The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Reeve's Tale Analysis

Although scholars disagree as to whether Chaucer ever read Boccaccio’s Decameron, most acknowledge the clear similarities between “The Reeve’s Tale” and a tale told in Day IX, Tale 6 of Boccaccio’s work. The major differences is that no mill is involved in Boccaccio’s story, and the two students are merely trying to get into bed with the daughter, not to trick the miller. More broadly, The Reeve’s Tale is an example of the “cradle-trick” tale, in which the wife gets into the wrong bed because the cradle has been moved. This type of tale was popular in the Middle Ages, both in England and elsewhere.

The previous two tales, respectively, established a high bar of courtly, elegant language and storytelling in “The Knight’s Tale” and tried to tear that bar down with a bawdy mockery in “The Miller’s Tale.” “The Reeve’s Tale” takes the degradation of language one step further. The tale contains very little dialogue, and at no point do either of the students try to convince the women to sleep with them by speaking to them, as Nicholas and Absolon do to Alisoun in “The Miller’s Tale.” Instead, language is abandoned entirely in favor of direct action.

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