The Lives of the Miller’s Tale

The Roots, Composition and Retellings of Chaucer’s Bawdy Story


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About the Book

With his Miller’s Tale, Chaucer transformed a colorless Middle Dutch account into the lively, dramatic story of raunchy Nicholas, sexy Alison, foolish John and squeamish Absolon. This book focuses on the ways Chaucer made his narrative more effective through dialogue, scene division, music, visual effects and staging. The author pays special attention to the description of John the carpenter’s house, the suspension of the three tubs from the beams, and the famous shot-window through which the story’s bawdy climax is enacted.
The book’s second half covers more than 30 of the tale’s retellings—translations, adaptations, bowdlerized versions for children, coloring books, novels, musicals, plays and films—and examines the ways the retellers have followed Chaucer in dramatizing the story, giving it new life on stage and screen. The Miller’s Tale has had many lives—it promises to have many more.

About the Author(s)

Peter G. Beidler, a professor emeritus at Lehigh University, has published widely on British and American life and literature. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Bibliographic Details

Peter G. Beidler
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 284
Bibliographic Info: 49 illustrations, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9393-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1828-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments  vi

Preface: A Whiter Shade of Pale  1

Introduction: Dramatizing the Miller’s Tale  3

Part One: Chaucer’s

Transformation of the Miller’s Tale

I. Origins  9

II. Four Genres  15

III. Seeing and Hearing  30

IV. Comedic Realism  38

V. The Structure of John’s House  48

VI. The ­Shot-Window  60

VII. Reconstructing John’s House  81

VIII. People and Props  87

IX. The ­Pre-Bedroom Sequence  93

X. The Bedroom Sequence  108

Part Two: Modern Transformations of the Miller’s Tale

XI. Early Retellings for Adults: Cobb (1712), Smith (1713), Anonymous (1791)  125

XII. Early Retellings for Young Readers: Johnstone (1895), Darton (1904), Farjeon (1930)  132

XIII. Later Retellings for Adults: Clarke (1870), Haweis (1887), Raffel (2008), Ackroyd (2009)  138

XIV. Later Retellings for Young Readers: McCaughrean (1984), Hastings (1988)  145

XV. In the Modern Missouri Ozarks: Milburn (1956)  151

XVI. In Coloring Books and Cartoons: Adkins (1973), Lorenz (1981), Williams (2007), Chwast (2011)  169

XVII. In Musical Performance: Starkie (1968), Pickering (1988), Brinkman (2006)  183

XVIII. In Theatrical Performance: Woods (1974), Wengrow (1983), Riley (1998), O’Connor (2001), Price (2002), Poulton (2005)  195

XIX. In Filmic Performance: Pasolini (1972), Myerson (2000), Bowker (2003)  217

XX. In San Francisco and Southwark: Miller (2014), Machin (2014)  227

Chapter Notes  251

Bibliography  267

Index  273

Book Reviews & Awards

“Beidler draws out under examined details of narrative structure and of material culture in the tale…an entertaining and erudite book”—Speculum.