Fabliaux: “A fabliau can be described as a comic tale of low life, involving trickery, often obscene, with coarse sexual motive”. How do you connect this quotation with the Miller’s Tale?

The Miller’s tale takes the form of a fabliau. “Á conte à rire en vers”. Chaucer’s tale is considered the most sophisticated in Middle English because it joins elements of fabliaux into one strongly structure.”

A Fabliaux characteristic is a comic tale of low life. There are a lot of comic and a lot of low life in the Miller’s Tale. First of all, the Miller is funny, he is drunk and shouting that he wants to tell his story. (Even it is not his turn). The characters are funny, Alison, the young girl, for instance. She is described as a parody of a girl from a Romance. She is all the things that a lady is not. “Good enough for any lord to have as a mistress or any yeoman to honestly wed”. All the comparisons that Chaucer makes in his description of Alison are with the farm world “wearing an apron white like the morning milk”. She is not like a swan like the beautiful ladies in the Romances; she is like a weasel… All this elements are funny, and all the characteristics described are of lowliness and low life. The same with other characters like the funny description of Absolon or the John’s ignorance.

The setting is also low, there is no exotic, far away place, like in romances it’s just Oxford, a real city, from the real world. The trick is as well funny; it’s incredible that someone can believe that. The narrator tells us that the carpenter is uncultivated, “He knew not Cato, for his lore was rude”. In addition, everybody finds funny all the farting and the forging iron that happens with Alison, Nicholas and Absolon, who by the way is also a funny character that makes us laugh with his ideas of love.

Fabliaux are rude, comic tales that built to a ridiculous culmination hinging a joke or trick. In this case, the two lovers play a trick on the poor John. Nicholas is going to predict a second deluge; Nicholas got the idea that they will spend the night in three tubs full of food and water. When the water will go away, they would be the only survivors. This entire thing is unbelievable and it’s part of the trick that the carpenter believes the whole thing.

Nicholas knows everything about the deluge, he tells John the amount of water, the time… The carpenter should know better than anybody else that God, in the Bible, promises that he is not going to send another deluge to the Earth. In some towns, carpenters were in charge of representing “The Noah’s Arch” in morality plays. But the carpenter believes everything and the trick is played. There is also some other “little tricks” played. Absolon kissing Alison’s rear end or Absolon burning Nicholas´ behind with a forging iron (misdirect kiss, another element from fabliaux))

All the things that I have just comment have things in common with the last element that I’m going to talk about: obscenity and sexual motive. Moreover, there are no romantic pursuits, it’s just sex. Nicholas doesn’t want to court Alison rather in his first encounter with her, he grabs her crotch before even speaking; and all this is connected with obscenity and the grotesque part of the tale.

In conclusion, the tale we could expect from the miller is a fabliau. (There are other fabliaux in the tales). There is a connection between the teller and the tale. We know from the miller’s portrait that he is a man who likes to entertain the others (“His mouth was like a furnace door for size”) consequently his tale is going to be funny. Furthermore, he is grotesque; obscene “he was a jester and knew some poetry, but mostly all of sin and obscenity”).  After reading the miller’s description in the prologue we can know that we are going to read a comic tale which deals with middle or lower class characters in a realistic way including obscene and sex. That is a fabliau.

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Una respuesta a “Fabliaux: “A fabliau can be described as a comic tale of low life, involving trickery, often obscene, with coarse sexual motive”. How do you connect this quotation with the Miller’s Tale?

  1. This is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the
    blogosphere. Short but very precise info… Thank you for sharing this one.

    A must read article!

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