4 out of 4 stars
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John is an aging carpenter with an 18-year-old wife, Alison. He is understandably jealous because Alison is a raving beauty, and many men are besotted with her. Two of her staunch admirers are Nicholas, John’s tenant who lives with them, and Absolon, the parish clerk. Both Nicholas and Absolon woo Alison with songs and gifts. Will Alison stay faithful?
“The Miller’s Tale” is the second of the 24 stories in Geoffrey Chaucer’s immortal book, The Canterbury Tales. In the 14th century, pilgrims trek to the Canterbury Cathedral; the diverse members of one fictional group of pilgrims tell the 24 tales. A free meal awaits the one with the best tale. Chaucer's work, unlike Shakespeare's, was not required reading when I was in school. I could never hope to understand the original piece written by Chaucer in Middle English from 1387 to 1400; Shakespeare’s 16th-century English was challenging enough. However, the invitation to read a translated part of this collection of tales by “the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages” was one I could not resist.
“The Miller’s Tale” was considered bawdy literature, called a fabliau, during that time. I couldn’t suppress a chuckle; I wondered how the people of that era would react to Fifty Shades of Grey. Nevertheless, I found the tale entirely fascinating. That is not to say I agreed with the actions and reactions of the characters.
Brian Lamont, the translator for The Miller’s Tale: Modern English Translation, explained that there were many translations of this tale, but he endeavored to “follow the intended line structure” of ten beats to a line and the original rhyming pattern. That was definitely a lot of hard work. Lamont’s very accessible translation cited references to the particular lines in the original piece; the reader could look up the original words for curiosity’s sake. I did try, and it was fun. Consider this verse: “Of eighteteene yeer she was of age. / Jalous he was, and heeld hire narwe in cage.” Lamont translated this riddle as follows: “She was of her age still only eighteen. / Jealous was he, so he kept her unseen.”
The four main characters were intricately defined, and I appreciated the lives of the people of that era: their costumes, activities, and hobbies. It was a time when bloodletting was a cure for diseases, and men "chewed on spice and seasonings to smell sweet." I made the acquaintance of several early English saints. That the story was told in verse was an added treat. The story was humorous, but there were serious undertones that I was moved to think about. These included equality between social classes, compatibility in marriage, and plain respect for one’s fellow human, issues that still baffle us in the 21st century.
The story was told twice, once as a straight translation and the second time as a dramatic play. The story was very short, and the second telling was not unwelcome. Everything became even more vivid as I imagined the characters prancing around on a stage.
I recommend this 77-page book to lovers of ancient literature and those who want to be transported to that time in history. The reader has to be prepared to read about the characters’ private parts, though. I also call on anyone who wants to get to know Geoffrey Chaucer who, like Shakespeare, greatly influenced the way people read. Both these literary giants died in their fifties; isn’t it amazing how much they achieved in their short lives?
I am giving this book a hearty 4 out of 4 stars. The only thing I didn’t like about it were the few typos, but they were not bothersome. I wish Brian Lamont would work on the other 23 tales. I will be first in line.
The Miller's Tale
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