The Canterbury Tales is hailed as the most famous work of Geoffrey Chaucer. The Miller, to the dismay of the host and the company begins his tale to “quiten” the knight’s tale. The stark difference of the tone and setting is apparent here as the scene shifts from the Knight’s eloquent language to the miller’s bawdy and commonplace drawl.
Absolon first presents himself as a comic and pitiable lover vying for the return of his affections. His profession as a parish clerk is tainted at the very beginning due to his various faults as highlighted by the quote : This parish clerk, this joly Absolon, Hath in his herte swich a love-longinge, That of no wyf ne took he noon offringe; For curteisye, he seyde, he wolde noon.
As Raymond says : Absolon is vain, affected, fastidious, squeamish and vulgar – most disingeuous young man. Absolon tries to woo Alisoun in various ways, first trying to win her by his songs and pretenses and when that fails, he tries to buy her affections by offering her money and gifts. This incessant pursual can be seen in the Mahabharata too. Duryodhana is shown to be harbouring amorous sentiments towards Draupadi, the wife of his brothers. Whose beauty is described at length as is Alisoun’s. During the game of dice, Duryodhana shows his perverse interest in draupadi by having her disrobed by his brother and then indicating her to sit on his lap as a slave would.
Absolon negotiates with Alisoun in order to get a kiss. All his claims of true love fall apart at this conjecture because of his willingness to accept a kiss as a substitute for her love. Allas,’ quod Absolon, ‘and weylawey, That trewe love was evere so yvel biset! Thanne kisse me, sin it may be no bet, For Jesus love and for the love of me.’
He finally gets his wish as Alisoun agrees to let him kiss her once, ignorant of the tragedy that will follow and lead to his ultimate undoing, Absolon closes his eyes, only to kiss Alisoun’s arse. His rage at being fooled by the maiden he claimed to worship and adore is alarming. It is interesting to note that a practical prank by Alisoun turns him against the possibility of love in the future.
The lines Of paramours he sette nat a kers, For he was heeled of his maladye, Ful ofte paramours he gan deffye, And weep as doth a child that is y-bete. Illustrate his denunciation of love. This can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, If his love was indeed as true as he claimed it to be, a prank wouldn’t have driven him to such a murderous rage. On the other hand, a more plausible explanation would be that he is not angered by the act but of its consequence, that is, it is not the kissing that bothers him but the fact that she has denied him, a man of the church, for some vagabond scholar that forces him to confront his ego and vanity. It is probably this reality check that drives to him insanity.
Absolon’s rage leads him to procure a cultour from the blacksmith with the intention of branding and injuring Alisoun for her “crime”. Nicholas in his eagerness to humiliate the spurned lover Absolon becomes the target. We can also suppose that perhaps Absolon would have refrained from engaging in such violence had it not been for Nicholas’s act of farting which only served to aggravate his chagrin.
The supposition that repeated humiliation of an egotist at the hands of those he considers lowly leading to dire consequences is supported by the interpretation of the scene at Indraprastha by many authors like Iravathi Karwe and Devdutt Pattanaik. Duryodhana is fooled by the glass like appearance of the pool and thus falls knee-deep into it. He, being a prince and a egomaniac to boot is utterly humiliated. At this instance, Draupadi’s jeering only serves to add fule to the fire. This incident, is believe to be the reason behind the anger that Duryodhana harbours towards the Pandavas, his deisre for their anihilation that leads to the ultimate war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
In the Miller’s tale Nicholas is portrayed as the unintended target of Absolon’s rage whereas, in the Mahabharata, it is the entire Pandava family that suffers from the wrath of Duryodhana. Absolon and Duryodhana, both act on impulse as a result of suffering from being humiliated by a woman.
This brings forth the issue of respect. In both the cases, it is observed that the men are imperious and pretentious. They have a very displaced notion of their value and carry a misconception that any woman they desire would be lucky. This grand idea of self, when broken leaves their self-respect in shreds. Seen as docile, comical or powerless, this one incident awakens them to reality that they are unable to handle and hence act out. Their suppressed and ashamed identity in its quest for regaining its previous glory comes out in the form of unprecedented brutality. Is this because their self-confidence is fragile that a small prank has the power to unsettle them? Is it because they place themselves in such a grand position that they fail to appreciate practical jokes? Is their perception of life so removed from reality that they fail to control their emotions? Is the savage streak concealed behind a weak facade of frailty and ineptitude or is their arrogant and confident demeanor itself a veil to shield their true human self?
Apart from textual and mythological instances as in the case of The Miller’s Tale and The Mahabharata, we see this result of repressed violence in our daily lives too. India has witnessed a large number of acid attacks. The Indian Express on April 10, 2015 reported that 309 acid attacks were reported ni 2014, placing it at 300% more than the average reports lodged in the preceeding three years. Numbers and Statistics apart, acid attacks are a perverse form of revenge. ASTI (Acid Survivors Trust International) states that In many cases, acid attacks are a form of gender based violence, perhpas because a young girl or woman spurned sexual advances or rejected a marriage proposal.
There are many stories, covered by national newspapers that bring out the reason for such abominable crimes. As established by the IPS (Inter Press Service), Acid attacks are mostly on woman by men who have been rejected or by husbands who suspect their wives of infidelity, as corroborated by the stories published on Mail Online.
These men are the modern Absolons and Duryodhanas, incapable of handling rejection, they resort to violence. Is this the result of a patriarchal upbringing that reinstates the misconstrued notion of machismo as the right to take anything they desire or is it the failure of human nature to comprehend the complex web we weave with retribution leading to our ultimate annihilation?