Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale”: Exemplum of caritas

Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale”: Exemplum of caritas

Graybill, Robert V.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 2 (1985)


The medieval expression of caritas (love), that quality of generosity and creative grace exemplified by the Christian God when He created the heavens, the earth, and man, is shown in Chaucer’s “The Miller’s Tale.” “The Miller’s Tale,” however, is a fabliau–coarse, obscene, an extended dirty joke likely intended for the titillation of upper-class minor nobility and court hangers-on. How can one reconcile Christian love and human bawdry? Without a belief deep enough to reconcile paradox or a sense of divine humor that supersedes all seeming contradictions one would find it impossible. Dante’s Divina Commedia had to reconcile God’s love with the pains of the hell He created. Chaucer resolves the dichotomy between body and spirit with a sense of humor also, the laughter of a man at ease with himself–sly, whimsical, puckish, bantering, deceptively teasing–the urbane qualities of one serene in his knowledge that every manner of thing will ultimately be well.

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