Monday, 21 September 2009

The Reeve's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer

I’m plundering the vault of my English A-Level again, this time for what is probably the most renowned work in the language. I actually had to learn The Franklin’s Tale, but I’ve picked on this one instead, as there are some nice references to drinking in it. (The text I have used here was adapted to Modern English by D. Laing Purves in the 19th century.)

The Reeve’s Tale is a direct retort to the infamous Miller’s Tale. Put out that in the miller’s story the character of the carpenter is cuckolded and made a fool of, the reeve, himself a carpenter, responds in kind. The yarn he spins is of how a robbing miller is duped by two Cambridge students whom he has originally set out to deceive. The students, knowing full well that the miller is giving short measure for the corn that he’s milling, attempt to catch him in the act of fiddling the sacks, however, the canny old miller lets their horse loose and they spend all day trying to find it. Returning at nightfall, they offer to pay the miller for bed and board. Persuaded by their money, the miller sends out for strong ale at the best, and the miller, his wife and daughter, along with the students, drink themselves into a torpor.

Well had this miller varnished his head;
Full pale he was, fordrunken, and nought red.
He yoxed, and he spake thorough the nose,

As he were in the quakke, or in the pose.

His wife is also pissed:

As any jay she light was and jolife,
So was her jolly whistle well y-wet.

The whole lot take to their beds, the miller snoring from both ends:

This miller had, so wisly bibbed ale,
That as a horse he snorted in his sleep,

Nor of his tail behind he took no keep.

The bawdy finale to the story involves the students managing to bed both wife and daughter and knocking seven bells out of the miller. Thus, concludes the reeve, have I quit the Miller in my tale.

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