A reeve is the manager of a landowner’s estate. Chaucer’s Reeve is a shrewd man who meticulously guards his master’s assets so that he may profit from them himself. The young landowner he serves is so clueless as to the workings of his own estate that he often borrows from the Reeve, not realizing that he borrows his own property. The Reeve’s description in the General Prologue highlights how he disrupts Medieval social hierarchy. He appears to have traits of all three estates: the church, the nobility, and the laypeople. The Narrator mentions that he looks like a member of the clergy, with his hair like a priest and his long coat tucked up like a friar. In addition, he is the de facto owner of his master’s resources and carries a rusty blade, a corroded version of the swords typically carried by knights and squires (i.e., the nobility). Finally, he’s also a carpenter by trade, a working man. These contradictions emphasize the curious social mobility the Reeve has, being technically rich but never gentry.

The Narrator also notes the Reeve’s choleric, irritable nature. We see the full force of his bad temper when he takes offense at the Miller’s tale for having the cuckolded character be a carpenter. Though he initially claims he’s too old to trade blows with the Miller, he ends up telling a retaliatory story about a dishonest Miller who gets cuckolded in revenge. Many scholars point out that the Reeve’s tale feels meaner and darker than the Miller’s cheerful tale, which did not appear to be intended as a personal slight. In fact, the Carpenter amongst the Guildsmen doesn’t take offense. With this reading, the Reeve’s tale highlights how prone he is to anger. The Reeve’s closing remark, “Thus have I quyt the Millere in my tale,” demonstrates how personally he takes the Miller’s tale. He says that he has “quit,” or rebutted the Miller, not the Miller’s tale, which implies that he considers his own tale an attack on the Miller himself, not merely his tale, which is a harsh attitude for a storytelling contest.