Reeve's Tale - From the Canterbury Tales
(Translation I used:
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Reeve’s Tale. NeCastro, Gerard, ed. and trans. eChaucer:
The Reeve’s Tale Summary
The Reeve’s Tale is a response to The Miller’s Tale. Oswald the Reeve is angry because the Miller tells a story that makes fun of a carpenter like himself which he finds extremely offensive. Therefore, he tells a story, The Reeve’s Tale of a dishonest miller in hopes of revenge. Simkim, the miller, is a man who lusts after violence. He’s a dishonest man who steals corn and mill that other people bring to his mill for grinding. Everyone knows exactly what he’s doing, however due to this lust for violence, no one says anything. He’s also a proud man who thinks very highly of his family (his wife, son and his daughter named Malyne) and mostly himself which is where the problem occurs when the two students, John and Alan, come to his mill and ruin his plans of stealing their corn. He conjures up a plan that sends the two students running after their horses which allows the miller and his wife to take their corn and hide it. This upsets the students but they stay the night anyway and decide to take matters into their own hands by sleeping with the miller’s wife and daughter. “For, John, there is a law that says that if a man be harmed in one point, he shall be relieved in another. Our corn is stolen, without a doubt, and all day we have had a bad time; and since all that cannot be remedied, I shall have some easement to counter my loss. By my sawl, it shall nat be otherwise "(Chaucer 4). John and Alan end up causing mayhem in the house, but they do get their revenge and eventually their corn back.
Annotated Bibliography
Joseph Taylor. “Chaucer’s Uncanny Regionalism: Rereading the North in The Reeve’s Tale.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 109, no. 4, 2010, pp. 468–489. JSTOR, Accessed 15 Oct. 2017
From my understanding, The Reeve’s Tale is supposed to be tale filled with humor laced with a darker undertone. While reading the story, I found it hard to follow the humor. But after reading Joseph Taylor’s article on the dialect of The Reeve’s Tale, I began to understand the humor a little bit more. Joseph Taylor is a professor from University of Alabama in Huntsville. He’s affiliated with New Chaucer Society as well as has a PH.D in Medieval and Renaissance Literature, a M.A in English Literature and a B.A in English. I find him more than qualified to write about Chaucer. The article itself talks about the northern dialect used in the story and how that relates to the region around where the story takes place. “The Reeve’s Tale’s funny northern speech is meant to quell anxieties about a more dangerous northern other, so that Chaucer’s Southeast might feel comfortable about the ill-defined North’s assured place within the realm. The North becomes an object of study whose representation in the literature of London and the Southeast bears witness to a presumed inferiority. Even before the clerks’ northern idiom, however, Chaucer can be seen to bring the patria into the polis through the figure of Oswald the Reeve. His ambivalent persona is far more unsettling than comical (473)”. He article helps explain parts of the story such as when the miller is talking down to the students and dismissing their education.
Justman, Stewart. "'The Reeve's Tale' and the honor of men." Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 32, no. 1, 1995, p. 21+. Literature Resource Center, gwurl= Accessed 15 Oct. 2017.
Stewart Justman is a professor at University of Montana. He has published over 50 articles and papers regarding medicine and literature (Justman). He brings up a great point in his article about the Reeve’s Tale and similar tales which is the way men deal with honor and respect within the patriarchal society of the story. The tale has a lot of revenge that occurs because the men find that they need to bring honor either to themselves or someone in the story. The Reeve's Tale is about a reeve who is telling a story about a dishonest miller because a miller told a terrible story of a carpenter. The two students take matters in their own hands because the miller is stealing and chaos mayhem in the tale but end up leaving satisfied for essentially making the miller step down. “The Reeve's Tale descends through the Miller's Tale from that of the Knight, and on the critical point - the reduction of women to pawns of men - it is a true likeness of the original. And so if the Reeve's Tale shows that churls should leave honor to their betters, it also shows the honor ethic for what it really is. Stripping that ethic down to a violent mania, the tale poses an ironic commentary on nobility itself.” The ironic commentary helps keep the story moving and I think it showboats the idea of the honor of men.
Justman, Stewart. “Global Humanities and Religions.” College of Humanities and Sciences / Global Humanities and Religions - University Of Montana, Univeristy of Montana, 15 Oct. 2017,
Patterson, Catherine. "The Miller in 'The Reeve's Tale'." The English Review, vol. 10, no. 2, 1999, p. 38. Literature Resource Center, Accessed 15 Oct. 2017.
What I liked about this review is how Patterson talks about how the miller acts within the story. We are vaguely told that he has married a woman who is illegitimate but yet he acts very proud. He wears red as does she which symbolizes the color of aristocracy. Patterson also points out his actions and how they are more filled with pride than actual affection towards his family. “Love does not hold a place in 'The Reeve's Tale' and Simkin does not seem to show any affection either to his wife or daughter, prizing one as a social asset and the other for her marriage prospects.” Her review helped me with the story especially with understand the millers role and his attitude in the story.
Critical Analysis/Close reading:
1. “The two together were a fair sight on holy days; he would walk before her with the tail of his hood wound about his head, and she came after him in a red petticoat, and Simkin wore hose of the same color (2)”.
A big theme in this tale is to not act more important than you are. Another way to say this, is to remember your place in society. For example, when people act like divas or like royalty, people look down at them or think more negatively towards them. The miller and his wife walk around as if they are very important people. But the fact is, he’s just a miller and she’s an illegitimate daughter who was raised in a nunnery. We can imply that they act more important than they truly are with everyone. He is a known thief yet no one stops him based on his attitude and violent ways. A question that can arise from this is how did the miller become this way.
2. “No creature dared call her anything but “madam.” There was no man so bold that he would walk near her or dared once to flirt or dally with her, unless he wished to be slain by Simkin with a cutlass or knife or dagger (2)".
This quote shows more of the relationship between the wife and Simkin as well as their relationship with the other villagers. Simkin is built on pride and violence. He thinks highly of himself and the same goes for his wife who he doesn’t actually show any true affection to. But due to the way he acts and the way she comes off, no one wants to approach them whether it’s in a friendly way or in a romantic way. I think based off of this quote, we can see that Simkin is just not a good man and that the tale is not going to end well. We can imply that their actions will eventually bite them in the butt and karma could come into play.
3. "For, John, if I could sleep with that young lady over there, the law would allow us some compensation. For, John, there is a law that says that if a man be harmed in one point, he shall be relieved in another (4)".
I chose this quote because it shows when Alan decides to take matters in his own hands. He decides that the miller owes him something and that something is his daughter. It's basically an "eye for an eye" type of deal that I personally do not agree with because the daughter has nothing to do with the students nor does her sexuality or herself in general equal the cost of the corn that was stolen. But the quote tells us that how times where when this tale was taken place and written. The quote implies that something bad is going to happen and reinforces the man's honor as well. Alan felt put down and offended by the miller so he needed to do anything he could to gain back his honor.
Check Point 3:
Delasanta, Rodney. “The Mill in Chaucer's ‘Reeve's Tale.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 36, no. 3, 2002, pp. 270–276. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Rodney Delasanta points out in this article that there are many "double entendre" and readers definitely have detected a lot more information in between the lines. For example, when Alan has sexual encounters with the Millers daughter, he considers himself taking the Miller's "flour", which symbolizes his daughters purity, and leaves behind "a deflowered wrench" (Delasanta 271). He also makes a lot of connections between the story and religious views such as the "sacred theme of the Mystic Mill" which was firstly introduced by . W. Robertson. It can be interpreted as such: "The Law of the Old Testament being deposited by Moses into the Mystic Mill, which then grinds it ito the doctrine of the New Law collected by St. Paul" (Delasanta 272). It's always interesting to see how religion can secretly play a role or compare to stories. Delasanta is a credible source who dabbles in Chaucerian Realism, philosophical visions, and just general criticism within Chaucers work. The paper was published in Penn State University Press, which is a credible publisher.
Woods, William F. “The Logic of Deprivation in the ‘Reeve's Tale.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 30, no. 2, 1995, pp. 150–163. JSTOR, JSTOR,
The reason why I like this article is because the author, William Woods, clearly shares with his readers about how The Reeve's Tale, reflecting how the Reeve feels about the Miller, which is connecting this story with another story by Chaucer, The MIller's Tale. He also states that the Reeve's Tale talks about and shows its readers the social settings and class conflict during this time. Woods makes a great comment about how the Miller's Tale provides more of a comic relief for readers but the Reeve's Tale "provokes a cold dialectic revenge" (Woods 152). He makes a great comparison about their chosen revenge and "their "esement" not in love-making as such, but in sex that takes place of swordsplay" (Woods 152). It's the perfect comparison. It takes an awful event and makes it less crude as well as show how serious this action meant to the students. William Woods is a Professor of English who has a Ph.D in medieval English Literature. He teaches Medieval literature, classical literature, the history of rhetoric, the folktale, and the history of the English Language. It's said that he's a Chaucer Specialist and has published a few writings about Chaucer such as Chaucerian Spaces: The Poetics of Space in Chaucers Opening Tales. (Wichita State University)
Woods, William F. “Symkyn's Place in the ‘Reeve's Tale.’” The Chaucer Review, vol. 39, no. 1, 2004, pp. 17–40. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Woods focuses on the Miller in the story, Symkyn. Symkyn has a way of saying things that can make readers question what he is really saying. He's sarcastic and actually talks down to the students while resenting their education and their life. Symkyn cheats people, he schemes, and he's just downright materialistic. He's "indeed an expansive character" (Woods 28). William Woods is a Professor of English who has a Ph.D in medieval English Literature. He teaches Medieval literature, classical literature, the history of rhetoric, the folktale, and the history of the English Language. It's said that he's a Chaucer Specialist and has published a few writings about Chaucer such as Chaucerian Spaces: The Poetics of Space in Chaucers Opening Tales. (Wichita State University)
Checkpoint 4
Zumdahl, Sarah C. Sexuality and the Balance of Power in the Canterbury Tales. Illinois Wesleyan University Digital Commons @ IWU, 25 Apr. 1997,
Zumdahl does a fantastic job comparing The Reeve's Tale with other stories such as The Miller's Tale and The Knight's Tale. But what I want to focus on in her research is this idea of power and sexuality. Symkyn does what he wants, when he wants to but he doesn't necessarily uses sexuality or sexual actions to get what he wants. However, the college students do you sexual actions as their source of revenge for the treatment they received from Symkyn and his family. One idea that I really like that she points out is that the college students are justifying the rape as a fair payment for their trouble (Zumbdahl 14). It's an interesting thought that they would think this way however rape was hardly a concept at this time. She also points out that unless a women is taken from her home or abducted in some way, that it won't be a legal case. The wife and daughter can't speak up about their rape since it happened under their own roof. It's also strange to note the way the daughter was acting the next day towards Aleyn. She was acting grateful and fawning over him (Zumbdahl 17). She was "the perfect submissive woman who can make no demands because she has unequivocally lost the power struggle" (Zumdahl 17). Aleyn used her for revenge and then in the end, ending up using her again to get their grain back that her father stole from them. Zumbdahl seems to be a great source since she did write this for her honors project in college. She also has a lot of notes and credible sources in her citations that someone could look into if they were interested in her research process.
Stillwell, Gardiner. “The Language of Love in Chaucer's Miller's and Reeve's Tales and in the Old French Fabliaux.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, vol. 54, no. 4, 1955, pp. 693–699. JSTOR, JSTOR,
Stillwell argues that love is present in The Reeve's Tale. He focuses on the language that is used in the conversation between Aleyn and the daughter. Between the night that had happen and the romantic sentimentality between the two, Stillwell believes that Aleyn has a soft spot for the daughter. It's an interesting idea to think of. I like how it counteracts with the paper written by Zumdahl who says that Aleyn used the daughter to get his way and in sense, told her what she wanted to hear. But Stillwell seems to fighting for a more charming and sweet side of Aleyn. The article was published in The Journal of English and Germanic Philology and was published by University of Illinois Press which seems to be a credible press from the amount of article of this similar topic they have been involved with publishing. Stillwell is also a credible source from the amount of articles he has researched and published about Chaucer.
The Reeve’s Tale is a tale told by Oswald the Reeve who want’s to get back at the Miller. The miller, Symkyn, is a nasty man. He cheats his customers who come to the mill as well as frightens anyone on the street that passes by. No one wants to challenge him nor his family. His wife comes from a noble family and has an education and it can be argued that Symkyn only married her for her class and status. Yes, Symkyn has a lust for violence and he’s the guy that is always carrying around some sort of weapon, ready to fight. Despite how proud and violent Symkyn is, I am going to argue that Symkyn is not the “villain” or the “bad guy” of our tale. He might not be a fan favorite, especially when judging him on his actions, but the worst thing he has done that we know of so far, is cheat or steal his neighbors. The true “villains” of our tale, are the college students: John and Aleyn.
I plan to prove this argument by analyzing several different actions from several different characters. I want to go into depth about why Symkyn is the way he is based on his wife and background to give a reasoning behind some of his actions. Most importantly, I want to look more into the actions and thoughts behind John and Aleyn. They take advantage of the wife and his daughter. Some may argue that they didn’t fight back but there could be a reason behind that.
I believe my argument is significant especially when thinking about sexual violence in today’s world. Many victims are blamed or even their families or people they are around when in fact it’s only the rapist’s fault. I also think it’s significant to look into because many people seem to accept the reasoning behind the tale, that the Reeve told the story to show how awful the miller is but in fact, the college students are bit worse than that. It would be beneficial to look behind the reasonings of the sexual acts as well as to decide if the wife and daughter deserved any of it.
The article that I am completely against so far is the article by Stillwell. First of all, he’s arguing that there is love in both the Reeve’s tale and the Miller’s Tale. Though there might be traces of love, real or not, in The Miller’s Tale, I can confidently say there is not a trace of true love in The Reeve’s Tale. While reading the tale, there are no signs of love between Symkyn and his wife. It’s more business and professional. Their relationship seems to be intended of social class purposes only since Symkyn only wanted a wife who was a virgin and had an education who came from a great family. He wasn’t looking for love but for someone to help his status in society since he didn’t have an education and doesn’t seem to come from a strong family.
Stillwell focuses on the goodbye between Aley and the reeve’s daughter. Based on the language, he says that the farewell seems to be romantic and the daughter even confesses what she did to help her father against the college students. However, in another article written by Zumdahl, it’s pointed out that the daughter is only acting this way because she feels defeated. She lost her virginity so now that she isn’t ppure, she’ll have a hard time finding a husband. Because she was defeated, she is fawning over this man and being submissive to him because he gained all control of her. She couldn’t fight back. No one would believe her or would still put her at fault. Aleyn forced himself on the daughter for revenge as well as to find a way to use her in order to get what he wanted. There is no love hinted in the tale at all based on these actions.