Monday, February 3, 2014

Finding Meaning Amidst Comedy

            First, I just wanted to preface my post by saying that last spring I took Chaucer with Dr. Forni (love her!) and we spent a lot of time on The Miller’s Prologue and Tale. Anyway, as we see in The Miller’s Prologue, there are several references to The Knight’s Tale (which is told before the Miller’s Tale). Specifically, the main female character in The Knight’s tale, Emelye, is described as being angel-like or as looking like a delicate flower-- descriptors that suggest a more elevated vocabulary or sophisticated tongue. On the other hand, in The Miller’s Tale, Alisoun is described as looking like a slender weasel. He wrties:  “Fair was this younge wyf, and therwital/ As any wezele hir body gent and small. / A ceynt she wered, barred al of sil,/ A barmclooth as whit as mourne milk/(3233-3236). I found this description to be extremely interesting and rather telling (and funny!). While the Miller choses less conventional ways of describing Alisoun’s beauty (i.e. by telling us that Alisoun’s apron is as white as milk), his descriptions are equally as meaningful as the descriptors used in The Knight’s Tale. Here, I think Chaucer is commenting on social class, indicating that regardless of the Miller’s lesser social rank that he is still capable of effective and meaningful speech.
            This same issue of social class also comes up throughout the rest of The Miller’s Prologue and Tale. Namely, Chaucer assigns the bawdy content we see within the Miller’s tale to that of the Miller because it reflects the Miller’s social standing; it seems appropriate. In addition, Chaucer (the poet) has the Miller disclaim, “But first I make a protestacioun/ That I am dronke; I knowe it by my soun./ And therefore if I mysspeke or seye,/ Wyte it the ale of Southwerk. I you preye”(3137-3140). Or in other words, the Miller is saying that he is drunk and that if we are offended by his story that we should blame Chaucer (the pilgrim) for allowing him to tell his tale. Interestingly though, several lines later, Chaucer (the pilgrim) states, “Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys”(3181), reversing the blame back to the Miller himself. I think that by eliminating a definitive place or person to assign the blame, Chaucer makes room for his underlying premise (especially amidst all of the humor).

            Dr. Forni also taught us the term “Fabliaux”, which she defined as being a bawdy and often humorous story that involves some sort of trick that occurs at the climax of the plot. The Miller’s Tale appropriately fits into this genre as we observe the “fart scene”--the trick that is played on Absolon. However, despite all the silliness, Chaucer is working to convey an important message. Similar to the discussion we had during our last class, in Sidney’s article, he states, “Comedy is an imitation of the common errors of our life, which he representeth in the most ridiculous and scornful way”(94). In this same way, Chaucer is using humor in order to (more easily) address a more complex/ serious issue, as well as to warn his audience against overstepping their boundaries in relation to God: “Men sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryvetee”(3454). 

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