The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Somtyme, to shewe his lightnesse and maistrye,
He pleyeth Herodes on a scaffold hye.
Playing Herod in the local play is Absolon's attempt to get Alisoun's attention. It fails, but we at least learn more about his numerous artistic talents. Unfortunately for Absolon, our admiration is tempered by how pathetic he seems in setting himself up for constant rejection.
. . . Nicholas shal shapen him a wyle
This sely jalous housbond to bigyle;
And if so be the game went aright,
She sholde slepen in his arm al night.
Here John is called "sely," or foolish, reflecting Nicholas and Alisoun's opinion of him. Calling the deception in which these two are about to engage a "game" implies that they regard the whole affair with a lack of seriousness. It is not the love affair of their lives, merely a night of good fun.
Men sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryvetee.
Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man,
That noght but oonly his bileve can!
The unlearned, John suggests here, actually have an advantage in only knowing their Apostle's Creed, because this prevents them from getting confused or damaged by arcane, dangerous knowledge. The reference to "Goddes pryvetee," which recurs several times in the course of the tale, could be a dirty joke: "pryvetee" can refer to genitalia, and in a tale chock-full of sex, this meaning may not be too much of a stretch.