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5 - The Miller’s Tale and the Art of Solaas

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 August 2020

Frank Grady
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, St Louis
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Summary

This chapter shows how The Miller’s Tale introduces the “art of solaas” - the notion that literature can be pleasurable for its own sake - into the Canterbury Tales. It highlights key terms that the Miller introduces or redefines, like “noble,” “quite,” and “privetee,” as part of his aesthetic intervention into the storytelling game established by the Host, and explores the implications of his choice of the fabliau genre. The chapter discusses the Miller’s tale-telling style, examining his use of language and convention to create his characters and the world in which they live. Finally, the chapter anatomizes the Miller’s joke, mapping its careful construction step-by-step, and showing how Chaucer highlights the emotions and sensations of Nicholas, Absolon, and John. Ultimately, the Miller’s joke creates community through shared enjoyment - but that enjoyment has a cost, the punishments of the three male protagonists in the story. The vision of participatory festivity introduced by the Miller is quickly corrupted, however, by the Reeve’s and Cook’s distortions of quiting and pleasure, and Chaucer must turn to alternative aesthetic models for the remainder of the tales.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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