.. ing devised to trick the nave carpenter. The characters are well developed for such a short piece and, most importantly, are uninhibited in communicating their wants: When Nicholas courts Alison, he grabs her by the queynte and tells her of his secret love (I 3276). Though she protests at first, she gives in to his pleading and promises to love him. Ab-salon, another admirer of Alisons, serenades her while she is lying next to her husband.
When he later asks for a kiss, she presents him with her backside, and Nicholas impersonates her voice with a rude expulsion of air. They are as comfortable expressing themselves, in whatever manner they wish, as the Miller. The Reeves Tale is starkly contrasted to this. Os-walds characters are as plain as his story, the height of their scheming consisting of a relo-cated cradle and an untied horse. The personalities of the two university students are irrele-vant; all that matters is that they deceive the miller.
And Symkyns importance is based only in his thieving nature and his eventual status as a victim, the purpose of the story being the Reeves revenge. The mother has a more lengthy character sketch, but only because it shows that the miller wedded an illegitimate woman. Both women are objectified and valued only in the distress they cause the miller through their ravishment. Adultery is again committed in this tale, but it is done mechanically rather than from any sexual desire on the part of the students. The wooing by Nicholas and Absalon may have been brief, but they at least made an effort to win Alison.
John and Alan have intercourse with the wife and daughter before any words of acceptance or denial are spoken by them, and just as soon as they are in the same bed as a fe-male. As I mentioned earlier, the five characters spend the night in the same room, but not all are aware of what is occurring. John does know his friend slept with Malyne, but only be-cause Alan told him his plan. The next morning Alan tells the miller, believing he is John, I have thries in this shorte nyght Swyved the milleres doghter bolt upright, Whil thow hast, as a coward, been agast, revealing that he was unaware John had been with the wife the entire night (I 4265-4267). And when Symkyn hears this, he becomes enraged, this being the first he learns of it also, since he did not hear the two couples either.
This lack of noise in such an in-timate act may appear peculiar, but it is related to the Reeve just as Alison and Nicholass enthusiasm is to the Miller. One clear reason for this silence is connected to the Reeves aversion to the Miller. Since his tale is told to reprise Robin, little else matters. Just like the two-dimensional char-acterization, the actions appear to be performed by rote, done only to make the plot progress to the desired ending. This explains the simplicity of the tale; the Reeve is only interested in the quickest method of revenge. The mother and daughter do not speak or struggle after learning the intentions of the clerks because it is inconvenient for them to do so. Their pur-pose in existing is to be disparaged. Any efforts against this may cause the miller to wake, dis-rupting the greater scheme.
They are as quiet during the sexual act as the clerks because any type of sound would expand their characterization at the expense of the plot. The daughter does speak the next morning, but only to further the narrative by divulging the location of the stolen corn so the students can reclaim it. Unexpectedly, Malyne begins to cry at the thought of Alans departure. This is actually done for the sake of his reputation. The Reeve wants to make Robin appear foolish, but knows that turning his protagonists into rapists will only cause the audience to turn against himself. Because Malyne despairs that the night has ended, the audience assumes that she enjoyed the experience.
The same can be said for the mother who so myrie a fit ne hadde she nat ful yore (I 4230). So even though John and Alan initiate the act with force, the women received pleasure, which cancels out the offense in the pil-grims minds. Thus, the characters and their satisfaction are mere tools used to create a de-sired result. The lack of expression exhibited by the actors in this scene is also related to the si-lencing of the Reeve. He is accustomed to being quieted when his thoughts are not agreeable to his audience.
Because of this, he censors himself even as he is releasing all that is trapped inside of him. In his prologue, the Reeve does not keep speaking of the rapid progression of his demise, but changes subjects as soon as the Host orders him to do so, directing his emo-tion into the more acceptable form of his tale. Occasionally, the build up of feeling forces him to release it, but he always expresses them within the bounds of decency, even if he does stretch those bounds. It is necessary for the plot that the two couples have sex in the same room. He does not shy away from the subject and informs the audience of what is occurring as clearly as the Miller, if not more so.
But Nicholas and Alison have intercourse downstairs in privacy, away from John. In the Reeves tale, a mother is committing adultery in the same room in which her daughter is having premarital sex. This can easily be construed as sexual perversion, to put it lightly. Yet the Reeve believes they can be somewhat redeemed if they are not aware they are participating in what amounts to an orgy. If the couples make no noise and do not hear one another, then, in a sense, they are in private.
To have the clerks and women voice their pleasure and the mother and daughter realize the others actions would have been unallowable. Because of this, the Reeve stifles them so as to not offend his audi-ence and thus be allowed to finish his tale. But the Reeves manipulation and censorship of the characters does not mean he com-pletely separates himself from them. He channels his sexual frustration into the story along with his anger. Since he cannot use his body to find satisfaction, he must use his imagination. The Miller, who gratifies his appetite in the real world, builds up the tension between Nicho-las and Alison through the long wait before consummation, but barely mentions the act itself: And thus lith Alison and Nicholas, In bisynesse of myrthe and of solas, Til that the belle of laudes gan to rynge, And freres in the chauncel gone synge. The reverse occurs in the Reeves story, with John and Alan engaging in sex with Malyne and the millers wife almost as soon as the thought comes to their minds.
His description is short as well, but much more detailed: He priketh harde and depe as he were mad (I 4231). In this line, which is referring to the cause of the wifes pleasure, John appears to embody Oswalds frustration. The Reeve is as mad to find satisfaction, both sexually and emotionally, as John is. The Reeve lives through the students, finding an alternate outlet this way. He creates two characters who have no qualms about taking another mans wife and daughter in the same room to perform a rather twisted fantasy.
The silence and objectification of the females also supports this. In the Reeves Tale, there is no seduction; the wife and daughters willingness is ignored. The Reeve does not view them as participants, but as the objects of desire. It would not do to have sexual objects demand courtship or become too humanlike, in which case they would have the power of rejection and dissatisfaction. Because he is living through the bodies of the clerks, the females must not be anything but pleased by the students, so the Reeve can hold the notion of himself as virile and sexually desirable to women.
Thus, the bedroom scene becomes a substitute reality for the Reeve, in which he subtly releases his lasciviousness into a more socially acceptable form, the fabliaux. The Reeve and his tale manage to be, simultaneously, both complex and simple. Os-wald and his characters seem to fit snugly into a stereotype when they are first described, but then their actions seem to be guided by an unpredictable force. The pilgrims are confused by the Reeve even as he is explaining his motivation to them. So they cut him off from the group even as he is attempting to connect with them.
They will only listen to his tale out of obliga-tion, and hear nothing more. So, while his story seems uncomplicated, it is anything but, due to the fact that all of his unspoken thoughts have been conveyed within it. It may be vindictive and base, but the Reeves Tale contains something far more interesting than a moral: the inner workings of his mind. Bibliography Jung, C.G. Psychology and Religion: West and East.
New York: Hull, Pantheon Books, 1958. English Essays.