The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Of derne love he coude and of solas;
And therto he was sleigh and ful privee,
And lyk a mayden meke for to see.
The love in which Nicholas partakes must be kept "derne," or hidden, because it's illicit, occurring with married women. Nicholas's slyness and privacy are necessary to protect him from those who would condemn his affairs, and his appearing like a meek maiden is a disguise similarly taken up to protect himself from censure.
'Myn housbond is so ful of jalousye,
That but ye wayte wel and been privee,
I woot right wel I nam but deed,' quod she.
'Ye moste been ful derne, as in this cas.'
Alisoun's request for caution and secrecy accord well with Nicholas's character. The story also suggests that this is the character of clerks more generally. Nicholas decides to seduce Alisoun while John is away in part because "clerkes been ful subtile and ful queynte" (clerks are sly) (172).
'A clerk had litherly biset his whyle,
But if he coude a carpenter bigyle.'
By portraying the ability to trick people as characteristic of clerks, Nicholas casts doubt upon the honesty of clerks as a whole. The tale raises the question of whether clerks ever use their cunning for honorable purposes both through Nicholas's actions and by the behavior of the clerks at the end of the story.