English, Department of


Date of this Version



Studies in Philology 59:1 (Jan 1962), pp. 1-17


Published by University of North Carolina Press.


That Oswald tells the Reeve's Tale to avenge himself on Robin is evident. However, the method by which he does so is not so evident. His technique is to disguise revenge as justice: by cloaking personal retribution in the garment of objective moral comment, he is able to pretend that he is concerned not so much with retaliation as with evil itself. In doing this, he makes a mistake. The morality which he announces is more applicable to him than to his victim, and the opposition between what he says and what Chaucer says through him constitutes the real comic center of his tale's meaning. This meaning is most evident when the sections in the General Prologue and in the Miller's prologue and tale which treat of him are taken together with his own tale as a comic unit. Each of these sections dramatizes an aspect of his capacity to combine the roles of just man and avenger; each moves progressively toward a more complete revelation of his methods in combining the roles; and all concern themselves with the anomalous position of the judge who unwittingly judges himself by his own principles.