The Canterbury Tales

Hadde Hem Hoolly in My Hand: The Alisons of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Perhaps no medieval work of literature is as rich in the concept of games and play as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The tales are framed by the very idea of a game, i.e. the game of telling stories while on a pilgrimage. However, the real games in the tales are those that emerge through the stories that the pilgrims tell. For example, "The Miller's Tale" and "Wife of Bath's Prologue" highlight that games that women play in the context of their relationships with men. The fact that the two female characters in question are both named "Alison" adds to the irony and perhaps implies that Chaucer is also playing a game with the reader.

The first Alison encountered in both Bradshaw and Ellesmere's standard order of the Canterbury Tales is the Alison of "The Miller's Tale." This character's attitude and strength seem to be connected to her age, as she is described first and foremost as "wilde and yong" (117). Because she is so young and her husband, John the Carpenter, is so old and controlling, it is no surprise to the reader that she is so easily convinced to have an affair with the young clerk, Nicholas. While it is Nicholas who first makes advances, Alison is...

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