When Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, he created a great majority of the individual tales by "borrowing" and reworking material from various sources. Most of these stories would have been very familiar to his medieval audience, and the changes he made in the standard version of these tales for his work would have been a form of tacit communication that would have added an extra dimension to each of them. Howard says that "... the tales possess a relatedness of their own within a world of other texts. They can be understood only with reference to shared formulas of language or generic traits..." (448). In the Miller's tale Chaucer parodies the Knight's Tale, which itself was "adapted from a longer tale ... from Italy ... from Boccaccio" (Howard 448), by combining and satirizing highly irreverent references to the life of Jesus Christ with the story of Oedipus to make the tale as bawdy and comical as possible.
The Miller's tale introduces a carpenter, John, his wife, Alison, and a student lodger, Nicholas. The identification of John as a carpenter immediately causes the audience to relate these characters to another famous carpenter and his wife, namely, Joseph and Mary from the Bible. (quote) The character of John is similar to Joseph not only because of their shared profession, but also because of the shared situations with their wives before marriage. Chaucer mentions how it was a rather rash move for John to marry Alison, a woman much younger than he. He says "He might have known, were Cato on his shelf,/A man should marry someone like himself" (89). Just as Joseph was wary of marrying Mary because she was already pregnant such that he "did not want to expose her to p...
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...t flood, cuts loose the ropes holding his tub to the ceiling and falls to the ground, breaking his arm in the process. The ridicule that John receives from the neighbors who have been told by Alison and Nicholas that he is insane, serves to create enough of a triumph as to symbolize Christ's resurrection. The triumph would not have been nearly as dramatic if it had merely consisted of Nicholas's recovery or Absalon's defeat because it would not have fulfilled Nicholas's main goal of "killing" his father and "marrying" his mother.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. England: Penguin Books, 1977.
Howard, Donald R. Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1987.
New International Version. Holy Bible. Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1988.
Wilson, A. N. Jesus: A Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.
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