Sir Philip Sidney argues in his “An Apology for Poetry” that it is more effective to teach about virtue through a combination of history and philosophy rather than through just one or the other. He believes that men can learn how to be virtuous through poetry because it recounts experience, like Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, rather than simply stating what is right or wrong. Sidney reasons that people learn better through learning from human action rather than solely through knowledge. He states, “Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow in effect another nature, in making things either better than Nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew, forms such as never were in Nature…” (85). Sidney argues that poetry creates another reality in which readers can perceive, imagine, and understand human action from afar, though, while poetry is fictitious, it should still imitate reality.
Chaucer does a good job of manipulating nature while still imitating reality in “The Miller’s Tale.” While the Miller is presented according to the stereotype of his social class and profession, he recites his tale elegantly. While the Miller uses beautiful imagery, it matches the Miller’s social class standing. For example, the Miller compares Alisoun as “Fair was this yonge wyf, and therwithal / As any wezele hir body gent and small. / A barmclooth as whit as morne milk / Upon hir lendes, ful of many a goore” (3233-3236). Chaucer casts the Miller in a better light than his stereotype through the Miller’s elegant storytelling and beautiful imagery. In the prologue, the Miller warns against “God’s pryvetee,” (3164) warning the reader that his story will teach a moral lesson. While the Miller graphically portrays Nicholas and Alisoun’s love, he still imitates reality through satirizing their love. The parish clerk is also satirized as a lover, though he also imitates reality in his love for Alisoun. The Miller’s tale does have a moral lesson of “Men sholde wedden after hire estaat, / For youthe and elde is often at debaat,” (3229-3230) warning readers about the dangers of marrying too young. Although “The Miller’s Tale” satirizes many aspects of other stories in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, the story is tailored to not only make the reader laugh, but to learn a moral lesson as well.