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The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Sex Theme

With his tale, the Reeve is "quiting," or answering "The Miller's Tale," which was a story about two clerks who tried to get a carpenter's wife into bed. In that tale, sex was joyous, even if illicit. In "The Reeve's Tale," however, sex is more of a violent act that John and Aleyn inflict upon Symkyn's wife and daughter as revenge. Many double entendres in the story, such as the grinding of corn or the up-and-down motion of Aleyn and Symkyn as they fight, further link sex to violence and destruction. The scene with the horny stallion having his way with the mares also shows it to be animalistic. Aleyn's declaration that Symkyn will have the "flour if il endyng," followed by his de-flour/flowering of Malyne, further strengthen the link between the grinding of corn and sex. It also equates sex with flour, a commodity on a free market that can be exchanged like any other.

Questions About Sex

  1. How does Aleyn justify having sex with Symkyn's daughter?
  2. How does "The Reeve's Tale" link sex to violence?
  3. How does "The Reeve's Tale" link sex to the grinding of corn, or flour, and what might be the significance of this connection?
  4. How is the description of the sex in "The Reeve's Tale" different from that of "The Miller's Tale?" What are the implications of these differences?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Aleyn's depiction of sex with Symkyn's daughter as payment for his stolen corn implies a misogynistic (anti-feminist) view of women and women's bodies.

"The Reeve's Tale" depicts sex as violent and cruel.

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