A woman is a creature to be treated like an angel of God. She is beautiful, honorable, and chaste. The sanctity of a woman is not only worth fighting for, it is worth dying for. Her glove on plate mail is a harmonious battle cry, a motivation both formidable and divine. Always painfully proper and never morally compromised, she is the embodiment of righteousness. I shall love her from afar, as she will love me back. Never will our love come to physical fruition; it is more holy than that. Her, as well as my, marriage is beneath our love, our love of admiration and complete devotion. She will swoon for me as I shall fight for her, and our spirits are forever intertwined. Physical love and lusty temptation are too worldly for us.
These would be the thoughts of any proper knight toward his lady. “The Miller’s Tale” is a satire of courtly love and its actuality in times contemporary the setting of The Canterbury Tales. The characters Alison, Absalon, and Nicholas are exacerbated examples of the degradation of courtly love that happened in medieval times, a direct result of man’s inclination to indulge in earthly pleasure.
Alison does shame to the notion of courtly love. She personifies deceit, infidelity, and moral perversion. Toward the object of what must be her courtly love, as she was married before ever encountering him, she extends promise of physical engagement so far as to the point of sex. She deceives her husband so that she can philander with John, who she should be the object of her worship, not her lust. She is the complete opposite of the morally upright woman she should, and her “courtly” love for John is little more than indulgence in sin. Also, in her dealings with her other pursuer Absalon, “she looked upon him as her private ape.”
As a lady she should have been proper and at least civil in her dealings with him, yet she treated him like a puppet. She had no care for his emotion or his well being. When Absalon asked for a kiss from her, instead of persisting that he treat her as a lady and love her from afar, she had him kiss her rear. A lady should never act in such a manner. Her actions are so perverse that by her traits one would think her one and the same as the miller telling this story.
Absalon, unrequited lover of Alison, is not free of sin himself. He too does shame to the idea of courtly love. Rather than love her in a holy, worshipping manner, he chases her pruriently, “if she had been a mouse and he a cat, she’d have been pounced upon.” If he had been pure and morally strong, he would have loved her like a knight, chastely, without any physical desire.
Nicholas, like Absalon, loves his lady hotly rather than worshipfully. If Nicholas had been a true man, he would have loved her as an angel, his lady on high. Her beauty should have been his strength, but it was his passion. He carried on an affair with the wife of his landlord, the woman who should have been his object of Christian affection. Instead of wearing a piece of her clothing as a reminder to do right, he “stroked her loins a bit and kissed her sweetly.”
Chaucer’s intention for creating such morally deranged characters is to illustrate the degree to which courtly love had become just a synonym for physical lust. The reason for this tale is to show that extramarital affairs are only an engagement in immorality, especially if the affair be under the guise of holy love. As men, Absalon and Nicholas should have loved Alison with the love of highest admiration, and she should have loved them the same way. Rather than love each other in the right fashion, they succumbed to physical temptation, and thus were morally devoid characters. A woman is an angel, not an object of lust.