The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
'Nay, thereof care thee noght,' quod Nicholas.
'A clerk had litherly biset his whyle,
But if he coude a carpenter bigyle.'
This passage sets up one of the major juxtapositions explored by "The Miller's Tale": the cunning clerks (students) versus the stupid peasants. The stereotype of the medieval peasant was all brawn and no brains. According to this logic, of course a clerk would be able to trick a carpenter. With this statement Nicholas reveals that he's buying into the stereotype.
A mery child he was, so God me save.
Wel coude he laten blood and clippe and shave,
And make a chartre of lond or acquitaunce.
Absolon is the parish clerk, in which capacity he writes charters and deeds, but it seems he also has a side-practice as a barber. (Barbers at this time also practiced blood-letting, which was thought to be beneficial to one's health.) The goal here seems to be to portray Absolon as a renaissance man or a jack-of-all-trades.
In twenty manere coude he trippe and daunce
After the scole of Oxenforde tho,
And with his legges casten to and fro,
And pleyen songes on a small rubible;
Therto he song somtyme a loud quinible;
And as wel coude he pleye on a giterne.
Absolon is talented in the arts: he's an accomplished dancer, singer, and guitar player. Yet, like he does in his description of Nicholas's fortune-telling, the narrator seems to diminish Absolon's talents. Here he fills our mind with funny images – like Absolon's legs casting to and fro, or Absolon singing in his high, thin, tenor – while also filling our ears with the somewhat whimsical rhyming of rubible and quinible.