The Canterbury Tales – drunkenness, fart jokes and arse-kissing

The Canterbury Tales was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the late 14th century. It’s 24 very different short stories held together by the idea that a group of pilgrims are travelling together from London to Canterbury and decide to have a story-telling competition. It’s worth reading for a lot of reasons (and there are plenty of translation to Modern English if the Middle English puts you off) and is generally held to be one of the most important works of English literature but… well, he clearly wasn’t writing all of it with a straight face. Let’s talk about the Miller’s tale.

But first I make a protestation
That I am drunk; I know it by my sound.
And therefore if that I misspeak,
I pray you’ll blame it on ale of Southwerk.

Sets the scene nicely, hey? Don’t take him too seriously as a storyteller.

It’s said that Chaucer is quite critical of English society in The Canterbury Tales and especially the Church, but I reckon women generally come off far worse than religious men. Some women in the stories are positively saintly, but they’re not the interesting ones. The Miller’s tale is about a young woman named Allison with a much older husband called John who is, well, very insecure about his marriage. They also have an astrology scholar called Nicholas boarding with them who’s a cad and a bounder. He fancies Allison and

[O]ne day this clever Nicholas
Happened with this young wife to flirt and play,
[…] For clerks are very subtle and very clever;
And intimately he caught her by her [very rude word for vagina],
And said, “Indeed, unless I have my will,
For secret love of thee, sweetheart, I die.”

I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t call that subtle. Anyway, she point blank refuses him but Chaucer employs the ol’ when she says no, she really means yes trope and she granted him her love at the last.

There’s another young man who also fancies Allison, a parish clerk named Absolon. He’s elegant, merry and plays guitar

But to say the truth, he was somewhat squeamish
About farting, and fastidious in his speech.

Perhaps it’s his lack of subtilty but she when she refuses him, she doesn’t change her mind.

Allison and Nicholas come up with an utterly preposterous plan so they can get John out of the way for a bit. Surprisingly, it works and they retire to the bedroom, but Absolon has realised that John isn’t with his wife that night so gets up and goes over to their house. He stands beneath her window and tells her how he feels, how in love with her he is. She is woken up, opens the window and is completely honest with him in return:

 “Go from the window, you idiot,” she said;
“[…]And let me sleep, in the name of twenty devils!”

He asks for a kiss before he leaves, still hoping that this might lead to rather more.

“Wilt thou then go thy way with that?” said she.
“Yes, certainly, sweetheart,” said this Absolon.
“Then make thee ready,” said she, “I come right now.”
[…] This Absolon wiped his mouth very dry.
Dark was the night as pitch, or as the coal,
And at the window out she put her arsehole,
And Absolon, to him it happened no better nor worse,
But with his mouth he kissed her naked arse
With great relish, before he was aware of this.
Back he jumped, and thought it was amiss,
For well he knew a woman has no beard.
He felt a thing all rough and long haired,
And said, “Fie! Alas! What have I done?”

“Tehee!” said she, and clapped the window to

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17 thoughts on “The Canterbury Tales – drunkenness, fart jokes and arse-kissing

  1. The family went to see a very bawdy dramatisation of some of the stories in the Tales, back in the 60s; I’m not sure what they were expecting but my younger sister tsch-tsched her way through the whole performance, which amused me more than the fart jokes, the bedhopping and the bums out of the window. I haven’t looked at these since I studied some of them at school in the original Middle English, when it all went way over my head (I wasn’t a very good student, admittedly).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Chaucer was no Shakespeare, that’s for sure. He reads like a common entertainer just looking to amuse one for a few hours. There’s no drama, no thunder, no lightning, and a soap opera could crib notes from him and do just fine. Today, he’d be writing for THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES or GENERAL HOSPITAL, rather than for books, but it’s amazing what antiquity will do for the value of a writer.

    — Catxman

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love the Milller’s Tale, as I couldn’t believe what I was reading at the time. I especially liked the elaborate plan to convince John that Armageddon arrived and that the tin bath had to be used as a mini ark!

    Liked by 2 people

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