The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

The Reeve

This dronke Millere hath ytoold us heer How that bigyled was a carpenter, Peraventure in scorn, for I am oon. And, by youre leve, I shal hym quite anoon; Right in his cherles termes wol I speke. I pray to God his nekke mote to-breke; He kan wel in myn eye seen a stalke, But inhis owene he kan nat seen a balke.

At the end of his prologue, the Reeve clearly states his hostile feelings toward the Miller and stands out as the only traveler who dislikes the Miller’s tale. The Miller, while telling his tale, greatly insulted carpenters, a trade once held by the Reeve. While the Reeve may seem to hold a humble position in life, readers learn that he takes great pride in his work, and as such, he possesses great confidence and makes clear he is not to be trifled with. The Reeve continues with a tale that, oddly enough, describes the actions of a dishonest and thieving miller.

A theef he was for sothe of corn and mele, And that a sly, and usaunt for to stele.

The Reeve doesn’t take long to indicate what the miller in his story is guilty of: stealing corn and meal from the community mill. The Reeve takes great care to elaborate on the miller’s crafty and dishonest ways, wanting to be sure that his audience fully understands how base of a man this miller seems to be. The Reeve then goes into great detail about how the miller goes about his crime and even explains how he avoids being caught by two students, John and Aleyn, who made it their mission to catch the person stealing from the mill.

For, John, ther is a lawe that says thus, That gif a man in a point be agreved, That inanother he sal be releved. Oure corn is stoln, sothly, it is na nay, And we han had an il fit al this day; And syn I sal have neen amendement Agayn my los, I will have esement.

Here, the Reeve delivers a final insult to the Miller. His character Aleyn informs John how he plans on evening the score after the miller successfully avoids getting caught and stealing their meal once again: Aleyn will have sex with the miller’s daughter. At first, John seems to disagree with such a decision, and he goes back to bed to sulk about his stolen meal. However, readers learn that through a series of fateful events, the miller’s wife unknowingly gets into bed with John, and John takes advantage of the situation. Thus, while the students fail to prevent the miller from stealing from them, each gets revenge in a most humiliating way.