It’s a storyline we see very often: older man marries very young woman, and ends up getting cuckolded. Why? Because Chaucerian women have standards. Sure, it paints the women in a ‘bad light’ or whatever, but really in my opinion they are just acting within the patriarchal and misogynistic spheres in which they are forced to adhere to. So, if you can never be the good perfect virgin martyr, why not just cuckold your husband? There’s no inbetween, here. If you’re young and good looking, why sit down and accept rumours of your infidelity when you could just be an infidel? You know what’s nice about the Miller’s Tale? If, according to The Riverside Chaucer edition, The Miller’s Tale would literally be the first comic story in the whole of the Canterbury Tales, thus setting up this barre just like the Knight’s Tale did, only in a completely different vein. The huge contrast between the melodramatic Knight’s Tale and the comedic Miller’s Tale is a perfect indication of Chaucer’s abilities as a writer… and an indication that The Canterbury Tales was meant to be a bit of a show-off magnum opus. Come on, if I mastered every single genre and knew perfectly how to undermine each one, I’d do it all the time. ANYWAY, the summary.
tl;dr: Old carpenter John has young wife and handsome scholar, and he’s insanely jealous and possessive of young wife. Young wife, Allison, and handsome apprentice, Nicholas, have a spicy affair. Absolon, a parish clerk who’s super dainty, is in love with Allison, and tries to woo her. Nicholas and Allison hatch a plot and tell John there’s gonna be a flood, and to put three bathtubs on the roof so they can survive. Nicholas and Allison have spicy sex, Absolon climbs up the window and asks for a kiss, but instead of a mouth Allison shows him her ass. Nicholas also sticks his ass out the window, gets branded, screams for water, and John freaks out and the bathtub goes flying down, and he breaks his arm. It’s all funny because the two lovers get to pull the wool over these two foolish mens’ eyes. That was a long tl;dr, what can I say, the story is weird.
So there once was an Old Carpenter named John, who houses a young scholar named Nicholas. Nicholas was a student of astrology, and if you asked him, he might be able to tell you the weather, because that’s all he’s good for. John has a young wife, Allison, whom he loves a lot and is super possessive of. Too bad Allison and Nicholas are having an affair, and Nicholas is just very forceful about the whole thing, grabbing her by her leggis, using vagina jokes (‘queynte’ means both cunning/clever and a rude term for the vagina, so yeah, take that how you will), and begging for her, whilst she acts coy and all that.
Then the fourth characters is introduced, Absolon, who’s this highly effeminate parish clerk, who’s in love with Allison. He’s so dainty he’s scared of his own farts. That’s right, he’s scared of farts. And so Nicholas and Allison decide to trick John into thinking that the second flood (like Noah’s Arc flood) is coming, and to attach bath tubs onto the roof, one for each of them, so when the flood comes they can get on and float to safety. Needless to say, John believes them and sleeps on the roof in a bathtub while Allison and Nicholas get frisky in the bedroom.
Absolon shows up and is all like “PLEASE GIVE ME A KISS” and so he climbs a ladder, closes his eyes, and Allison sticks her butt out the window, so he ends up kissing her butt instead. YEAP. And he’s so disgusted he rushes off, then he comes back, angrier than ever. He begs for another kiss, and this time Nicholas sticks his butt out the window, only for Absolon to actually have shown up with a RED HOT BRANDING IRON, and just brands his ass. And Nicholas, in his pain, cries for ‘WATER!’ and John thinks “THE FLOOD’S COMING”, cuts the rope, and slides down the roof, landing on the ground and breaking his arm.
And thus this is the story of how everyone loses, except Allison, who is above reproach. It’s a fablieu, it’s meant to be funny and make fun of all these romantic ideals, and it’s meant to undercut the grim seriousness of the Knight’s Tale. After a longwinded, really wordy story, it’s nice to have one that’s just short and meant to be enjoyed. Not to mention, it shows maybe the first ever character to change/develop at the end of the story. Absolon goes from the meek dainty clerk to a really angry young man, so I guess you could say it has a turning point, unlike a lot of medieval literature where there’s a moral, but nobody ever really changes.