Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.4): The Reeve’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)
It is a point of some controversy, but The Reeve’s Tale is a story of rape. Really, it is another male-chauvinist fantasy.
But, the plot is simple and it is another comedy. Here we find a miller, someone who grinds flour. Problem is, this Miller is a cheat. He always skims off the top so that anyone who comes to him for his services, leaves with less than they came with. One day, a couple of Cambridge student feel that they can cheat the Miller. But, while grinding their flower, the Miller lets their horse free; as they search for the horse, the Miller takes some of their goods and tells his wife to make him a cake. After the students find the horse, it is late and asks to pay for lodgings for the night. Long story short, sexual hijinks ensue and the Miller is cuckholded—in a way—while his daughter is defiled. The students make off with their horse, the cake, and without paying for the night’s lodging. Finally, someone cheats the cheat (the miller).
Since both you and I do not live in an after-school special, we know the moral of this story—don’t steal from and cheat people. Unfortunately, this doesn’t ameliorate the underlying anti-femme violence, an amoral token taken for granted in male-dominated texts. Much like the previous tale, however, this is implicit within the intended audience. Just as in the last tale, the contents seemed directed toward the sit-com type of audience inherent in The Big Bang Theory, this tale, feels right at home copying the crudely animated television shows of today (South Park, Family Guy, etc.).
Whether one agrees with this or believes that it is a stretch of logic too far is a debate for another time. In the meantime, we can examine a contemporary response to the Miller’s tale and feel what one modern take does with such risqué material.
This time around, it is a group affair. As the credits for this tale’s re-enactment states:
“’Ozzy Reeve’s Tale’ was written by Rachel Shapiro and produced and directed by Christina Neuwirth. Photography and iPhone texts by Andrew Perry. Starring (in order of appearance) Andrew Perry as John and Mr. Simkin, Jacques Tsiantar as Alan and Mr Simkin, Jessica Legacy as Rosalie Simkin and Rachel Shapiro as Katie Simkin”
So, what is this group affair? Essentially, it is a movie in pictures. The snap chat kind of images with short one-liners. Text messages bubbles interspace the images providing narration and context for the image-story. Taking cues from Chaucer’s miller, the plot re-arrangement focuses a down-and-out student forced to get revenge on a mechanic which has been cheating his professor (in exchange for a better grade, of course). Clearly, hijinks follow, though this time around of a much less rape oriented direction as things are kept to a PG-rating.
My thoughts are that this is well-needed. It is a breath of fresh air. To see some of the people behind these adaptations in the flesh rejuvenates the project by reminding me that there is living, breathing persons behind the pen. The medium itself is intriguing as it tells a story through two different modes of entertainment: images and text bubbles. Each is used to reinforce the other and it feels closer to a movie than one would expect. Texting screenshots reminds one of the narrations of the previous tale but as here they are used just sparingly, so readers encounter something just familiar enough to contextualize it in its new environment as the static version of voiceover narration. Candid, fun, bold. Great stuff.
Handily, I give this tale a 9/10.
Synopsis Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_NfN6w27n4