The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale Summary
How It All Goes Down
"The Miller's Tale" is the story of a carpenter, his lovely wife, and the two clerks (students) who are eager to get her into bed. The carpenter, John, lives in Oxford with his much younger wife, Alisoun, who is something of a local beauty. To make a bit of extra money, John rents out a room in his house to a poor but clever scholar named Nicholas, who has taken a liking to Alisoun. Another scholar in the town, Absolon the parish clerk, also has his eye on Alisoun.
The action begins when John makes a day trip to a nearby town. While he is gone, Nicholas convinces Alisoun to have sex with him, and hence begins their affair. Shortly afterward, Alisoun goes to church, where Absolon sees her and immediately falls in love. He tries to win Alisoun's sexual favors by singing love songs under her window during the full moon and taking a part in the local play to try to get her attention. Alisoun rebuffs all his efforts, however, for she's already involved with Nicholas.
Nicholas, meanwhile, longs to spend a whole night in Alisoun's arms rather than just the few moments they have managed to steal when John isn't around. With Alisoun, he hatches a scheme that will enable him to do this. He convinces John that God is about to send a great flood like the one he sent in Noah's time. He says that God told him they could save themselves by hanging three large buckets from the ceiling to sleep in. Once the waters rose, they would cut the ropes and float away. John believes him and duly climbs into his bucket. He thinks Nicholas and Alisoun are doing the same, but in fact, they are spending the night together in John's bed.
That same night, Absolon comes to the window and begs Alisoun to give him a kiss. At first she refuses him, but she finally appears to give in. Instead of presenting her lips to Absolon's, though, she sticks her butt out the window, and Absolon kisses her "ers" in the dark. Angry at being fooled, Absolon gets a hot poker with which he intends to brand Alisoun. When he comes back to her window, though, Nicholas sticks his butt out in an attempt to get in on the joke. Absolon brands him with the hot poker, and he cries out "Water!" to assuage the pain.
John, hearing this from his bucket, thinks the flood is upon them and cuts the rope that's attaching him to the ceiling, sending him crashing to the floor. The townspeople hear the racket, rush to the scene, and, upon hearing Nicholas's version of events, laugh at and mock poor John.