What makes Nicholas Hende and Absolon not?
Geoffrey Chaucer uses the adjective Hende (or Hendé/Hendi) in “The Canterbury Tales” second story “The Miller’s Tale” to explicitly describe Nicholas, the young desiring student who lives in Carpenter John’s house and eager to sleep with his much younger wife, Alisoun.
In this essay, I will look at how Chaucer uses the word Hende to describe the nature and general connotation of Nicholas’s “clever/courtly” personality and physical vicinity of being close at hand or range, in respect to not delineate Absolon as Hende, the third male figure who also wants to cuckold john. Concluding with the issue of power dynamics and the adjective given allows some advantage to Nicholas over Absolon due characterization and attributes that come with the word Hende like “Clever”, “Handsome” and proximity.
Amid other denotations, the word Hende according to the Middle English Dictionary (MED) carries the meanings but not limited to “Having courtly or knightly qualities”, “Beautiful and handsome”, “Of god, Christ”, “Skillful and clever” and “Close by and handy”.
The adjective is used casually ten times and totally in the form of “Hende Nicholas”. An example of Hende is twelve lines into the tale, it is first used to introduce “Clever Nicholas” and describe his courtly “secret love” in lines 3199-3200 “This clerk was cleped hende Nicholas, Of derne loue he koude and of solas”. Another example is him Flirting with Alisoun in Lines 3272-3273 “That on a day this hende Nicholas Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye”.
The word attached to Nicholas Hende creates the basic association of his character and surroundings like his courtly reasoning, skills, personality and vicinity to Alisoun and around the hostelry. Chaucer on the other hand did not delineate Absolon by describing him as “Hende”, nonetheless Absolon is elegant and courtly due to his traditional love traits and acts like for instance serenading Alisoun and trying to “Knight her” (Coley).
The attributes that come with “Hende” fit Nicholas more than Absolon. For example, Absolon seems to be more of an irritating “foppish” figure, “Parish clerk” having “flamboyant clothes” and softer masculine characteristics like his low voice, singing and dancing (Coley). Generally being the over romantic affectionate type of person who seemed harmless in comparison to Nicholas; who is perhaps trickier, more aggressive, and secretive (Coley). Chaucer never attached Hende to Absolon because Absolon probably did not establish the same proximity of his character style, qualities, and skills that make him Hende.
In regards to Nicholas, he fits the Hende elements like him being drown into his hobbies and skills as well as having the “courtly” features by his “or else” love attitude when it comes to being with Alisoun as stated in line 3281 “Sweetheat, love me immediately or I will die” or generally his “secret love” quality in line 3200, which are words drawn out from “courtly love” (Coley); signifying his character qualities and complementing Hende’s attributes of “having courtly and knightly qualities”, “Clever/Crafty”, and “near by” to Nicholas’s character. Also defying other notions of the word like it being a surname or religious associations due to carried meanings.
The Implication of Hende slightly allows more characterization and power or authority to Nicholas, having richer qualities due to the attached denotations. The circulation of power and authority is revolved around whoever seizes or carries the narrative (Coley), and thus having the adjective attributed to Nicholas and his character is what gives him some sort of depth and advantage over Absolon, which probably intrigued Alisoun into giving up to Nicholas and sleeping with him.
The word Hende denotes variant unrelated meanings (religious, personality, vicinity, surname) nonetheless there are similarities in which to build on a character like Nicholas and not Absolon due to proximity, character and qualities.
Coley, David. “The Miller’s Prologue and Tale.” English 201 Seminars. Simon Fraser University. Vancouver. 07 Nov. 2016. Seminar
Greenblatt, Stephen and M. H Abrams. The Norton Anthology Of English Literature : The Middle Ages. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Pp.264-279.
Middle English Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
“The Miller’s Prologue and Tale: An Interlinear Translation from The Riverside Chaucer.” The Geoffrey Chaucer Page. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Harvard University, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.