Canterbury Tales By Reeve

Such comments as, "I pray to God his nekke mote to-breke" quickly reveal
that the verbal game of "quite" involves much more than a free meal to the

Reeve in "The Canterbury Tales" (I 3918). This overreaction, which grabs the
attention of the audience and gives it pause, is characteristic of the Reeve’s
ostensibly odd behavior, being given to morose speeches followed by violent
outbursts, all the while harboring spiteful desires. Anger typifies the

Reeve’s dialogue and his tale, which begs the question why. It appears to be a
reaction to the Miller’s insults, but they are not extreme enough to provoke
such resentment. He seem-ingly has no hesitation in articulating his bitterness,
yet he and his story are as much marked by suppression as expression. Silence
resounds as loudly as any noise in the Reeve’s Prologue and Tale. The reader
is as puzzled by his utterances as the lack of them: his sudden sermon on death
is matched by the quietness of two couples copulating in a small room of five,
none of which are able to hear what the others are doing. The reality is that
the behavior of the Reeve and the characters in his tale are not random or
unaccountable. The Reeve is continually si-lenced by other pilgrims and himself,
which is paralleled in his tale, and in turn suppresses his emotions, which
leads to even more explosive conduct. I. Characterization In order to appreciate
the melancholic and serious temperament of the Reeve, it is nec-essary to view
him in comparison to other characters, as Chaucer intended. The identities of
the pilgrims are relative. They are characterized by their description in the

General Prologue, but not fully developed until they are seen in contrast to the
pilgrim they are "quiting." As the Miller’s personality is developed by
his dissimilarity to the Knight, so is the Reeve by the Miller. Therefore

Robin’s enjoyment of life shows just how little Oswald receives from the same.

For instance, the Miller’s large frame and excessive drinking show his delight
in small pleasures. The Reeve, however, is "a sclendre colerik man" who
controls his beard and hair (in opposition to the unruly strands that grow on a
wart on the miller’s nose) as manipula-tively as the accounts of the farm on
which he works (I 587). The Miller mastered the bag-pipes for entertainment in
his spare time while the Reeve trained with more practical tools: "In youthe
he had lerned a good myster: He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter" (I 614).

Robin is very physical; he is strong and willing to wrestle anything and carries
a sword and buckler at his side. Oswald only carries a rusty blade, which
indicates that it is not used very often and is only for show. If compelled to
fight, he would most likely back down, preferring verbal sparring. The Miller
socializes with the group with no regards to the class system, in-terrupting the
expected order to tell his story before the Monk, while Oswald prefers to sepa-rate
himself and ride last among the group. These disparities give the impression
that Oswald is focused inward while Robin con-centrates on the outward. The

Reeve is ruled by his practical mind, which directs him to make as much money as
possible, whether it is through theft or saving or learning useful trades, and
to avoid dangerous situations, even if it entails cowardice. The Miller is more
of a Dionysian figure, who does only what pleases him, whether it is knocking
heads or ignoring his wife’s infidelities. These differences in character
foreshadow the differences in their tales. They both tell similar dirty stories
but the nature varies greatly. It is the Miller’s good-humor that trans-forms
the chivalric tale of the Knight into an account of adultery that is both bawdy
and hi-larious. As will be discussed in greater detail in this essay, it is the

Reeve’s introversion that causes him to recite his mean-spirited tale of
adultery as punishment. II. Outward Manifestations of Suppressed Emotions The

Reeve’s vindictiveness and mood swings are based in his being repeatedly
silenced and his subsequent suppression of emotions. Oswald speaks three times
in Fragment I, and on the first occasion his wishes are ignored, on the second
he is told to speak of a more amusing subject, and he is finally allowed to
speak on the third, but only because every pilgrim must tell a tale. The

Reeve’s first words are spoken to the Miller. He orders Robin to "Stynt thy
clappe!" before beginning his story of a carpenter