Chaucer's Poetry

Color Symbolism in The Miller's Tale of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales

"The Miller's Tale", a ribald and bawdy fabliaux about the generation gap, youthful lust, aged foolishness, and the selfishness and cruelty of people towards each other, contains a wealth of color terms which add to and expand the meaning of this rustic tale. The teller, too, the Miller, is described in detail in Chaucer's "Prologue" with several colors attached to him. The colors employed by Chaucer were important not only for the vividness of the description to help to make a mental image for the hearers (or readers,) but also for clues to the nature of the characters described. Sometimes there are several layers of meaning in one color term describing an aspect of a human being or a piece of clothing, and these meanings can create multiple readings of increasingly revelatory and sometimes contradictory significance.

Color symbolism was far more important in medieval society than it is today. Colors meant many things, and the different shades and hues chosen for clothing, furnishings, and even hair-tinting (in additions to natural variations of these hues) were all imbued with meaning within a social and religious context:

...color [was] a favorite ploy of Satan and his cohorts, used in their...

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