The Reeve's Tale

by Tyler O'Brien

The Reeve's Tale

The Reeve, taking offense to the Miller's tale, rebuts the story with a disturbing one of his own about an immoral and dishonest Miller, taking a shot at the entire profession. First and most important is a miller named Symkyn, a tough, violent, and intimidating man who mills for a nearby college. Notorious for stealing from or cheating his customers, Symkyn notes an opportunity when the manciple of the institution that usually grinds the corn with Symkyn gets sick, so with nobody watching over him, he cheats the school excessively out of grand amounts of corn and flour. Outraged, two students named John and Aleyn seek permission to fill in for the manciple and mill with Symkyn to ensure that the school is not being shorted, and they are granted permission. The miller understands the students' goal to prevent him from stealing, so Symkyn unties the horse that the boys rode upon, sending them on a wild chase all afternoon, and they are unable to watch over Symkyn, who steals flour and has his wife bake a cake with it. When the boys arrive at night, they decide to spend it at the miller's house, which is where the situation begins to heat up.

Standard of many homes at this time, the entire family slept in one room, on several different beds. Aleyn's bed is right next to the twenty-year-old daughter of Symkyn, Malyne, and in the middle of the night, slips into her bed and sleeps with her in order to punish the miller for stealing from the school. With a similar motive, John moves the cradle next to the bed of Symkyn's wife to his bed, so the wife would climb back into bed with John by mistake, and she did. After John sleeps with the miller's wife, the two rest until the morning. When dawn broke, Malyne informs Aleyn of the whereabouts of the corn her father had stolen, and he goes to retrieve it. Upon returning to the room, the shifted cradle throws Aleyn for a loop, and causes him to accidentally slip into bed with Symkyn, instead of John. Thinking he was speaking to John, Aleyn began disclosing how excited he was that he had slept with the miller's daughter, which enrages Symkyn, who punches Aleyn in the nose. In the midst of a full-fledged brawl, the action was halted when Symkyn's wife mistakenly hits him over the head with a pipe, thinking it was one of the clerks. The two boys then beat the miller senseless, then return to their university.

Who is the Reeve?

The Reeve is an elderly man that formerly served as a carpenter, but is currently in charge of tending another man's land/ farm. The Reeve is not built well, and is described almost as sickly in his appearance due his frail body and worn face. His financial success is portrayed not only through his noble cloak like that of a friar, but also his majestic, gray upon which he rides. So experienced as a manager, it is written that the Reeve can accurately predict any given year's yield, and this advantage connects directly to the tale that he tells.


  1. Nunnery- a building or group of buildings in which nuns live as a religious community; a convent.
  2. Besmirched- damage the reputation of (someone or something) in the opinion of others.
  3. Solace- comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness.
  4. Bromeholm- piece of wood fashioned into a holy cross
  5. Beguiled- charm or enchant someone, usually in a deceitful manner

Additional Research

To fully understand the Reeve's tale repaying the miller, I needed to dive deeper into the significance of adultery and the social stigmas surrounding it. In investigating the impacts of it, I discovered the extent to which it reflected upon not only the "un-pure" woman who is subject to a death at the stake, but also defames the man who was cheated on. One's wife's desire to seek out another man that she lawfully married is regarded during this time as evidence that the man was not an adequate partner. With this very negative social feeling towards adultery, the two boys' acts to defame the miller were especially malicious and dishonoring to Symkyn, fully conveying the Reeve's rebuttal to the embarrassment that reeves suffered in the Miller's tale.


No respectable moral exists in this tale, aside from the fact that vengeance is the most effective way to combat being humiliated, and that unjust people deserve unjust treatment. The Reeve conveys this message after taking offense to the Miller's tale, and repays him with a lewd story of achieving solace in sleeping with another man's wife and daughter. Additionally, the severe penalty suffered by Symkyn is evidence that Chaucer believes that bad people that do bad things should not expect anything less to come their way, and believes that the punishment was deserved because of Symkyn's actions. While it may not be a moral that will be written about in children's books, it was the meaning intended by the Reeve.

Essential Question

Upon the conclusion of the tale, one might still ponder, to what extent was justice served? While the miller might not have any right to constantly steal corn and flour from the school, he absolutely did not deserve the punishment that the boys inflicted on him. On top of humiliating Symkyn by sleeping with his wife and daughter, Chaucer goes out of his way to describe just how egregious the beating Symkyn took while unconscious was. Ultimately, while the boys did accomplish their mission to get back at the miller, they took it several steps too far, but because the miller was a bad man, Chaucer claims that he did not deserve good.
The Canterbury Tales - The Reeve's Tale