The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale Violence Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
Pipen he koude and fisshe, and nettes beete,
And turne coppes, and wel wrastle and sheete;
Ay by his belt he baar a long panade,
And of a swerd ful trenchant was the blade.
A joly poppere baar he in his pouche;
Ther was no man, for peril, dorste hym touche.
(73 – 78)
The miller, Symkyn, seems to be a physically aggressive man from this description. We learn that not only can he wrestle and shoot, but he likes to carry both sword and knife with him wherever he goes. That everyone is afraid to step up to him suggests that he is not afraid to use his weapons and fighting skills.
A Sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose.
Round was his face, and camus was his nose;
As piled as an ape was his skulle.
He was a market-betere atte fulle.
Ther dorste no wight hand upon hym legge,
That he ne swoor he sholde anon abegge.
(79 – 84)
A "Sheffeld thwitel" is a long knife from Sheffield. This knife is in addition to the sword and other knife he carries. A "market betere" is someone who loiters around markets trying to start fights. The passage's reiteration that everyone's afraid to lay a hand on him highlights his violent nature. Immediately following this passage, the narrator tells how Symkyn cheats his customers; the placement of that passage directly after this implies that this cheating is something he is able to get away with because people are so afraid of his violence.
Withinne a while this John the clerk up leep,
And on this goode wyf he leith on soore.
So myrie a fit ne hadde she nat ful yoore;
He priketh harde and depe as he were mad.
(374 – 377)
This description of John's sex with Symkyn's wife makes the act appear violent and vengeful. The way John "up leep" and "leith on soore," pricking "harde and depe as he were mad" removes any possibility that this sex could be fun, and even removes that possibility as its motivation.