The True Face of Lowbrow Humor Essay

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Following Chaucer’s description of the Miller in the General Prologue, The Miller’s Tale reveals a man who is more complex than his appearance initially suggests. The Miller’s Tale is a fabliau that consists of events of “cuckoldry,” “foolishness,” and “secrets” (1720, 1718, and 1719). Given the bawdy humor of his story, the Miller would seem to be crude and superficial. As the tale unfolds, it depicts how the norms of society trap John’s wife, Alison, in her marriage. Despite his fondness for vulgarity and fraudulence, the Miller is surprisingly sympathetic toward Alison. In his attempt to outdo the Knight, the Miller sacrifices decorum for the sake of entertainment, demonstrating his coarse and rebellious nature. The Miller’s bawdy…show more content…
Similarly, the Miller’s characters use guile as frequently as the Miller does. In their affair, both Nicholas and Alison devise a plan to trick the jealous John. While speaking to John alone, Nicholas warns him of a flood to come and states he “must not waste words on the wise;” however, Nicholas tricks the so-called “wise” carpenter and has intercourse with John’s wife after John falls asleep (1727). Furthermore, Absolom begs for a kiss from Alison, but she “beard[s]” him, another instance of bawdy deceit (1730). Thus, the disposition toward treachery that Chaucer notes is evident in the Miller’s characters as they trick multiple people, actions which exemplify the Miller’s immoral nature. Although the Miller is a coarse and deceptive individual, he reveals a sympathetic nature in his tacit approval of Alison’s actions. Chaucer depicts the Miller as a “big-beefed” “yokel,” who can break a door by “running at it with his head” (1712). Because of these physical characteristics, most readers would assume that he is a strong, dense, and churlish man. However, reflecting on Cato’s words that “man should marry his like,” the Miller notes that Alison is trapped in her marriage to a man older than she, an insight that shows not only his empathy but also his intelligence (1720). Moreover, the Miller portrays each man in a negative light throughout the tale but not Alison: he describes the

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