The first thing I find interesting is the fact that Chaucer in fact at all, uses satire in terms of Courtly Love. The previous tale – the Knight’s tale – tells of the pain of Courtly Love and how it is taken extremely seriously and so the interest comes when the Miller’s Tale, which also contains elements of Courtly Love, is juxtaposed next to this. The Miller’s Tale responds to the Knight’s by turning Courtly Love into a rude joke for example by portraying any ‘romance’ in the tale in a sexually graphic way. For example Nicholas seduces Alison by grabbing her by the “queynte”.This completely satirises the cold of Courtly Love, as the code of Courtly Love involves only admiring from afar, or awaiting a simple glance. Nicholas is therefore used as Chaucer’s main way to satirise Courtly Love, in that he is the complete opposite to what noble following the code of Courtly Love should be.
For example, he speaks words of Courtly Love, but his actions do not match what he says. When speaking to Alison, Nicholas says “Lemman, love me al atones, or I wol dyen” yet he is holding “hire harde by the haunchebones”.Therefore I find it interesting that Chaucer is using elements of Courtly Love, in that the words Nicholas says to seduce Alison appear to be courtly, yet Nicholas only cares about having sex with her, which has nothing to do with the code of Courtly Love. Therefore it could be said that Nicholas is mocking the idea of Courtly Love, which in turn suggests that Chaucer is portraying that Courtly Love should not be respected. This links to the fact that the tale is told just after the Knight’s in that it acts as a response to say that Courtly Love is a joke.This point also links to numerous other themes in the Miller’s tale for example religion. Throughout the tale, religion is mocked for example the use of Noah’s Tale so that Alison and Nicholas can commit adultery, just as Courtly Love is satirised.
The fact that Chaucer also used religion in the satirising of Courtly Love is again showing that the church should not be taken seriously, just as Courtly Love should be mocked – “God save me”, “she hir love ghim graunted… and swoor hir ooth by Seint Thomas”.
This perhaps links to the people on the pilgrimage in that Chaucer is saying that anything sacred or holy should not be taken seriously, yet everyone on the pilgrimage is there for supposedly religious reasons. This point can also be supported by the use of satire when talking of Courtly Love, in the fact that Absolon claims to be in love with Alison so much that “hath in his here swich a love-longige that of no wyf he took”, yet when he is in church, supposedly carrying out religious duties, “many a lovely look on hem [the women sitting in the church] he caste”.This hence could be Chaucer’s/the Miller’s way of demonstrating that the pilgrims to whom he is telling the tale, are not in fact on the pilgrimage for religious reasons, but in fact to meet other people – just as Absolon is.
This is again shown in the fact that Chaucer is suggesting in the satirising of Courtly Love, that in fact, no one is truly pure or devout. This could again link to religion and therefore the people on the pilgrimage not truly being there to visit the shrine of a saint.This is again shown through the fact that Absolon is not in truth following the code of Courtly Love either.
For example, it is clear that Absolon wants more than a kiss from Alison – for after this [a kiss] I hope ther cometh moore” – yet this is not an aspect of Courtly Love, as the code traditionally is not about getting anything sexual, but simply imagining it. There is also an element of strangeness about what Absolon says to try and woo Alison which again makes Courtly Love a joke.Absolon tries to continue the image of Alison as being a young animal, by comparing himself to a baby sheep – “I moorne as dooth a lamb after the tete” and hence perhaps making himself appear similar to Alison, in that he is youthful. He in fact only results in making himself again appear feeble and pathetic by sounding like he is a baby that needs a bottle. This point is shown when Absolon’s attempts at Courtly Love fail – “he… weep as dooth a child that is ybete”.
Again Absolon is referred to as being childlike and hence not appropriate for pursuing Courtly Love.This image is again shown when Absolon claims “al the night thane wol I wake and pleye”. The terms “wake and pleye” are used by Absolon to mean make love (to Alison) however because of earlier descriptions and comments made about Absolon, we see the words “pleye” as being something a child would do, and shows again that Absolon is more like a needy child, than a lover and therefore the idea of Courtly Love being pursued by such a man is linked to the satire of Courtly Love in the Miller’s Tale.
The failure of Absolon is heightened by the small comparisons made by Chaucer between Nicholas and Absolon, in that Absolon may have some characteristics of Nicholas, yet she is only wooed by sexual means – not Courtly Love. For example, Chaucer comments that Absolon and Nicholas in fact play instruments and sing. Absolon is described as being able to sing like a nightingale – a bird’s voice often used to describe a woman’s singing, whereas Nicholas is said to be “ful often blessed was his mirie throte”.Due to these comparisons the audience is able to see who Alison would prefer, and therefore from the very beginning of the tale we can see that what Absolon is trying to do, and all the effort his is putting in – “he kembeth his lokkes brode and made him gay” – will amount to nothing. This therefore allows to audience to find all Absolon’s attempts humorous and thus the code of Courtly Love is made into a joke. The theme of religion is also used in the satirising of Courtly Love to emphasise the fact that what Alison and Nicholas are doing is in fact nothing to do with Courtly Love – which is often seen as being previous and divine.For example – “swoor hir ooth.
… the she wol been at his comandement”. The use of the word “comandement” links to the 10 Commandments in the Bible, hence Alison is suggesting that giving Nicholas her love is in fact religious. It is ironic however, that one of the 10 Commandments is “thou shalt not commit adultery” and therefore by using this word, the mockery of Courtly Love is shown, in that Alison and Nicholas have no desire to simply kiss, or worship each other from afar, but in fact break the religious code.What is also interesting about Chaucer’s use of satire is that the only character that in fact follows the code of Courtly Love more closely, does not get what he wants. Absolon stays awake all night, calls his love an illness – “maladie” – sings and “playen songs on a small rubible”, yet the result of his pains is that he gets tricked by Alison and Nicholas and ends up reverting to being as vulgar as Alison and Nicholas.
This is therefore demonstrating the earlier point that Chaucer is showing that Courtly Love does not work – people who pursue Courtly Love result in being humiliated and with nothing – “he ne hadde for his labour but a scorn”, yet those who seduce in a more vulgar way i. e. Nicholas, result in sleeping with the women they desire.
Chaucer supports this idea of mockery of Courtly Love by making Absolon worthy of ridicule himself. This is interesting, as Chaucer is making a point about the people who use Courtly Love – in that they should be ridiculed – yet the Miller is telling his tale to the Knight, who clearly respected Courtly Love.Chaucer takes time to make Absolon appear as being ridiculous and completely the wrong person to be partaking in Courtly Love ‘with’ Alison. For example Chaucer describes Absolon by saying, “his heer..
. strouted as a fanne large… with Poules window corven on his shoos” but then later going on to call Absolon a “joly lovere”.
The reader of the tale would never think of Absolon as a lover because of his appearance and general personality – in that he is called “joly” numerous times – and we can see that Alison would never choose Absolon over Nicholas.Therefore, because Absolon is the only character who uses Courtly Love, and the fact that he is an object of ridicule, makes Courtly Love appear to be a joke. This is again shown in Absolon’s use of Courtly Love.
For example, when Absolon sings it is, “in his vois gentil and small”, “brokkinge as a nightingale”. The words used to describe Absolon’s wooing of Alison through music, make him appear to be far too feminine (unlike Nicholas), as he sings in a small voice, and completely undesirable to anyone, especially Alison.The fact that his voice is “gentil” is also interesting, as it perhaps acts as a metaphor for Courtly Love itself, in that Chaucer is suggesting Courtly Love is feeble and pathetic – just like Absolon’s voice – and therefore should not be taken seriously – it is only for pathetic people, real men would not use Courtly Love. The contrast to this is another interesting way that Chaucer satirises Courtly Love, in that Absolon sees himself as a great man yet everyone else sees him as a fool.For example, Absolon comments that “if she [Alison] hadde been a mous, and he a cat, he wolde hire hente anon”, and that “he playeth Herodes upon a scaffold” in order to impress Alison, however Absolon is nothing like Herod – a threatening man – as Chaucer takes care to include that “he was somdeel squaymous of faring and of speche daungerous”. Therefore we can see that Absolon is in fact a nai?? ve fool in that he believes he is capable of wooing Alison – like a cat pouncing on a mouse, but through the rest of Chaucer’s description, we can see he comes across as a desperate fool.This mockery of Absolon allows the audience to see that he has no chance in wooing Alison, which emphasises the point that Chaucer makes in that Absolon appears desperate.
Courtly Love should be subtle, yet Chaucer explains that Absolon has tried everything to win Alison – “he sent hire pigment, meeth and spaiced ale, and wafres”. Chaucer also satirises Courtly Love using Alison’s response to Absolon. In Courtly Love the lady should ‘virtuously reject’ the lover’s passionate devotion, in spite of that Alison in fact “maketh Absolon hire ape” and tells Absolon to “go fro the window, Jakke fool… r I wol caste a ston”.
Therefore, Chaucer ensures that every element of the code of Courtly Love is not followed and in fact that the opposite occurs. Chaucer also uses Alison to satirise Courtly Love in that, in her description, he makes her out to be completely sexual and attainable by such methods as grabbing by the “haunchebones” which would not ever happen in Courtly Love. Chaucer, for instance, describes the low blouse Alison wears, and “hir lends [thighs]” – which would not be mentioned if the tale was to be about Courtly Love.Alison should not respond well to Nicholas grabbing parts of her body, and although she appears to threaten him to stop or she will shoud – “lat be Nicholas or I wol crie”, if she in fact followed the code of Courtly Love, she would shout without warning. The fact that words of Courtly Love are used in such a sexually graphic scene that will later lead to adultery again includes the idea of satire in that there is nothing Courtly about Alison and Nicholas’ intentions and therefore between lines 168 and 185 Courtly Love is satirised using irony.Therefore in the Miller’s Tale, Chaucer uses many interesting ways to satires Courtly Love. He uses mainly the characters and their faults to show the failings of Courtly Love – for example that Alison has no interest in anyone who uses it, and mocks the code by having Absolon – a ridiculed character – as the only character who pursues Alison using Courtly Love. The satirising of Courtly Love also links to other ideas of mockery and disrespect of traditionally honoured concepts (for example the church) and the belief that no one on the pilgrimage is truly religious.