Churl's World

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To listen to the characters and read the medieval text (with modern translation) - requires Flash Player 6, and either a set of headphones or speakers.

 

Introduction - Churl's World

This is the first of two pages. This page contains descriptions of each character, and a plot summary of the tales associated with each one (if they exist). If you click on the notepad symbol, you will hear Chaucer's description, as given in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales (in a modern translation) a transcript of the reading is also provided as well as the original medieval text for comparison.

The second page contains background information about the churl's world as well as a collection of associated images.


Characters:

The Miller - The Reeve - The Cook - The Shipman - The Ploughman - The Manciple

 


The Miller

Listen to the Miller and read the text Listen and Read
 

The miller is a stout churl, brawny and big-boned. He always wins wrestling matches, and can break down a door with his head. He has short shoulders and a thick neck, and a short, spade-shaped beard. On the end of his nose there is a wart, covered in bristly hairs like pig's hair - his nostrils are wide and black, and his mouth is like a great furnace. He loves a good laugh - as dirty as possible, the more obscene the better. He can steal corn and take the same payment three times, but he gets away with it - he has a 'golden thumb'. He wears a white coat and a blue hood, and carries a sword and small shield. He rides at the front of the procession, playing his bagpipes.

The Miller's Tale

The Miller’s Tale is a comic tale of ‘the world upside down’. Alison, the pretty young wife of an Oxford carpenter named John, has two suitors: a student, Nicholas, who is wily and intelligent, and the parish clerk, Absolon. Nicholas and Alison plan to spend the night together. Nicholas shuts himself in his room, pretending to be in a trance. When John breaks in, he says that he has discovered by his art that there will be a second Flood. In order to save himself, Nicholas and Alison, John must tie three large tubs in the outhouse ceiling, and they must each sleep in one. Then, when the Flood comes, they can cut the ropes and sail away. John does this, and spends the night in his tub whilst Nicholas and Alison are together. Absolon comes to woo Alison, who puts her backside out of the window for him to kiss. Thinking this a good joke, Nicholas does so too, but Absolon has fetched a hot ploughshare, which he buries in Nicholas’s behind. Nicholas’s cries for ‘Water’ waken John, who cuts the rope, falls to the floor and breaks his arm. The story ends with Alison rousing the neighbours to chase John, who they presume to be mad.

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Winchester Mill

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The Reeve

Listen to the transcript and read the text Listen and Read
 

The reeve, who comes from Bawdeswell in Norfolk, is a skinny, choleric man, very closely shaven. His hair is cut around his head, like a priest, and he wears a long surcoat of grey, which covers his legs - they're as thin as matchsticks. This reeve can keep a granary and a bin, and no auditor can get the better of him. His lord's animals and crops have been in his keeping since his lord was twenty years of age, and he'd never been in arrears. He can tell by the weather what the crop yields will be. He lives all alone on a heath, and is richer than his lord. In fact, he can take his lord's goods and still his lord will thank him for his good service. The reeve sits on a good dapple-grey horse, called Scot, and he carries a rusty sword at his side. He rides all alone, at the back of the procession.

The Reeve's Tale

The Reeve, a carpenter by trade, is angered by the Miller’s story, and tells a tale about a proud, overbearing miller. The miller has a proud wife (the illegitimate daughter of a priest), and a plain daughter. He is used to cheating the manciple of a local university hall, so two of the students, Aleyn and John, decide to go to the mill with their grain to make sure that they are not cheated. The grain is ground into flour, but the miller keeps some back, which his wife and daughter make into a cake and hide. The miller then releases the students’s horses into the fen, and the students have to chase them. They cannot then go back, so they pay the miller to give them bed and board for the night. All sleep in the same room. During the night, Aleyn decides to get satisfaction for their loss by having sex with the daughter, and John gets into bed with the wife. Aleyn goes back to the wrong bed, and tells the miller (mistaking him for John) what he has just done with his daughter. The miller wakes, and so does the wife. The students and the miller fight in the dark, and the wife hits her husband over the head with a stick. Malyne, the daughter tells the students where the cake is hidden, and so they go back with all of their flour intact.

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Lincoln Cathedral

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The Cook

Listen to the Cook and read the script Listen and Read
 

The guildsmen brought with them a cook, who could prepare food in every possible way. He also appreciated a draught of London ale - Geoffrey thinks it a pity that he has an ulcer on his chin, because he could make blancmange excellently.

The Cook's Tale

The Cook’s Tale was probably intended to develop in the same way as those of the Reeve and the Miller, but is incomplete. It tells of Perkin Revelour, a debauched and riotous apprentice in the City of London, whose master is so tired of the trouble he causes that he intends to withhold the certificates he should receive at the end of his apprenticeship. The story is cut off at that point.

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Lincoln Cathedral

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The Shipman

Listen to the transcript and Read the text. Listen and Read
 

The Shipman is a Westcountryman - Geoffrey thinks he may be from Dartmouth, in Devon. He rides as best he can on a carthorse, with his cloak (of coarse cloth) hanging down to his knees. There is a dagger hanging from a cord around his neck, and his face is tanned by the hot summer sun. He is a 'good fellow' - he has stolen a good few pints whilst the wine-merchant slept - and his conscience is none too fussy. If he overcomes anyone in a fight he'll soon send them home again by sea (!). He knows the tides, the channels, the shoals, the harbours, anchorages and the storms. In fact, he knows all the havens from Gotland to Cape Finisterre, and every creek in Britany and Spain. He is hardy, and a wise seaman - there is none like him from Hull to Cartagena - and his ship is called the Magdalene.

The Shipman's Tale

The Shipman also tells a comic tale, about a merchant with a beautiful wife. The merchant also has a close friend, a monk who claims to be his kinsman. One day the wife meets the monk in the garden, and tells him of her husband’s avarice, asking him to lend her a hundred francs. She will repay with her body when her husband is out of town. The monk then goes to the husband, and asks him for the money, saying that he needs to buy animals for his monastery: the merchant willingly lends the money, then goes off to a fair. The monk gives the money to the wife, who spends the night with him whilst her husband is away. On the merchant’s return, the monk says that he gave the money to the wife. The merchant asks the wife what became of it, and she tells him she has spent it. Both have to accept the situation.

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Wenlock Priory - 'fishers of men'

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The Ploughman

Listen to the transcript and read the text Listen and Read
 

The Ploughman is the priest's brother - he's spread plenty of dung in his time! He loves God with all his heart and his neighbour as himself, and works as well and as honestly as he can. He thanks God and digs for all men, for Christ's sake, sometimes without recompense, and he always pays his tithes on time. He wears a peasant's smock, and rides on a mare.

He does not tell a tale.

 

Lincoln Cathedral

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The Manciple

Listen to the transcript and read the text Listen and Read
 

A manciple is an official responsible for buying and transporting provisions for a college - this one works for an Inn of Court (in London). Whether he pays cash or credit, he buys so wisely that he is always in credit. Isn't that a divine gift, says Geoffrey, given to the unlearned and worth more than a whole load of learning? The manciple has more than thirty masters who are expert in law in his Inn, of whom a dozen are fit to be stewards in the highest households in the land, whose masters they could keep out of debt if they had the sense to listen to them - but this lowly manciple can deceive them all!

The Manciple's Tale

The Manciple tells a tale about the god Apollo, his crow and his wife. Apollo has a wife and a crow, both of whom he keeps very jealously. Unknown to him, the wife has a lover, a man far beneath him in status and in worth. The crow sees the wife and her lover together, and keeps his peace until Apollo returns home. Then the crow tells the god in detail precisely what his wife and her lover have been doing. Apollo, in a rage, kills his wife. He then turns on the crow, blaming it for what he himself has done. He pulls out the crow’s white feathers, and takes away its beautiful singing voice, then he throws it out of the house to fend for itself. This may be what the crow wanted all along. The moral of the story is, if you know what’s good for you – keep your mouth shut!

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(All images on this page are comic characters from Lincoln Cathedral.)

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The Aristocratic World
Aristocratic
The Churl's World
Churls
The Clerk's World
Clerks
The Townspeople's world
Townspersons
A Woman's World
Womans
Chaucer and his world
Chaucer's
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