616-8 Absolon adopts the courtly love attitude of going on his knees and begging his lady for her favour. The fact that he claims to be lord at alle degrees ironically echoes John's wish at line 473; and his wish that more will come anticipates the final denouement. Alisoun's blunt and down-to-earth reply is in sharp contrast to Absolon's courtly sweet-talking.
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634 This crude passage stresses the contrast between Absolon's dream world of courtly love and the very basic world of human nature in the raw. 'To make one's beard' means to trick someone, and so there is a pun here.
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638 Previously Absolon wiped his mouth dry to receive the 'kiss' (621) and now he's rubbing it with dust, sand, straw, cloth and wood shavings in a desperate and feverish desire to cleanse himself. Normally one would expect him to wash his mouth clean, and the absence of water seems to play an integral part in this Tale. Rain and floods are expected by John, floods that will wash away the sins of the world, as at the first Flood, but in reality there is a total absence of any cleansing water. There is no water for Absolon to wash his mouth, no water for Nicholas to cool his burning posterior, and no water to break John's fall as he plunges from the ceiling. Ironically this lack of water does cleanse the household of its sinfulness and punishes them for their folly.
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699-706 The fart is compared to a thunder clap and thunder is connected with rain; again the absence of water is significant, as its cooling and purifying powers would have been greatly appreciated by all! The fart almost blinds Absolon, but in fact Absolon has been guilty of blindness in his naivety for ages. All signs of courtly behaviour have now left poor Absolon who, like John, has come down to earth with a bang. Similarly the accusation of madness is frequently made in these final lines. Again, all of them have been guilty of a degree of madness and lack of reason throughout the tale. Chaucer often uses physical or mental conditions to reflect inner, moral states, e.g., old age, ugliness and blindness.
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710 Nowelis flood This appears to be a mixture of Noah and Noel; it reflects John's unlearned state, but also might have the prophane hint that Christmas is the time when the Saviour descends to earth. John, who thinks he's about to save the world, is about to descend to the ground at record speed!
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717 out/harrow 'Help!' These are the words Alisoun says she will say if Nicholas doesn't stop fondling her; now she actually says them!
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