Date of this Version
Modern Language Quarterly 24:3 (Sept 1963), pp. 227-236
F. N. Robinson notes that critics have observed, in Chaucer's tales of the Miller and the Reeve, "a kind of moral quality ... in the tendency to poetic justice."l If justice implies rules or guides for the administration of reward and pain, comic moral justice implies norms. Comic characters who are justly punished fall for a reason; otherwise, their discomfort is not just or particularly amusing. Nicholas, Absolon, and John are tumbled at the end of the Miller's Tale, and critics have seen them as getting their deserts and funny in their pain. However, the "rule of justice" which makes us feel that the clerks and good Carpenter John have violated norms, which allows us to view their affliction as becoming them, may be a more explicit, less "intuitive" rule than a casual reading and easy laughter would tempt us to assume it to be. The structure of the tale suggests that this is the case. The narrative strategy of the Miller's Tale is carefully contrived to make us see the principals in the action for what they are from the beginning.