Chaucer's Miller's Tale as Low Tragedy Essay

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I found out why people laugh. They laugh because it hurts...because it is the only thing that can make it stop hurting. ---Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in Strange Land

Chaucer's The Miller's Tale has been scrutinized in hundreds of ways throughout the centuries in many different ways. Every time it has been looked at it has been taken at its face value as a comedy due to the tone of the miller and it's stature as a fabliaux. I am going to take a different view of the piece, a view from the other side of the fence as it were. I am going to view it as a tragedy.

The source of my argument originates in Robert Heinlein novel, Stranger in a Strange Land. The main character, Valentine Michael Smith, is the lone survivor of the
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The fact that multiple tragedies along with pacing, tone, and the use of `emission humor' is what makes us laugh, according to Heinlein. The characters in the tale are also lending themselves to the humor of the piece because they are either innocent or scoundrels. Looking at the characters and their actions more deeply can show the motivations I have for calling it a tragedy, just not in the classical sense.


This carpenter hadde wedded newe a wyf,

Which that he lovede moore than his lyf;

The Miller's Tale, p 68 3221-3222, The Riverside Chaucer

These two lines say quite a bit about John. His love for his wife leads to his gullibility, being cockled, and humiliated. He is a sad man, though he may not know it for this. His May-December romance with Alison is also a source of trouble for him as his love is unrequited which leads to public humiliation. Out of the action for the better part of the story, he is the main victim of the plot, but does not receive recompense for the actions taken against him by Nicholas and Alison.

His gullibility, brought on by the jealousy that he keeps for his young wife, clouds his vision, and keeps the true storm of the passion between Alison and Nicholas averted from his eyes. Although he blinds himself with overprotection of his wife, he is wealthy and a skilled carpenter, which says that he is an excellent carpenter, or shrewd himself. Keeping at least two servants in his home, he

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