The Miller’s Prologue

WHEN THAT THE Knight had thus his story told,

In all the crowd there was not young or old

Who didn’t say it was a noble story

And worthy to be called into memory.

The high-born ones, especially, felt this way.(5)

Our host did laugh and swear, “So I daresay,

This goes quite well; unbuckled is the sack.

Let ‘s see now who shall give a story back.

For certainly the game is well began.

Now tell to us, Sir Monk, if that you can(10)

Something to measure up to the Knight’s tale.”

The Miller, drunk enough to be all pale,

So that barely upon his horse he sat,

He would not lower neither hood nor hat,

Nor wait for any out of courtesy,(15)

But in the voice of Pilate ’gan to cry,

And then he swore, “By arms, by bones and blood,

I know a noble story for this crowd,

With which I will now equal the Knight’s tale.”

Our Host saw that the monk was drunk on ale,(20)

And said, “Hold off awhile, Robyn, dear brother;

Some better man shall first tell us another.

Hold off, and let us do this properly.”

“By soul of God,”said he, “that will not I;

For I will speak, or else go on my way.”(25)

Our Host answered, “Tell on, by devil’s way!

You are a fool; your wit is overcome.”

“Now hearken,” said the Miller, “all and some—

But first I make the protest all around

That I am drunk; I know it by my sound.(30)

And therefore if I misspeak or missay,

Blame that on ale of Southwark, I you pray.

For I will tell a legend and a life

Both of a carpenter and of his wife,

How that a clerk hath set the woodwright’s cap.”(35)

The Reeve answered and said, “Stop your claptrap!

Let be your lewd and drunken harlotry.

It is a sin and also great folly

To injure any man, or him defame,

And to bring wives into this kind of fame.(40)

You have enough of other tales to spin.”

This drunken miller spoke full soon again

And said, “My dearest brother Osewold,

A man who has no wife is no cuckold.

But I say not that therefore you are one;(45)

There have been quite good women, many a one,

And ever a thousand good against one bad.

You know this well yourself, unless you’re mad.

Why are you angry with my story now?

I have a wife, by God, as well as thou;(50)

Yet won’t I, for the oxen at my trough,

Take on more than I know to be enough

And say about myself that I am one;

I will believe truly that I am none.

A husband shall not be inquisitive(55)

Of God’s secrets, nor how his woman lives.

As long as he finds God’s plenty in her,

Of all the rest he needs not to inquire.”

What have I more to say, but this miller

Would not his words for any man defer,(60)

But told his boorish tale in his own style.

I feel regret repeating it this while.

And therefore, every proper man, I pray,

For love of God, do not take what I say

As meant in evil, for I must rehearse(65)

All of their tales, be they better or worse.

For if I don’t, I’m false to my subject.

And therefore, anyone who might object,

Now turn the page and choose another tale;

For he shall find enough, both great and small,(70)

Of history that deals with nobleness,

And, too, morality and holiness.

And don’t blame me if you should choose amiss.

The Miller is a churl, you well know this.

So was the Reeve also and others too,(75)

And harlotry was in their stories two.

Advise yourself, and put me out of blame,

For men should not make earnest of a game.

Footnotes

  1. A "churl" is a contemptible, base fellow that is generally associated with crude or sexually explicit behavior. In describing the Miller using this term, the narrator prepares the reader for the story that will follow and gives the reader an explanation for the content of the story. Notice also that the Miller is a character from a low class. His rude story and churlish description aligns this character with the stereotypes of his class.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The narrator uses this caveat to excuse himself from the rudeness of the Miller's tale. The reader is given agency to choose another tale and therefore the narrator cannot be to blame for the content that follows. In this way, the narrator is allowed to remain neutral and likable while the tale that follows is able to push moral boundaries.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Remember that in the prologue we learned that the Reeve is also a carpenter. The Reeve's anger here could mean that he identifies with the story that is about to be told.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Both the Knight and the Miller tell stories about a love triangle that tears men apart. However, while the Knight's tale revolves around chivalry and contains allusions to classical mythology, the Miller's tale is mostly concerned with body humor. While this juxtaposition makes the Miller's tale more absurd and amusing, it could also demonstrate Chaucer's attempt to show similarities between the high and low classes since both experience love triangles.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. "Pilate" is an allusion to Pontius Pilate, the man who orders Jesus's crucifixion. The Miller interrupts the Monk, who is comes next in the social order, so that he can tell his story. His failure to remove his hat demonstrates his disrespect for the other pilgrims and the tavern, while his "Pilate" voice suggests that this character is blasphemous. This introduction to the Miller's tale foreshadows the inappropriate and crude tale that will follow.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor