The Canterbury Tales The Reeve's Tale Summary
The Reeve’s Tale is the story of John and Alan, two students who set out to trick the local miller. The miller is a man named Simkin, who is notorious for stealing flour from those who bring their grain to his mill. Simkin has a wife who is the daughter of the local clergyman, a twenty-yearold daughter, and a six-month-old son.
When John and Alan bring their grain to the mill, they ask to watch Simkin grind it, pretending that they have never seen grain ground into flour before and are interested in the process. Simkin, however, sees through their plan and vows to steal even more of their flour than he ordinarily would, in order to prove to them that students can’t outsmart him. He unties their horse and sends them chasing it across the fields all day, while he steals their flour and has his wife bake it into bread.
By the time John and Alan make it back to Simkin’s house, it is nightfall, so the pair ask to stay with the miller and his family for the night. There are three beds: Simkin and his wife sleep in one of them, their daughter in the second, and John and Alan in the third. The baby’s cradle is placed at the foot of the miller’s bed.
After a long night of drinking, Simkin, his wife, and his daughter go to sleep. John and Alan, however, stay up plotting their revenge. First, Alan sneaks into the daughter’s bed; the daughter is so drunk that she doesn’t realize he’s there until he’s begun having sex with her. When the wife gets up to relieve herself, John moves the baby’s cradle to the foot of his own bed. When the wife returns, she feels the cradle and climbs into the bed standing above it, assuming it is her own – but she winds up in bed with John, who proceeds to have sex with her.
Meanwhile, Alan climbs out of bed with the daughter, feels the cradle at the foot of John’s bed, and climbs into the last bed, assuming it is the one he shared with John. He wakes up the person in that bed – actually the miller – and announces that he has “thrice in this short night/Swyved the miller’s daughter.” Simkin leaps from his bed in a rage, waking his wife, who lashes out with a club and hits him. John and Alan grab the bread, the remaining flour, and the horse and leave.