The Reeve's Tale

The Reeve’s Tale, which is a response to The MIller’s Tale, is a story in which two university students decide to have some meal made by a miller. The two students, Alein and John, both know that the miller has been stealing percentages of the meal from the townspeople when they go to him for his service. After purposely setting themselves up to not lose sight of their product, the miller (Symkyn) decides to untie the students’ horse from the post. This causes the students to go out and attempt to find their horse. While the students are gone, John steals half a bushel of their flour.
It is nighttime by the time John and Alein return from retrieving the horse. The students ask for a place to sleep for the night. The miller allows them to sleep in his one room home. There are three beds present. One for the miller and his wife, one for their daughter, and one for the students. The students lie in bed and Alein decides to take advantage of the miller’s drunkenness and goes into the bed with his daughter. She and John have sex three times throughout the night. The wife wakes up to use the restroom, and John decides to move the baby’s cradle to his bedside. This confused the wife when she returned from relieving herself. She thought that the bed that the cradle was near was her own and she entered that bed with John. John then laid on top of her and they had sex as well.
Once Alein and the daughter woke from their sleep, the daughter told Alein where to find the flour that had been stolen from them. Alein then went to wake John, but found that the cradle was near John’s bed. This confused Alein, so he jumped in the other bed, thinking it was the bed that John was in. Alein began telling the person sleeping in the bed that he had sex with the miller’s daughter three times that night. Alein did not realize that the person sleeping in the bed was not John, but the miller. The miller became enraged with anger and began fighting and arguing with Alein. The wife wakes up and then clubs her own husband down as she thought that it was John and Alein arguing. John and Alein then grab their stolen flour and leave the property.


A ful fair sighte was it upon hem two;
On halydayes biforn hire wolde he go
With his typet wounde aboute his heed,
And she cam after in a gyte of reed;
And Symkyn hadde hosen of the same.
Ther dorste no wight clepen hire but "dame";
Was noon so hardy that wente by the weye
That with hire dorste rage or ones pleye,
But if he wolde be slayn of Symkyn
With panade, or with knyf, or boidekyn.
For jalous folk ben perilous everemo -- (Lines 3951-3962).

This is a quote from “The Reeve’s Tale” from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is describing the miller and his wife. This is important to the tale so the reader understands full well just how the relationship between Symkyn and his wife operates. With this excerpt, Chaucer gives us a few pieces of information that are important to the story. The first piece that is telling of what type of relationship they have is when Chaucer tells us that Symkyn would walk ahead of his wife. This shows that he is parting the way for her and that she is to follow him. The color of clothing that Chaucer has them wear is important as well. Red is a color that symbolizes passion, love, and danger. All three of these are important to what will be told to the reader later in the story. The next few lines show the readers just how protective of his wife Symkyn is. Chaucer writes that no one would ever dare to call Symkyn’s wife anything but “dame” or “lady” which shows just how much respect he demands everyone to give her. Also, Chaucer goes on to explain to us what would happen if anyone even flirted or played around with his wife. This would result in death by Symkyn’s knife or dagger. With this pasage, Chaucer sets up the relationship between Symkyn and his wife and shows us just how protective of his wife Symkyn is, which will come into play later in the story.

This millere smyled of hir nycetee,
And thoghte, "Al this nys doon but for a wyle.
They wene that no man may hem bigyle,
But by my thrift, yet shal I blere hir ye,
For al the sleighte in hir philosophye.
The moore queynte crekes that they make,
The moore wol I stele whan I take.
In stide of flour yet wol I yeve hem bren.
`The gretteste clerkes been noght wisest men,'
As whilom to the wolf thus spak the mare.
Of al hir art counte I noght a tare." (Lines 4046-4056).

Trickery is a main theme in “The Reeve’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales. This excerpt is showing how the miller, Symkyn, is aware of the trickery that the two students, Alein and John, are attempting to pull on him. The quote begins with the miller smiling at their foolishness. In this moment, Symkyn was smart enough to recognize that John and Alein were simply trying to fool him. They had previously stated to each other, loud enough so that Symkyn could hear, that they would position themselves at the start and end of the milling process. They did this so that the grain had no chance of being stolen by Symkyn. Symkyn realizes that they did this for that specific reason. Symkyn says that the more trickery they attempt, the more grain he will take when it is time for him to trick them again. This is important because later in the story, John and Alein “one-up” Symkyn when they realize that he has indeed tricked them and stolen grain from them. Symkyn goes on to say that he doesn’t care if they are educated or not, and “all their learning I reckon not worth a weed.” (4056). Again, this is laughable in the end as the students are smart enough to ultimately trick not only Symkyn, but his entire family.

This John stirte up as faste as ever he myghte,
And graspeth by the walles to and fro,
To fynde a staf; and she stirte up also,
And knew the estres bet than dide this John,
And by the wal a staf she foond anon,
And saugh a litel shymeryng of a light,
For at an hole in shoon the moone bright,
And by that light she saugh hem bothe two,
But sikerly she nyste who was who,
But as she saugh a whit thyng in hir ye.
And whan she gan this white thyng espye,
She wende the clerk hadde wered a volupeer,
And with the staf she drow ay neer and neer,
And wende han hit this Aleyn at the fulle,
And smoot the millere on the pyled skulle,
That doun he gooth, and cride, "Harrow! I dye!"
Thise clerkes beete hym weel and lete hym lye,
And greythen hem, and tooke hir hors anon,
And eek hire mele, and on hir wey they gon.
And at the mille yet they tooke hir cake
Of half a busshel flour, ful wel ybake. (Lines 4292- 4312).

This quote from “The Reeve’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer is where all is made right in the eyes of the students, John and Alein, as well as the rest of the village that looks to Symkyn to provide the milling services. Before this passage, Alein thought that he was entering the bed that his friend, John, was in, but actually entered the bed in which Symkyn, the miller, was asleep. Alein starts to brag to the miller about how he “screwed the miller’s daughter” (4266). This enrages the miller and a fight begins. The effects of the trickery played by the students comes into play again here in this passage. With the commotion that is caused by Alein and Symkyn beginning to fight, the wife and John wake up and attempt to find a club to stop the fight. The wife knows the house better and finds a club first. Due to the cleverness of the students, the wife assumes that both figures fighting are the students. She then swings the club at one of the men and strikes him down to the ground. This man was in fact not one of the students, but her own husband. Once John and Alein realize that the husband is down, they beat him some more and then depart. While departing, they grab their meal as well as the cake that the wife baked with the flour that Symkyn had stolen from them. The trickery played by the students end up trumping the trickery that Symkyn had played himself. It was fitting for the thieving miller to be struck dead since he had been tricking and stealing from the entire village for as long as he did.


Delasanta, Rodney. “The Mill in Chaucer’s ‘Reeve’s Tale’.” The Chaucer ReviewVol. 36, No.3. Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press. 2002. 270-276. Print.

In “The Mill in Chaucer’s ‘Reeve’s Tale’”, Delasanta writes about the meaning and symbolism of the mill in “Reeve’s Tale.” Delasanta says that the mill is a symbol of the end times, an apocalyptic symbol. It is also said that the mill is a double entendre as the grinding of the corn, which turns the corn into flour for baking, is symbolic of the beginning of life and creation. Of course, creation comes from sex and the mill symbolizes this with the use of the mill stone on the mill itself. Delasanta refers to a line that Symkyn uses where he says that he will take the students’ flour and return them bran (4053), and says that this is returned by Alein as he takes Symkyn’s daughter’s flower, or virginity, and replaces it with a “deflowered. . . wench” (Delasanta 271). Delasanta also speaks on Greek dramas having sexual themes underneath sacred themes and how Chaucer does the opposite. Many authors and essays are referenced by Delasanta which come from legitimate sources themselves. Rodney Delasanta received his Ph. D. in English Literature, his M.A. in English literature, as well as his B.A. in English from Brown University. He taught many courses at Providence College, which included a course titled, “Chaucer.

Garbaty, Thomas Jay. “Satire and Regionalism: The Reeve and His Tale.” The Chaucer Review Vol. 8, No. 1. Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press. Summer 1973. 1-8. Print.

Garbaty speaks on the dialects used by the university students, John and Alein, and refers to the location from which they come as to why they speak the way that they do. Chaucer’s audience would understand that people from a certain area and a certain school would have a specific way in which they spoke as well as what they held valuable compared to someone as lowly as a miller. Obviously, with the many years and generations passing since Chaucer’s time, much of that knowledge is no more. Garbaty states that Chaucer’s target audience would have been the “courtly” London audience. These people would have seen the comedic value of a character such as the Reeve. The Reeve’s language would have been considered crude and would not have fit in such company as Chaucer’s target audience. Understanding of what the Reeve was saying would even be tough for the courtly London audience. Thomas J. Gartaby reveived his Ph. D. from University of Pennsylvania and then taught Medieval literature at University of Michigan for over thirty years. His expertise in the field allowed him to author a book entitled, Medieval English Literature, which is still used in universities throughout the world.

Justman, Stewart. “‘The Reeve’s Tale’ and the honor of men.” Studies in Short Fiction 32.1. Literature Resource Center. Winter 1995. 21. Print.

Justman’s article explains just how men can be so concerned with their self and the way they are viewed, that they are willing to take another man’s wife. Justman writes about Symkyn’s view of himself and how that affects the way others look at him and what happens to him because of this. Focusing on “The Miller’s Tale” as well, Justman explains what a male cuckold is blind to. Justman explains how each man in “The Reeve’s Tale” is very concerned with honor and how they are looked at by others. Justman points out that even when Symkyn’s wife is raped by one of the students, Symkyn’s immediate cry is about the “injury to his honor.” The same reaction is given when Symkyn finds out his daughter was raped. I find this to be very important to who the character is. Justman concludes that the three men in the story, Symkyn, John, and Alein are quite awful people for doing what they have done and that they should keep their pride on a shelf. Pride leads to a “violent mania,” as Justman puts it. Stewart Justman was the director of the Humanities program and University of Montana and has received the PEN Award for the Art of the Essay. He received his Ph. D. from Columbia University.

During my research, a couple of related trends have stood out to me regarding language used in “The Reeve’s Tale” as well as overall in The Canterbury Tales. I have noticed that a lot of the focus by scholars regarding “The Reeve’s Tale” has been on dialects used by the students, John and Alein, compared to the dialect used by the miller, Symkyn. Not only that, but there have been studies and articles written about the language that Chaucer used in general and its use during the time when Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales.
The dialect from the northern part of England, which is where the students are from, seem to be examined often by scholars that are studying “The Reeve’s Tale”. There is a focus on the comedy of this usage of northern dialect.
Philology seems to be a focus of scholars recently. I know that Chaucer decided to write the poem in Middle English rather than Latin. This seems to have pushed the usage of Middle English in literature during that time. Clearly, this is an interesting piece of history that should have scholars’ focus.
In my search for sources, I have found that most results come back with a focus on the language. Whether that be the dialects spoken or the use of Middle English in the poem, the focus seems to be mainly on the wordage used by either Chaucer or the characters in the poem. I intend to focus on that a bit myself and search deeper for sources regarding the dialects used by the students as well as the place in society that each character has.

I really would like to focus a lot on the language used tied into the social status of university students in comparison to a laborer like Symkyn, the miller. Many sources have said that there was a comedic approach used by Chaucer to highlight this separation. While reading the text I saw that Symkyn was looking down on the students, John and Alein, as if although they were smart in a scholarly sense, they did not have what we call today “street knowledge”. I will be approaching the question of how the working class looked at the upper class and those that could afford an education.
I know that today a similar approach is taken by people that are not classically educated towards those that have attended a form of higher education. My research will focus on why Symkyn looks at the students in this light. Is it jealousy? Is it frustration with people being labeled “smarter” than him? Is it the arrogance that gets attached to college students? Obviously it could be a whole variety of reasons that cause Symkyn to view John and Alein in this light, but I would like to know what the common man of that time thought of the educated.
With studying this, I hope to find an overall stance of social status of the time. I want to look at it from the miller’s stance as well as the students’ stance.

Allman, W.W. “Sociolinguistics, Literature, and the ‘Reeve's Tale’.” English Studies, 85.5 (2004): 385-404. Taylor & Francis Online. Web. 7 November 2017.

This source is taking a common approach with studies done by scholars and looking at it from a different viewpoint. Allman argues that the approach by Tolkien and others are too focused, and that Chaucer had an approach to linguistics and philology that was more broad. I think it is important to look at both this argument as well as Tolkien’s in order for me to have a better understanding of what the use of the foreign dialect means as far as social status. Allman says that other scholars have also just touched briefly on what he will be discussing and arguing in his work, the difference in dialects between Symkyn and the two students, John and Alein. A solid focus on this is necessary for my research and where I am planning on focusing while writing the paper. WW Allman has been published in The Chaucer Review and has been cited by scholars eleven times from that article. Although there have only been four citations for the article I am using, I still believe that it will be helpful towards my research. Being published in The Chaucer Review holds weight in the world of Chaucer and Middle Ages literature. With four editions being published every year since 1966, the community has validated the review and therefore anyone being published in the review should be considered a valid source of information on the subject.

Taylor, Joseph. “Chaucer’s Uncanny Regionalism: Rereading the North in The Reeve’s Tale.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 109.4 (2010): 468-489. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2017.

This article is about the use of the dialect from the northern part of England. Taylor focuses on more than just the comedy of the usage of the dialect by John and Alein, and additionally focuses on the hostile divide of the country into two sides: the north and the south. With the south being the enemy to Scotland, the north found themselves in a tough spot. Would they be loyal to the rest of England, or give the land to Scotland (not literally, but allow the Scottish people to be on the northern part of England with much contest from the north). Taylor’s dive into the history of this relationship between the north, the south, and even Scotland is much more in depth than previous scholars had looked.
While doing research on Taylor’s credibility, I found that he has a very in depth study of Middle English literature as well as a focus on Chaucer. Taylor received two B.A.s from Virginia Tech University (one in English and one in History). He received his masters from the Virginia Tech as well in English Literature, and went on to receive PhD. in Medieval and Renaissance Literature from University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Taylor is now an assistant professor at University of Alabama in Huntsville and teaches many courses that are focused on Middle English literature, the history of the English language, medieval literature, and Chaucer. These facts give him a lot of credibility when it comes to this subject. My paper will focus on the English language used in a story written by Chaucer during the time in which Middle English was used. Dr. Taylor teaches courses on all of these subjects.
(In this article, I found a citation of a previous article I selected: “Satire and Regionalism in ‘The Reeve’s Tale’” by Thomas Garbaty.)

Ellis, Deborah S. “Chaucer's Devilish Reeve.” The Chaucer Review, 27.2 (1992): 150-161. JSTOR. Web. 9 November 2017.

This article is one that focuses on the language as well, but not just simply the language. Ellis argues that the miller, Symkyn, as well as the reeve are connected with the devil through the text. She says, “the diabolical qualities of the Reeve are not peripheral but central,” (Ellis 150). Ellis also says that the actions and words of the Reeve are more “sharply focused and fully characterized than has been recognized” (Ellis 150) by previous scholars. Ellis goes beyond the words used in the tale, and begins to examine the Reeve as a person. She asks (and explores) about his appearance, the way he is looked at by others, his dwelling, and his association with the devil. There is also a link between Fragment I and III of The Canterbury Tales that is looked at through “The Reeve’s Tale” and “The Friar’s Tale.”
While searching for Ellis to ensure her credibility, I found that she received her doctorate from University of California, Berkley in comparative literature and medieval studies. She has been published many times and cited many times as well. I found that she had been in the process of writing a book about Chaucer and the image drawn of women in medieval times. She is clearly educated and has done extensive work in the field, especially in regards to Chaucer.


Chaucer used the students from the north and the simple miller from the south to symbolize the strain between the north and the south of England. The feud between the students and Symkyn is similar to the feud between northern England and southern England in regards to Scotland. The tale goes beyond what earlier scholars such as Tolkien had focused on, the philological comedy.

The truth of the matter is that to simply say that Chaucer was making fun of the northerners and their dialects is completely elementary. Looking beyond the dialects, you see that “The Reeve’s Tale” is more of a commentary on the separation of northern and southern England. In the south, the north was viewed as soft. The northerners were not required to join in battle during The Hundred Years War, and they were repeatedly invaded by Robert Brus, the Scottish king, in the early fourteenth century.

What happened when these northern communities were invaded and taken over? Brus demanded that money be paid to them so that the Scottish armies would flee and leave the northern English safe and alone. Due to the fact that most of the money of the country was in the south, southern towns would have to pay the ransom in order to keep the northerners safe.

This can obviously cause a conflict in any sort of relationship. The conflict eventually got to the point that Northumbrians did not feel as if their English king was doing enough to protect them. Therefore, an agreement was made between the Northumbrians and the Scots. This is another example of why there is a conflict between the north and south.

Being born and raised in London, you could imagine that Chaucer would have negative views towards the north. This is shown through his story, “The Reeve’s Tale.” As much as modern scholars appreciate the work of previous scholars’ approach to the analysis of the tale and its commentary on northern dialect, the message goes deeper than a simple philological outlook.


Jewell, Helen M. The North-South Divide: The Origins of Northern Consciousness in England. Manchester University Press, 1994.

Jewell gives a great history on the way that northern England came to having their own views and stances in comparison to the southern half of England. In her chapter titled, “The beginnings of northern consciousness” she cites many reasons as to why there is a separation and a disagreement between the north and the south. The main issue between the south and the north seemed to be the way that the north handled Scotland and its advances compared to what the south preferred the north to do in those situations. Jewell speaks of instances where the south had to pay a ransom to Scotland in order to free northern cities and villages from the Scottish control. She also says that the north ended up making an agreement with Scotland to allow them access to the land. Jewell goes on to explain more of the relationship and why there is such a divide. I will be able to use this information to explain Symkyn’s view of the northerners, John and Alein.

Helen Jewell is an author that has had seventeen of her works published eighty-two times. Her focus is consistently on medieval history. Every piece that has been published of hers has had the history of either England or Europe as the theme.

Musgrove, Frank. The North of England: A History from Roman Times to the Present. Basil

Blackwell, 1990.

In this book, Musgrove speaks on how the northern section of England operated from the time of Roman invasion to the modern day. With this, he focuses on the 14th century which is the time in which Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. Musgrove says that when The Hundred Years War was taking place, there was no requirement for northerners to fight. It is also said by Musgrove, that there were no northern leaders fighting Scotland when they were attempting to gain their independence from England. There is a major focus on the feud between the Scots and the British and where the north stood on the issued compared to where the south stood on the issue. Mugrove also focuses on The War of Roses and how it went from a battle between two families in the north to a war including the entire country. All of this combined can show why there would be hostility between people of the north and people of the south.

Frank Musgrove is an author that has seventeen distinct works. He has mostly authored books in regards to societal order. This shows that he has credibility when looking at the functions of a society. Anyone that has been published this many times about a certain subject should be looked at as a valuable and credible source of information.

Dyer, Christopher. Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages: Social Change in England, c.
1200-1520. Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Dyer discusses the changes that occurred in the later middle ages, specifically in England during the time that Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. He focuses on the differences that came with job titles and social statuses. As Dyer says, focusing on the overall quality of life of peasants of the time is hard because most peasants were illiterate. Even if a peasant was able to write, the documents that they created held no worth, and therefore would not be placed in any sort of library. Due to these facts, there are two ways that peasant life in the middle ages is studied by scholars: the building of models income and expenditure, and to search for direct evidence of quality of homes, food, and clothing. Dyer explores both options in order to study peasants’ lives during the time. This will be helpful to understand the overall outlook of someone of a lower class to those that are considered higher class due to education. Although the miller, Symkyn, is not a peasant, it can show the relationship between a person purchasing the meal and the miller. This information will also show just how much stealing from the customers affects the miller and the customer.
In the chapter Dyer writes about wage-earners, we get great information about the ost of items. Specifically, we see that in the time immediately after the publication of The Canterbury Tales, the cost of wheat skyrocketed, but previously would only cost half of a worker’s wage in order to receive a substantial amount of wheat. This is important to note because Symkyn obviously dealt with wheat, so the price of wheat per bushel would affect the milling and the response to stolen meal.
Christopher Dyer has an extensive background in the field of medieval studies. Many of his publications have been on the subject. He typically focuses on the midlands of England during the time, which is helpful for this project as Symkyn is suspected to be located somewhere in that region. In 2008, Dyer was appointed as Commander of the Order of the British Empire. This holds a lot of weight in England, obviously. His in depth studying of the middle ages makes any work of his a credible source for a project based in this time period.


In “The Reeve’s Tale and the Honor of Men” by Stewart Justman, it is argued that “The Reeve’s Tale” is written as a commentary on how honor is viewed at the time. Justman says, essentially, that men should stay in their lane. Although, I do not agree with the statement by itself, I do disagree that Chaucer is attempting to have this be the main idea behind “The Reeve’s Tale.”

Chaucer is showing us just how the northern part of England differs from the southern part and how that is a conflict. Evidence from Jewell and Musgrove show us that there is a deep history between the north and south that isn’t completely positive due to issues regarding Scottish invasions. We have Symkyn that works with his hands day in and day out in order to feed his family. Although he is a thief, he still works. This is parallel to how the south gets their hands dirty in war. Then, we have John and Alein as students that don’t seem to typically do much work but study. This is similar to the way the north allowed Scotland to come in and take their land.

This leads me to believe that Justman misread the story. I understand that there can be different ways that people interpret a story, but Justman’s is flat out wrong.

Aaron Canterbury
Calendar for Medievalist for a Semester
Sat 9/23- Read “Reeve’s Tale”, Search for resources
Sun 9/24- Outline 200 page summary (for Checkpoint #2), Write Annotated Bibliography, Choose quotations for critical analysis.
Week of 9/25-9/30- Write 200 page summary, Outline quote analysis.
Sun 10/1- Write one quote analysis, email you progress to see how things are.
Week of 10/2-10/7- Read feedback and continue on my path, or change components of work already finished. If no issues, write last two analyses.
10/8-10/12- Fix any issues in my work if need be and finish Checkpoint #2.
10/13- Turn in Checkpoint #2
10/14- Gather three new entries for Annotated Bibliography. Write 2 Annotations
10/21- Write 3rd annotation. Outline reflection.
Week of 10/23- 10/27- Write reflection.
10/28- Outline Query
Week of 10/30- 11/3- Write Query
11/6- Turn in Checkpoint #3
Week of 11/6-11/10- Schedule meeting with you. Begin work for abstact journal
11/11- Outline abstract journal
Week of 11/13-11/17- Write abstract journal
11/18- Annotated Bibliography
Week of 11/20-11/24- Research and outline argument against scholarly article
11/25-11/28- Write argument.
I’m not really clear on the Journal Article requirements yet, but I will set up a calendar as soon as I understand them.