Study Guide

The Canterbury Tales: The Reeve's Tale Violence

By Geoffrey Chaucer


When the narrator introduces Symkyn, the miller, he describes him as a man who loves wrestling and fighting, carries multiple weapons, and stands around the market all the time just itching for a fight. The story implies that Symkyn is able to cheat his customers by scaring them into submission. We might read the brutal beating that Symkyn endures at the end of the tale as a just reward for his aggressive habits. However, the story links violence not just to punishment, but to sex, in the up-and-down motion of the fighting between Symkyn and Aleyn, which occurs right after the two have been in bed with each other, giving their fight homoerotic overtones. When Symkyn's wife knocks him over the head in a case of mistaken identity, she's hitting the man she should have had sex with, just as she accidentally had sex with the man she should have hit. The effect of all this is that violence blends into sex and vice versa, so that in the end, it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Questions About Violence

  1. How do we know from "The Reeve's Tale" that Symkyn is a violent man? How does his violent nature affect his relationship with the townspeople? His customers?
  2. How does the violence in "The Reeve's Tale" shape our understanding of the sex that occurs in it, and vice versa?
  3. Is Symkyn's violent response to Aleyn's news that he slept with his daughter a fitting one? Why or why not?

Chew on This

"The Reeve's Tale" links violence with sex through the homoerotic overtones it gives to the fight between Aleyn and Symkyn.

The great deal of time "The Reeve's Tale" spends describing the weaponry, martial skills, and aggressive nature of the miller decreases the amount of sympathy we feel for him when he gets beaten up by Aleyn and John.