Study Guide

The Canterbury Tales: The Miller's Tale Religion

By Geoffrey Chaucer


Religion in "The Miller's Tale" seems mainly to be something characters use and abuse in order to get what they want. Absolon forgoes piety for attention when he takes a role in the local miracle play in hopes of attracting Alisoun. Nicholas uses the Biblical story of Noah and the flood, and a false piety, to set John up so he can frolic with Alisoun undisturbed. And then, of course, there's the whole obscene religious allegory and symbolism in the story: the huge "Goddes pryvetee," or genitals, John hangs from his roof; the fart of thunder and cry of water that could allegorize Noah's flood; and the way in which Nicholas's God-role and John's fall play on the Fall of Man. As is true with love, the only character who seems to truly have faith in this tale (John) suffers for it in the end, appearing highly ridiculous. All of this adds up to a highly irreligious take on religion in "The Miller's Tale."

Questions About Religion

  1. How do the characters in "The Miller's Tale" use religion to achieve their goals?
  2. Are any of the characters in "The Miller's Tale" truly pious? If so, who, and how do you know?
  3. What religious symbols and allegories do we see in "The Miller's Tale"? What is the effect of these figures upon our perception of the events or objects they represent?

Chew on This

"The Miller's Tale" portrays religious piety, like love, as something only fools indulge in.

The ending of "The Miller's Tale" is meant as an allegory of the Fall of Man.

The ending of "The Miller's Tale" does not work as an allegory of the Fall of Man.