The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
This millere smyled of hir nycetee,
And thoghte, 'Al this nys doon but for a wyle.
They wene that no man may hem bigyle,
But by my thrift, yet shal I blere hir ye,
For al the sleighte in hir philosophye.'
(192 – 196)
Symkyn takes the clerks' attempt to prevent him from cheating them as a challenge, and as an indication that they think they're smarter than just about everyone, perhaps because of their extensive education. By mentioning the "sleighte," or trickery, in their "philosophye," or learning, Symkyn implies that he is not the only one guilty of trickery. He may be attempting to justify his theft from them, and their school.
'The moore queynte crekes that they make,
The moore wol I stele whan I take.
In stide of flour yet wol I yeve hem bren.'
(197 – 199)
Again, the miller portrays his theft from the clerks as a tit-for-tat return on their "queynte crekes," or tricks and stratagems. Of course, all these particular clerks have done is proposed to watch their flour being ground. The miller seems to take them as representative of the entire scholarly class, however, which he seems to despise as so many tricksters.
'The gretteste clerkes been noght wisest men,'
As whilom to the wolf thus spak the mare.
In saying that "The gretteste clerkes been noght wisest men," Symkyn is drawing a distinction between book-learning and street-smarts (here called wisdom). The implication, of course, is that Symkyn has street-smarts in spades, whereas the scholars have their heads in the clouds and are not likely to notice when he steals from them. The reference to the wolf and the mare alludes to a fable in which the mare tells the wolf that the price of her foal is written on her hind foot Then, when he tries to read it, she kicks him. The fable emphasizes the value of common sense, just as the miller does here.