Canterbury Tales By Reeve Such comments as, “I pray to God his nekke mote to-breke” quickly reveal that the verbal game of “quite” involves much more than a free meal to the Reeve in “The Canterbury Tales” (I 3918). This overreaction, which grabs the attention of the audience and gives it pause, is characteristic of the Reeves ostensibly odd behavior, being given to morose speeches followed by violent outbursts, all the while harboring spiteful desires. Anger typifies the Reeves dialogue and his tale, which begs the question why. It appears to be a reaction to the Millers insults, but they are not extreme enough to provoke such resentment. He seem-ingly has no hesitation in articulating his bitterness, yet he and his story are as much marked by suppression as expression.
Silence resounds as loudly as any noise in the Reeves Prologue and Tale. The reader is as puzzled by his utterances as the lack of them: his sudden sermon on death is matched by the quietness of two couples copulating in a small room of five, none of which are able to hear what the others are doing. The reality is that the behavior of the Reeve and the characters in his tale are not random or unaccountable. The Reeve is continually si-lenced by other pilgrims and himself, which is paralleled in his tale, and in turn suppresses his emotions, which leads to even more explosive conduct. I.
Characterization In order to appreciate the melancholic and serious temperament of the Reeve, it is nec-essary to view him in comparison to other characters, as Chaucer intended. The identities of the pilgrims are relative. They are characterized by their description in the General Prologue, but not fully developed until they are seen in contrast to the pilgrim they are “quiting.” As the Millers personality is developed by his dissimilarity to the Knight, so is the Reeve by the Miller. Therefore Robins enjoyment of life shows just how little Oswald receives from the same. For instance, the Millers large frame and excessive drinking show his delight in small pleasures. The Reeve, however, is “a sclendre colerik man” who controls his beard and hair (in opposition to the unruly strands that grow on a wart on the millers nose) as manipula-tively as the accounts of the farm on which he works (I 587).
The Miller mastered the bag-pipes for entertainment in his spare time while the Reeve trained with more practical tools: “In youthe he had lerned a good myster: He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter” (I 614). Robin is very physical; he is strong and willing to wrestle anything and carries a sword and buckler at his side. Oswald only carries a rusty blade, which indicates that it is not used very often and is only for show. If compelled to fight, he would most likely back down, preferring verbal sparring. The Miller socializes with the group with no regards to the class system, in-terrupting the expected order to tell his story before the Monk, while Oswald prefers to sepa-rate himself and ride last among the group.
These disparities give the impression that Oswald is focused inward while Robin con-centrates on the outward. The Reeve is ruled by his practical mind, which directs him to make as much money as possible, whether it is through theft or saving or learning useful trades, and to avoid dangerous situations, even if it entails cowardice. The Miller is more of a Dionysian figure, who does only what pleases him, whether it is knocking heads or ignoring his wifes infidelities. These differences in character foreshadow the differences in their tales. They both tell similar dirty stories but the nature varies greatly.
It is the Millers good-humor that trans-forms the chivalric tale of the Knight into an account of adultery that is both bawdy and hi-larious. As will be discussed in greater detail in this essay, it is the Reeves introversion that causes him to recite his mean-spirited tale of adultery as punishment. II. Outward Manifestations of Suppressed Emotions The Reeves vindictiveness and mood swings are based in his being repeatedly silenced and his subsequent suppression of emotions. Oswald speaks three times in Fragment I, and on the first occasion his wishes are ignored, on the second he is told to speak of a more amusing subject, and he is finally allowed to speak on the third, but only because every pilgrim must tell a tale.
The Reeves first words are spoken to the Miller. He orders Robin to “Stynt thy clappe!” before beginning his story of a carpenter and his wife which will defame him and bring scandal to wives in general (I 3144). Instead of forcing the Miller to wait until he is so-ber so that he will recite a less offensive tale, the Host lets him compete next, disregarding the Reeves and his own objections. When the Miller finishes, the Reeve does not introduce his story, but ruminates on his old age and the lifeblood that has been flowing out of him since he was born. He tells us that his heart is full of mold, that his fire has burnt out. All that remains are four embers: boasting, lying, anger and greed.
And though his body is failing him, sexual cravings and desire in general are still present: “Oure olde lemes mowe wel been unweelde, But wyl ne shal nat faillen, that is sooth” (I 3886-3887). He is expressing his fears and inade-quacies to the group, but they find it too serious. The Host interrupts him and commands that he begin his story. This is a very critical moment in that the Host halts the speech in which the Reeve tries to purge himself of all that has been festering inside of him. The Reeve is an old man close to death and is scared.
He feels that he has nothing noble left in him. Just as he can find no satis-faction for his desire through his feeble body, he can find no release for his pent-up emotions because he is always being silenced. He will soon be silenced forever, and yet is still not al-lowed to voice this or anything of significance while is he alive. Chaucer may only portray the Reeves treatment by this one group and only for a short time span, but it is reasonable to as-sume that this is a pattern in his life. Why else would a quiet man mention his sexual prob-lems to a group of relative strangers unless his family and acquaintances were also unwilling to listen and he was desperate to speak it? Therefore, because of this life-long recurrence of being silenced, he suppressed his feelings.
The Reeve is not artistic, preferring the practical over the aesthetic, so when others refuse to listen, he has no choice but to keep his emotions to himself, there being no other outlet such as art or music in which to channel this. As a re-sult, when he believes he is permitted to speak about whatever he wishes, he lets loose all that has been locked inside of him and gives his morose monologue. But the Host denies him this relief, demanding that he must now tell a story. As expected, the Reeve does not give a hu-morous account similar to the Miller. Instead he directs his anger and his unexpressed emo-tions into his tale.
This is the reason why his story is so vindictive. This explains his prayer that the Miller, who previously described how a carpenter was cuckolded (a very real fear for the married Reeve because of his impotence), would break his neck. His behavior is not irra-tional and his feelings are not naturally malicious. Being confined, his negative emotions multiplied and became amplified as they were freed. As C.
G. Jung explains, repression is the”half-conscious and half-hearted letting go of things” that veer from conventional morality (780). Suppression of antisocial elements, how-ever, is done deliberately. Repression, but not suppression, is one of the main causes of neuro-sis. “Suppression amounts to a conscious moral choice, but repression is a rather immoral penchant for getting rid of disagreeable decisions.
Suppression may cause worry, conflict and suffering, but it never causes a neurosis. Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suf-fering” (780). Since the Reeve is aware of his negativity and conceals it from others and not himself, he may have unresolved issues but is not guided by a dysfunctional mind. Therefore, while he does exhibit extreme behavior, he and his actions are still rational. III.
The Influence of Suppression in the Tale The Reeves Tale has been criticized for its single-minded intent to insult and its cold, impersonal tone in comparison to the Millers Tale. The Miller does poke fun at the Reeve and the Knight, but that is not the sole purpose of his story. His goal appears to be entertain-ment. Nicholas and Alisons desires are simple: to have some fun in bed without getting caught by her husband, John. Yet the plot is very elaborate and comic in the unnecessary planning d …