The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale Madness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
Of gooth the skin an hande-brede aboute,
The hote culter brende so his toute,
And for the smert he wende for to dye.
As he were wood, for wo he gan to crye.
One of the signs of madness was thought to be an inability to control one's emotions, which is why Nicholas's wails of pain make him seem "as he were wood." This is not the first or last time yelling and caterwauling is associated with madness.
For when he spak, he was anon bore doun
With hende Nicholas and Alisoun.
They tolden every man that he was wood,
He was agast so of 'Nowelis flood.'
One wonders whether John would have been able to avoid being labeled mad had he not been quickly shouted down by Nicholas and Alisoun. This episode illustrates the importance of having one's version of events heard and understood in order to lay claim to sanity.
For what so that this carpenter answerde,
It was for noght; no man his reson herde.
With othes grete he was so sworn adoun,
That he was holden wood in al the toun.
The proximity here of John being "sworn adoun" (sworn down) to his being "holden wood" (held to be mad) again emphasizes the power of getting people to hear you. John has a reasonable explanation; he's just unable to get anyone's attention before Nicholas and Alisoun jump in.