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The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

by Geoffrey Chaucer

Society and Class Theme

"The Reeve's Tale" uses the upper-class aspirations of the miller and his wife as a source of comedy, mocking their pretensions to nobility. Symkyn's wife does have some high-class family members and was raised in a nunnery with noblewomen. However, she is the illegitimate daughter of the town parson, a status that does not make her worthy of the title of "dame" that she demands. Yet she and Symkyn take delight in parading around town, putting on the airs and graces of nobility. The parson hopes to use his granddaughter, Symkyn's daughter Malyne, to launch his heirs into a higher class by marrying her to a nobleman. The loss of her virginity to Aleyn compromises Malyne's ability to make a good marriage, adding to the humiliation Symkyn and his family endure.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Why does Symkyn's wife think she can claim the status of a noblewoman? Why is this claim ironic?
  2. How does "The Reeve's Tale" mock Symkyn and his wife's desire for upper-class status?
  3. What character flaw do Symkyn and his wife reveal with their upper-class aspirations?
  4. How does Aleyn's tryst with Malyne affect the Parson's plans for the upward mobility of his heirs?

Chew on This

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

"The Reeve's Tale" betrays a conservative bias against social mobility in the way it portrays the upper-class aspirations of Symkyn and his family members.

Aleyn's tryst with Malyne punishes Symkyn and his family for their desire to be upwardly mobile.

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