Study Guide

Malyne in The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale

By Geoffrey Chaucer


At the beginning of "The Reeve's Tale," we meet Symkyn and his whole family, which includes his twenty-year-old daughter, Malyne. For much of the tale, all we really know about Malyne concerns her appearance: she is "thikke and wel ygrowen," which probably means well-developed in her womanly figure, with a large nose, grey eyes, a big butt, and "brestes rounde and hye" (119, 121). Basically, Malyne's physical appearance as described here gives the impression of a young woman at her sexual peak, a ripe fruit waiting to be "plucked."

Her grandfather, the parson, seems to see her this way as well: he's decided to bestow a large inheritance on her, hoping that the combination of his wealth and her alluring physical appearance will convince a nobleman to marry her, thus elevating the social status of the whole family. The monetary value attached to Malyne lays the groundwork for Aleyn's plan to get a little payback, or "esement." He plans to have sex with Malyne to make up for the corn her father has stolen from him.

Unfortunately, Malyne doesn't get any say in the plan, so that Aleyn's coupling with her could be considered rape. By the morning, however, the tale implies that Malyne is enjoying herself, telling us that she calls Aleyn "sweet lemman," and gives him information about where to find the cake of stolen corn her father has hidden. Thus, despite spending most of the story as "property" to be bandied about between men, Malyne seems to have something of a mind of her own, choosing to defy her father by helping the clerks he's trying to cheat.