Analysis: Writing Style
Iambic Pentameter in Rhyming Couplets, Earthy and Bawdy
(See the discussion of iambic pentameter in the "Writing Style" section of our guide to "The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue & Frame Story.")
What on earth do we mean by "earthy"? The best example of this style in "The Miller's Tale" comes in Alisoun's portrait, where her body is described as "any wezele . . . gent and smal" (126), her eyebrows as "blake as any sloo," or blackthorn bush (138). As these comparisons demonstrate, Alisoun's portrait is full of nature imagery, and not in the sense of majestic mountains and sun-swept vistas. This is the nature of the henhouse and stable, of dirt and dust and excrement – the kinds of scenes a person in a medieval town would be likely to see every day. The language of "The Miller's Tale" is earthy in the sense of being down to earth. It's also bawdy, or very explicit about bodies and sex. Nicholas grabs Alisoun "harde by the haunchebones" (171) and "thakked hire aboute the lendes weel" (196) – the Middle English equivalent of saying he slapped her butt.