The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

Deceit

1

For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer, Which hat he seyde was Oure Lady veyl: He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente Upon the see, til Jhesu Crist hym hente. He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones, And in a glas he hadde piggesbones. Butwith thise relikes, whan that he fond A povre persondwellynge upon long, Upon a day he gat hymmoore moneye Than that the person gat in monthes tweye[.]

In the general Prologue, the Narrator, Chaucer, explains how the Pardoner has a pillowcase full of fake relics that he charges people to see, and he can make more money in a day than most people make in two months. Chaucer presents readers with this information without coming right out and judging such dishonest behavior. Chaucer appears to understand that his readers can determine the truth for themselves.

2

Of deerne love he koude and of solas; And therto he was sleigh and ful privee, And lyk a mayden meke for to see.

In the Miller’s Tale, Chaucer explains how Nicholas, the clerk, often has sexual relationships with married women by being “sleigh,” or sly, and keeping his actions hidden and “privee,” or private. This description paints the picture of a deceitful Nicholas who appears to thrill in the secretive nature of courting and bedding married women.

3

‘Myn housbonde is so full of jalousie That but ye wayte wel and been privee, I woot right wel I nam but deed,’ quod she. ‘Ye moste been ful deerne, as in this cas.’ ‘Nay, therof care thee nought,’ quod Nicholas.

In the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas, the clerk, converses with Alisoun, the unfaithful wife of John, the carpenter. Here, Alisoun warns Nicholas of her husband’s jealous ways. She wants to have an affair with Nicholas but doesn’t want to get caught doing so. After she presents her warning, Nicholas, ever the confident cad, reassures her that they won’t get caught. The two clearly only care about immediate gratification, not the long-term consequences and emotional damage such an affair could cause.

4

Sik lay the maunciple of a maladye; Men wenden wisly that he shoulde dye. For which this millere stal bothe mele and corn An hundred tyme moore than biforn; For therbiforn he stal but curteisly, But now he was a theef outrageously[.]

In the Reeve’s Tale, Osewold the Reeve explains how Symkyn the miller steals “curteisly,” or politely, from a man on his deathbed, but after that, Symkyn simply steals from others outrageously. Readers may wonder if the first theft created some sense of false confidence, allowing Symkyn to lie to himself and believe that he’s a thief with some sort of conscience. Thievery and deceit know no limits, yet the thief Symkyn seems to justify stealing from dying man by stealing kindly.