The Poet, the Host, the Miller, the Reeve

Two levels of character, the Poet, the Host, the Miller, the Reeve.


On an April day, twenty-nine pilgrims leave the Tabard Inn for Canterbury; Chaucer places Robyn the Miller at the head of the pilgrimage with the Host, Harry Bailey.


The Knight’s tale, epitomizing the genre of courtly love, initiates Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales on a proper


“The Miller’s portrait certainly draws on traditional satire against millers as liable to commit fraud” (Phillips 36). “In reputation of the second-hand salesmen of their day, millers were distrusted not only because it is hard to ascertain exactly how honestly corn has been milled, but also because they could be used by landowners to impose monopoly milling on peasants on their estates, and also, conversely, because some millers set up as independent entrepreneurs” (Phillips 36).  “The animal siilies may draw on a specifically post-1381 mode of belittling upstart peasants by comparison to unreasoning brutes” (36).


The “Reeve represents the uneducated but successful administrator of [Chaucer’s] period: … low-born and lewed [lay and uneducated], [he has] carved out [his] own lucrative empire while in the employment of socially superior but less able masters” (Phillips 36-37).  “The “Reeve’s unsociable position behind the company of pilgrims, the image of the hermit-like solitude of this rich miser, twinned with his total control over everything and everybody his work brings him in contact with, present avarice as a failing in communal as well as spiritual values” (Phillips 37).  “His avarice and exploitation of others and drive to amass money are externalized into a frugality and spareness” “a false ascetic, dedicated to his own enrichment” (37).  “His lonely, shaded house on a barren heath, his rusted blade, and the death-like manner of his dealings with other people all imply that obsessive private ‘storing’ of weather is both a social wrong, because unfruitful to the community, and a spiritual wrong, leading to the death of the soul” (37).


“Chaucer individualized Robyn, a stout, big-boned fellow with a passion for wrestling” (Lambdin 271)


“This, along with Robyn the Miller’s quarrel with Oswald the Reeve establishes a certain baseness of intellect and ethos” (Lambdin 276).


“The Miller, an earthy, tactless, vigorous ribald cheat, tells a tale that is appropriate for him” (Lambdin 276).


Chaucer uses the literary technique of appearance = action.  “Therefore, we are not surprised when we learn that Robyn’s behavior echoes his appearance.  His speech is as crude as his looks.  He likes to gossip, tell bawdy jokes, and batter down doors with his head, when he is not ripping off clients by stealing their grain or overcharging for his work” (Lambdin 276).



“The point of strongest resemblance between the tales of the Miller and the Reeve is their extreme indecency, an indecency which cannot be wholly explained away as due to the frankness of a less delicate age” (Root 175).


“Both these tales narrate practical jokes, and their comic interest depends on the clever working-out and complete success of the trick” (Root 177)