his wife is unfaithful. In the Miller’s Tale, John repeats the caution against prying into “God’s pryvetee.” Several times, John scolds Nicholas for trying to know “God’s pryvetee,” but when Nicholas actually offers to let John in on his secret, John jumps at the chance. John also jealously tries to control his young wife, reminding us that the Miller equated an attempt to know God’s “pryvetee” with a husband’s attempt to know about his wife’s “private parts.” The two round tubs that the foolish carpenter hangs from the roof of his barn, one on either side of a long trough, suggest an obscene visual pun on this vulgar meaning of “God’s pryvetee.” The Miller’s Tale also responds to the Knight’s by turning the Knight’s courtly love into a burlesque farce. The Miller places his lovers’ intrigues in a lower- class context, satirizing the pretensions of long-suffering courtly lovers by portraying Nicholas and Alisoun in a frank and sexually graphic manner— Nicholas seduces Alisoun by grabbing her by the pudendum, or “queynte” (3276). Absolon, the parish clerk, represents a parody of the conventional courtly lover. He stays awake at night, patiently woos his lady by means of go- betweens, sings and plays guitar, and aspires to be Alisoun’s page or servant. For his pains, all he gets is the chance to kiss Alisoun’s anus and to be farted on by Nicholas. In addition to parodying tales of courtly love, the Miller’s Tale also plays with the medieval genres of fabliaux and of mystery plays. Fabliaux are bawdy, comic tales that build to a ridiculous and complex climax usually hinging on some joke or trick. Nicholas is parody of the traditional clever cleric in a fabliau. As the deviser of the scheme to trick John, he seems to be attempting to write his own fabliau, although Absolon foils his plan. Yet, John is still the big loser in the end.
The moral of the play is that John should not have married someone so young: “Men sholde wedden after hire estaat [their estate], / For youthe and elde [old age] is often at debaat” (3229–3230). Justice is served in the Miller’s eyes when Alisoun commits adultery, because she revenges her husband “[f]or . . . his jalousye” (3851). Despite their differences, the two clerics ally at the story’s end to dupe the carpenter, and so nobody believes John’s story about Nicholas’s trick. The Miller’s Tale also includes references to different scenes acted out in medieval mystery plays. Mystery plays, which typically enacted stories of God, Jesus, and the saints, were the main source of biblical education for lay folk in the Middle Ages. As John’s gullibility shows, his education through mystery plays means that he has only a slight understanding of the Bible. The Miller begins his biblical puns in his Prologue, when he says that he will speak in “[Pontius] Pilates” place. His statement that he will tell “a legende and a lyf / Bothe of a carpenter and of his wyf” is a reference to the story of Joseph and Mary. “Legends and lives” were written and told of the saints, and the story in
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