At Trumpingtoun, nat fer fro Cantebrigge
November 1, 2020 § 3 Comments
This village was the site for one of Chaucer’s bawdiest stories, The Reeve’s Tale. In sum, two students revenge themselves on a thieving miller by screwing his daughter and his wife, and by beating him senseless.
Chaucer wanted to make the miller the butt of the joke. And so he carefully set up the story so that the reader would understand what a loathsome person the miller of Trumpington was.
The name “Trumpington,” likely of Germanic origin was almost certainly a Chaucerian pun on the French word “tromper,” to trick or deceive, “a town of scoundrels.” The biggest lout in Trumpington was the miller.
The miller was a crook. “A thief he was, in truth, of corn and meal, and also sly, and accustomed for to steal.”
His name? “deynous Symkyn,” with “deynous” meaning “proud, haughty, spiteful.”
He was ugly, too. “Round was his face, and flattened was his nose.”
He was a bully, a “market beater” who’d pick a fight with anyone, anywhere, over any imagined slight. “He was a market-beater in every way.”
People feared him because he went about armed to the teeth. “And by his side he bore a long sword with a razor’s blade.”
He was jealous and dangerous. “For jealous folk been perilous evermore.”
Or maybe he was just a poser? “At least they wish that their wives would think so.”
He was vain and dressed outlandishly. “And Symkin had pants of the same [scarlet red color of his wife’s gown.]”
He was obsessed with a woman’s virginity. “He wanted no wife, as he said, but she was well fed and a maid [virgin].”
He saw his wife and family as a tool to further his financial and family goals. He sought marriage with a high-placed woman “to protect his estate of yeomanry.”
He took advantage of other people’s misfortune. When he learned that the person at the college (Cambridge) responsible for checking on the accuracy of his milling was sick, he stole “a hundred times more than before.”
How much of a thief was he? “He stole outrageously.”
He was a liar. “He blustered (when accused of stealing) and swore it was not so.”
He was a schemer. When the students came to grind their grain and check on its accuracy, he sneaked off and untied their horse so it would run away, diverting them from their charge. “He stripped off the bridle right anon, and when the horse was loose then was it gone.”
He was a faker and posturer, slyly returning from his misdeeds and pretending nothing had happened. “The miller came again, no word he said, but did his work and with the students played.”
He conspired with others to further his evil schemes. Once the students ran off to find their horse, he stole their grain and had his wife make it into a cake for his own use. “He half a bushel of their flour did take, and told his wife to knead it to a cake.”
At the end, though, the miller got a severe beating from one of the clerks and from his wife, who mistakenly beat him in the head with a pole as he scuffled on the floor in the dark.
At the end, the miller was defeated by his most loyal supporters. His wife cracked his skull and his daughter, in love with the student, showed him where the cake made from the stolen grain was hidden.
At the end, the students, who had been cheated, though they took a bit of a beating themselves, learned their lesson and turned the tables on this conniving, thieving, ill-mannered, haughty and dangerous sonofabitch.
Did Chaucer see into the future? I don’t know. Happy election day tomorrow, and don’t forget to vote!