Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Reeve's Tale" - Summary and Linguistic Examination

Presentation (Elaboration), 2007

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0


1. Who ist the Reeve?

According to the general prologue the Reeve was choleric, i.e. dominated by the humor called choler (or yellow bile), and thus hot-tempered by nature. (Lines 587- 622) à“The Reve was a sclendre colerik man.” (587)

The Reeve in the prologue: A Reeve was a manager and accountant on an estate or manor and chosen from among the serfs.

As we stated once, several surnames derived from former professions. à Christopher Reeve

Precise description of the Reeve in the general prologue, translated into Modern English: “Choleric, had a shaved beard, hairs cut off above his ears, his top was cut short like that of a priest, long and thin legs like a staff, no calf was seen. Well could he keep a granary, well he knew by drought and rain the yielding of his seed and his grain, his lords sheep, his cattle, his cows, his pigs, his horses, his livestock and his poultry was wholly under this reeves governing, and by his contract he gave the reckoning since his lord was twenty year of age. No man could bring him in arrears.There was no overseer, nor herdsman, nor other servant thatdid not know his cunning, and his deceit. They were afraid of him as of the death.His dwelling was fair upon the heath.He knew better than his lord how to increase his possession. He was very rich, he lend his own lord from his own resources in sly ways, he was good in trade and a good craftsman, the reeve sat on a horse that was dappled grey and named Scot. He was from Norfolk and wore a blue coat.” (Lines 587- 622)

The character of the Reeve is also reflected in the prologue of the Reeve’s predecessor. The Miller is about to tell his story and the Reeve gets immediately irritated, he says: “The Reve answerde and seyde, “Stint thy clappe! Lat be thy lewed dronken harloytrye. It is a sinne and eek a greet folye To apeiren any man, or him diffame, And eek to bringen wyves in swich fame. Thou mayst y-noght of othere thinges seyn.” (Lines 36- 41)

The Reeve warns the miller not to disparage any man or even to talk lewdly about a woman. His threat indeed is a hypocrisy since the Reeve himself recourses to a disparaging vocabulary in his forthcoming tale.

Chaucerapologizes for the Miller and the Reeve in the Miller’s Prologue: “The Millere is a cherl, ye knowe wel this; So was the Reve eek and othere mo, And harlotrye they tolden bothe two. Avyseth yow and putte me out of blame; And eek men shal nat maken ernest of game.”(74- 78)

Modern English: “The miller was a churlyou well know this; So was the reeve, and many another more, And ribaldrythey told from plenteous store. Be then advised, and hold me free from blame; Men should not be too serious at a game.”

2. Summary of the Reeve’s Prologue

Chaucer writes that everybody had enjoyed the story of the Miller, which told about a carpenter that is tricked, but with one exception- the Reeve, as he is a carpenter himself: “Ne at this tale I saugh no man him greve, But it were only Osewold the Reve. By because he was of carpenteres craft, A litel ire in his herte y-laft.” (5- 8)

The Reeve says he could well tell a story in return in which a proud miller is deceived, but he is too old to recourse to such ribaldries: “If that me liste speke of ribaudye. But ik am old; me list not pley for age.” (12-13)

The Reeve then speaks about his age, for instance: “Myn herte is also mowled as myne heres” (16); ME= “my heart is as mouldy as is my hair”. And only four embers would still remain: Boasting, lying, anger and avarice. àThe Reeve is at least honest about his negative streaks.

He compares his life with a wine cask which tap had started to run a long time ago: “And ever sithe hath so the tappe y-ronne, Til that almost al empty is the tonne.” (39- 40)

And since he is that old he will not speak with a “silly tongue” of wretchedness.

The host replies to the sermon of the Reeve: “What shul we speke alday of Holy Writ?” (48) ME= “Why must we speak the whole day of holy things?”

The host is teasing the Reeve again and emphasizes again that the Reeve should at last start with his tale:“The devel made a reve for to preche.”(49)

The Reeve says he will pay back force with force. Means he will pay back the insult he had received beforehand from the Miller:“Right in his cherles termes wol I speke. I pray to God his nekke mote tobreke.”(63- 64) à It depicts that the Reeve is indeed choleric and still irritated.

3. Summary of the tale

At last the tale starts. The Reeve talks about a miller called Simkin, who was “as eny pecok he was proud and gay”(72) and a great swaggerer at markets. The miller protected himselfwith al lot of cutlasses. He was a thief of the grain and meal that people entrusted him to grind. He was married to the daughter of the parson of the town. She was “proud, and pert as is a pye”(96). And nobody dared to address her because they feared the daggers of the miller.

They had a daughter of 20 years and a six month old son. Chaucer describes the daughter as “with buttokes brode and brestes rounde”(121). The parson wanted her to be married “into som worthy blood of auncetrye”. (128)

The miller had the monopoly of the land as regards malt and wheat. And there was a big college named Soler Halle that let its wheat and malt ground by the miller. When one time the manciplewas ill, the miller seized the opportunity and stole even more flour and corn. The warden of the college accused him but the miller said he was innocent.

Then there were two students (John and Alain) of the college who were hardy and bold and asked the warden for leave. They said they wanted to observe the miller and prevent that he steal anything. The warden complies.

The two blokes went to the miller and said him that they wanted him to grind their corn, as they expect that the manciple will die soon. They state that they will stand right beside the funnel to look how the corn runs in (out of interest as they feign). The miller says: “But, by my thrift, yet shall I blere hire ye” (195)

The miller goes out and unties the bridle of the boys´ horse, which immediately dashes off. The boys are in a fuss and forget all their flour. John is blaming Alain and the both of them run behind the horse in order to catch it.


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Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Reeve's Tale" - Summary and Linguistic Examination
Martin Luther University
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This draft summarizes the results of a linguistic examination of Chaucer's Reeve's Tale (Canterbury Tales).
geoffrey, chaucer, reeve, tale, summary, linguistic, examination
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Toni Friedrich (Author), 2007, Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Reeve's Tale" - Summary and Linguistic Examination, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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