Alison in the Miller’s Tale and May of the Merchant’s Tale are similar in several ways. Both are young women who have married men much older than themselves. They both become involved with young, manipulative men. They also conspire to and do cuckold their husbands. This is not what marriage is about and it is demonstrated in both tales. What makes the Miller’s Tale bawdy comedy and the Merchant’s tale bitter satire is in the characterization. In the Miller’s tale we are giving stereotyped characters. The principals are cardboard cut-outs sent into farcical motion. The Merchant’s Tale gives us much more background and detail of the character’s lives. The reader is more involved and can feel their situations. Here we will focus on the two women of each tale and how they demonstrate this difference.
Alison is described as young and wild. She is like an animal: ” Thereto she koude skippe and make game/ As any kyde or calf folwynge his dame” (I. 3259-60). We know that she would be willing to go along with any idea as long as it is “fun”. We can see her childish immaturity in the scenes where she lets Absalom “kiss” her. We do not learn the details of her marriage such as her feeling toward John, her husband. We simply know that it is a mis-matched marriage with a large age gap between them.
May is not described in much detail compared to Alison. She is simply young, meek and beautiful. The disgusting details of her marriage though are clearly shown. January makes speeches about his desire to consummate his marriage and loathingly promises to take his time. We are with May when the real horror she feels at having to sleep with January is describe…
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…In response she acts impertinent and insulted: “‘This thank have I for I have maad yow see/ Allas,’ quod she, ‘that evere I was so kinde!'” (IV. 2388-89). How ridiculous and awful that January believes her explanation.
Therefore we can see while both stories have similar elements, the Miller’s Tale is straight comedy. The reader is not shown the emotions of the characters. Alison is not a fully developed character. She is and stays what she was described as in the beginning of the tale: an eighteen year old wild girl. The tale is more a parody on courtly love.
In contrast, in the Merchant’s Tale the reader is shown the disgusting details of January’s motives and subsequent marriage. May’s character is more fleshed out, the assaults against her explicitly shown. We may feel sorry for the carpenter but January never gets our sympathy.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – Chaunticleer
Canterbury Tales – Chaunticleer
In the book Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, gives us a stunning tale about a rooster named Chaunticleer. Chaunticleer, who is the King of his domain in his farmland kingdom. Like a King, he quotes passages from intellectuals, dreams vivid dreams, has a libido that runs like a bat out of hell, and is described as a very elegant looking Rooster. He has every characteristic of a person belonging to the upper class. Chaucer’s hidden meanings and ideas make us think that the story is about roosters and farm animals, but in reality he is making the Aristocracy of his time period the subject of his mockery by making the reader realize how clueless the Aristocracy can be to the way things are in the real World. Chaucer describes Chaunticleer in many different ways. One of them is his language. Chaunticleer’s language is that of a scholar. He quotes many different scriptures in a conversation with Pertelote, such as, Saint Kenelm, Daniel and Joseph (from the bible), and Croesus. From each author he tells a story about an individual who had a vision in a dream and the dream came true. He may have been making all the stories up in order to win the argument with Pertelote, but, this seems unlikely because he does not take heed to his own advice and stay away from the fox that encounters him later. He is educated enough to know these supposed quotations but not intelligent enough to understand the real meaning of them. It is if he simply brings because they help him win the argument with his spouse and not because he actually believes what they say. Chaucer is using the idea that the Aristocracy has schooling throughout their childhood, but it is only done to have seemingly important but empty conversations. His physical appearance is also described with such beautiful passion that it makes us think Chaunticleer is heaven on earth. “His comb was redder than fine coral, and crenellated like a castle wall; his bill was black and shone like jet; his legs and toes were like azure; his nails whiter than lily; and his color like the burnished gold.” Chaucer describes Chaunticleer as the quintessential Cock, so perfect that his description is no longer believable when we realize he is describing a Rooster. Chaucer is setting up Chaunticleer to be as regal and grandiose as a King.