The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale Theme of Wealth
The lengthiest discussion of wealth in "The Reeve's Tale" occurs in relation to Symkyn's female family members. We learn that his wife, and particularly his daughter, have dowries attached to them. These dowries, or wealth to be paid to the woman's husband upon her marriage, effectively give Malyne and Symkyn's wife monetary value. This information about their monetary "worth" at the beginning of the tale lays the groundwork for Aleyn's proposal to extract "esement" (repayment) for his stolen corn, by sleeping with Symkyn's daughter. By sleeping with Malyne, then, Aleyn effectively values her at the equivalent of a bushel of corn, or even less than the silver he and John paid to be lodged at Symkyn's house for the night.
In "The Reeve's Tale," wealth takes many forms – coins, agricultural commodities, and, yes, even women's bodies. Yet in every case, wealth receives its value from what characters are willing to exchange for it. Wealth, like beauty, is shown to be wholly "in the eye of the beholder," or in this case, the exchanger.
Questions About Wealth
- How does "The Reeve's Tale" assign a monetary value to Symkyn's daughter and wife? How does this lay the groundwork for Aleyn and John's "esement" at the end of the tale?
- What forms does wealth take in "The Reeve's Tale?"
- Do the characters in "The Reeve's Tale" agree upon the value of their various forms of wealth in the tale?
- How do John and Aleyn make Symkyn pay for their stolen corn? Do you think Symkyn regards this as a fair exchange? Why or why not?
Chew on This
The mention of Malyne's promised dowry at the beginning of "The Reeve's Tale" makes sense of Aleyn's proposal to obtain "esement" for his stolen corn by sleeping with her at the same time as it causes us to question the fairness of the exchange.
"The Reeve's Tale" reveals the inherent problem of an economy based upon exchange rather than currency.