“The Knight’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale” differ greatly in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in their moral values as well as in their perception of heroism and heroes. In their tales there are opposing ideals like adultery and justness as well as conflicting characters like Theseus and Nicholas. Theseus and Nicholas are both smart, but Theseus magnanimously uses his wisdom to better the circumstances of those around him, especially the less fortunate or wronged, while lustful Nicholas uses cleverness to manipulate anyone for his benefit.
Although these characters are very different, the Knight and Miller would consider Theseus and Nicholas respectively, heroes because they each embody the ideals the Knight and Miller hold. Whereas the Knight’s Tale celebrates Theseus as the hero because of his wisdom and selflessness, Nicholas is considered the Miller’s hero because of his cleverness and self-interest.
While Theseus is considered a hero by using reason to controlling his emotion to act wisely under all situations, Nicholas thinks only of his lust for Alison and uses his cleverness to satisfy his desire, never controlling it.
Once, Theseus overcome by anger when he finds that two knights, Palamon and Arcita, who have made an oath to act honourably, fighting each other like wild beasts. However he uses reason overcomes his anger, “And though his anger at their guilt was loth, to pardon either, reason pardoned both”. Nicholas, on the other hand, does not conquer his feelings, but as, “Students are sly and giving way to whim” Nicholas grabs Alison in a successful attempt to seduce her even though she is already married.
When Alison mentions her worries about her husband John finding out, Nicholas brags about his cleverness, A scholar doesn’t have to stir his wits so much as to trick a carpenter”. Another time, Theseus, in his wisdom, looks up to “The First Great Cause and Mover of all above” for inspiration to guide him in maintaining order on Earth.
However, when Nicholas looks up as the stars, it is not to discern the order of the skies, but to manipulate his knowledge of them to his advantage. He tells John, “I have found out by my astrology and looking at the moon when it was bright… This world,’ he said, ‘in just about an hour shall be drowned’”. John the Carpenter a, “rich old codger” is very gullible and apt to believe Nicholas with his fancy predictions and astrolabe, asks, “Is there no remedy,’ he said, ‘for this?” Nicholas then cleverly says, “There is, if you will do exactly what I say and don’t start thinking up some other way(97)” which not only convinces John to follow his extraordinary plan, but also ensures John not accidentally interfering in his escapade with Alison.
Another difference between Theseus and Nicholas is how Theseus is extraordinarily selfless, putting others before himself while Nicholas’s biggest priority is always himself. Time and again controls his personal feelings and looks at the bigger picture so that he can do what is best for everyone.
In the beginning of the tale, Theseus, returning home from his own wedding meets, “A company of ladies … all clothed in black” whose husbands had been wrongfully and dishonourably slain by Creon in Thebes. He stops his returning wedding procession, “and swore an oath that as he was a true knight, so far as it should lie within his might, he would take vengeance on this tyrant King” Nicholas, however, does not restrain his emotions for anything, but makes them his priority and puts everyone else after him. In his interaction with Alison while John was out, he ignores her rejections, but in his self interest he, “began to plead his cause and spoke so fair in proffering what he could that in the end she promised him she would, swearing she’d love him, with a solemn promise to be at his disposal, by St Thomas, when she could spy an opportunity”.
Later on Theseus restrains himself and shows his selflessness when he does not automatically cut Palamon and Arcita down when he found them fighting, “as boars that meet and froth as white as foam upon the flood. They fought till they were ankle-deep in blood.(47)” Nicholas never restrains himself as we see when Absalon comes by Alison’s window, “and he thought he could improve upon the jape and make him kiss his arse ere he escape.(104)” He also manipulates John’s trust in him when he says, “Rain is to fall in torrents, such a scud It will be twice as bad as Noah’s Flood. This world,’ he said, ‘in just about an hour, shall all be drowned” Gullible John believes him and Nicholas wins.
At the end of both The Knight’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale both have achieved their goals, but by very opposite means. Theseus has kept order, been chivalrous as a knight, put others before himself and through reason controlled himself so as to act wisely. Nicholas on the other hand successfully seduced Alison, manipulated and tricked a myriad of people, and has not gotten in a bit of trouble.
I think the Knight and the Miller both have very opposite views of what a hero should be. With people that have high moral standards, the Knight’s hero, Theseus would be widely accepted and idolised. However, for people that don’t have as high morals, they would certainly enjoy Nicholas as character if not consider him a hero or someone to look up to as well. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales show many different types of people from many different backgrounds and it is in the eye of the teller of whether they are a hero are not no matter how differently they may be from one another. The Knight’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale prove this and show that whether someone is selfless or selfish and clever or wise they may still be considered a hero.