The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
Kneading Trough, Tub, and Kimelin
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
"The Miller's Tale" is very specific about the tubs that John obtains for Alisoun, Nicholas, and himself to sleep in. It tells us John "gooth and geteth hym a knedyng-trogh / And after that a tubbe and a kymelyn" (512-513). A tub and a kymelyn, which is a vessel used for brewing beer, are both round. But a kneading-trough is a long oval or rectangular object used for kneading bread. Put these three together, as John does in his rafters, and what do you get? That's right, another penis. Or, more specifically, a penis and scrotum: the whole shebang as far as the male genitalia is concerned. Since there has already been talk in the tale about how men should not inquire into "God's pryvetee" – which could be a pun on the other meaning of privates, or genitals – some people think the outsized configuration hanging from John's rafters represents God's genitals. This interpretation gains credibility from the repetition of the word as John is hanging the tubs: "And pryvely he sent hem to his in, / And hang hem in the roof in pryvetee" (514-515), suggesting that we are meant to make a connection between this moment and the prior discussion of "God's pryvetee."