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The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Quote #4

'For, John,' seyde he, 'als evere moot I thryve,
If that I may, yon wenche wil I swyve.
Som esement has lawe yshapen us.'
(323 – 325)

In Middle English, the term "esement" is an extremely loaded one. It can refer to the comforts of life or to the relief of the body by evacuation (referring to urination, defecation and, here, sex). It can refer to compensation or redress one receives as payment for a wrong committed against you. It's also a legal term referring to the right to use something that doesn't belong to you. If you hunted in a lord's forest with his permission, for example, you had an "esement" on that land. You can see how here, Aleyn's using all the meanings of the word: he feels he is owed an "esement," or compensation, for his stolen flour. This "esement" will take the form of a bodily comfort, or a bodily evacuation (ejaculation), using property belonging to someone else – Symkyn's daughter.

Quote #5

'For, John, ther is a lawe that says thus,
That gif a man in a point be agreved,
that in another he sal be releved.'
(326 – 328)

Again, John uses a loaded term to link his proposed sex with Symkyn's daughter to what he feels he's owed for the stolen corn. The term in this case is "releve," which is a verb that generally means to give recompense, but can also refer to the evacuation of air (or other substances) from the body. Finally, it can also mean "to rise," perhaps referring to the anticipated action of John's eager penis.

Quote #6

'Our corn is stolen, sothly, it is na nay,
And we han had an il fit al this day;
And syn I sal have neen amendement
Agayn my los, I will have esement.
By Goddes sale, it sal neen other bee!'
(329 – 333)

John uses legal terminology to justify his sex with Symkyn's daughter. He says that because he can's have "amendment" – i.e, because Symkyn won't give him his corn and can't take back the awful day John has had – he will have "esement," or compensation for it all. With this language John clothes an obviously illegal act – rape – in a cloak of legal legitimacy.

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