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The Miller's Tale, in Geoffrey Chaucer, 'The Canterbury Tales'

The Miller's Tale, in Geoffrey Chaucer, 'The Canterbury Tales'

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1410

Shelfmark: Lansdowne MS 851

Item number: f.39v

Length: 33.7

Width: 20.8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

It sounds ponderous to say that Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400) wrote one of the most important works of English literature, but it is true even though the 'Canterbury Tales' is so much fun to read. The first to exploit fully the literary form of the tale, it is a series of verse stories told in turn by each of a motley group of pilgrims en route from Southwark in London to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Thomas a Beckett ('the martyr'). Ranging in tone from vulgar humour to serious moralising, the stories are unified by common themes, notably a contrast of the 'loose woman' and the virtuously long-suffering one. Chaucer began writing the tales late in his career (1387), but died in 1400, leaving them unfinished. Made within a few decades of Chaucer's death, this manuscript is the earliest known copy of the 'Canterbury Tales'.

Each tale has a prologue, one of which ends on this page, as indicated by the red writing (a rubric). The miller then opens his tale upon the wealthy, elderly carpenter who let a room to a serious young student, Nicholas--perhaps unwisely in view of the carpenter's recent marriage to an eighteen-year old girl who loved to party. In the upper margin, another rubric identifies it: "The Miller".

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