Study Guide

The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale Competition

By Geoffrey Chaucer


"The Miller's Tale" portrays one of the most classic competitions in literature: the love triangle in which two men compete for the affections of one woman. The woman is the "prize" to be won, which in "The Miller's Tale" accords with a characterization of Alisoun that objectifies her. Yet something interesting happens to this competition by the end of "The Miller's Tale": Absolon, upset over Alisoun's crude prank and determined to "quyte" it, begins to view himself in competition with her, rather than with Nicholas. This shifting focus of rivalry also leads to a lost object of affection: when Alisoun is a rival, she can no longer be a "prize."

Questions About Competition

  1. What are the competitions that occur in "The Miller's Tale"? Between whom do they occur?
  2. By what criteria do characters in "The Miller's Tale" judge themselves to have won the competition? Does anyone truly win?
  3. How does Absolon "quyte" Alisoun's treatment of him? In what way is his method a response to her prank?

Chew on This

In the love triangle in "The Miller's Tale," the sign that a character has won the competition is total physical possession of Alisoun's body.

Absolon's total loss of affection for Alisoun after she shifts from being "prize" to competitor suggests that the figure of the love triangle precludes the possibility of a romantic relationship of equals.