The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale Lies and Deceit Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
A theef he was for sothe of corn and mele,
And that a sly, and usuant for to stele.
(85 – 86)
This passage helps establish the sneakiness of Symkyn's character by showing that he's a total cheat. The dishonest miller is always cheating his poor customers out of corn. Later in the story, we learn his method: he "pads" the customers' sacks of wheat flour with bran flour, a less expensive substance, thus keeping the wheat flour (and the increased profit) for himself. By saying that Symkyn is "sly," or sneaky, this passage implies that he rarely gets caught, so well does he conceal his deceit from his customers. He may have learned the skill of cheating through long experience, since he's "usuant for to stele," implying that he does so often.
For hooly chirches good moot been despended
On hooly chirches blood, that is descended.
Therfore he wolde his hooly blood honoure
Though that he hooly chirche sholde devoure.
(129 – 132)
This passage, which discusses the inheritance Symkyn's daughter, Malyne, is likely to get from her grandfather, the parson, is an example of medieval anticlericalism. Anticlericalism was a collection of negative attitudes and stereotypes about clergy members which grew out of resentment of the clergy's misuse of their powers. This passage highlights one such misuse: it implies that Malyne's grandfather, the parson, is stealing the Church's property (perhaps in the form of collections from parishioners). This property, which should be held in common by the Church, will instead be used by him to advance himself and his own heirs. The other bit of anticlericalism contained in this passage is the fact that the Parson has a granddaughter at all. As a clergy member, he's supposed to be chaste, but he has obviously had a sexual liaison that resulted in a child, Symkyn's wife.
Sik lay the maunciple on a maladye;
Men wenden wisly that he sholde dye.
For which this millere stal bothe mele and corn
And hundred tyme moore than biforn;
For therbiforn he stal but curteisly,
But now he was a theef outrageously.
(139 – 144)
Symkyn's sin of stealing is compounded by the fact that here, he takes advantage of the lenience of a man on his deathbed. The humor of this passage is contained in the line implying that the miller stole "curteisly" (politely) before, whereas now he steals "outrageously." For how is it possible to "politely" steal from someone?