We Mooste Calle Him “Hende Donald”

Paper theatre version of "The Miller's Tale"

McCune Canterbury Paper Paper Project, “The Miller’s Tale”


After reading this Vox article, I’m kicking myself for having missed a parallel between Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” and the behavior of a Geoffrey Chaucer character. Author Constance Grady has it right: in the recorded Access Hollywood tape that came to light this past Friday, Trump is a real life version of Nicholas in The Miller’s Tale.

If you need reminding, here is Trump boasting of how he has sexually assaulted women:

I just start kissing them. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Reports from numerous women report that, for once, Trump was telling the truth: he starts by kissing them and then moves on to groping. 

Chaucer’s Nicholas is an impoverished university student, not a billionaire star, but other than that his approach is pure Donald. His target is the wife of his landlord, an old carpenter who has ill-advisedly married a much younger woman: 

Now, sire, and eft, sire, so bifel the cas,
That on a day this hende nicholas 
Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye, 
Whil that hir housbonde was at oseneye, 
As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte; 
And prively he caughte hire by the queynte, 
And seyde, ywis, but if ich have my wille, 
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille. 
And heeld hire harde by the haunchebones, 
And seyde, lemman, love me al atones, 
Or I wol dyen, also God me save! 

Or in modern English:

Now sirs, now, so things came to pass,
That one day this courteous Nicholas
Began with this young wife to fool and play,
While her husband was down Osney way –
As clerks are full of subtlety and tricks.
And covertly he caught her by the sex,
And said: ‘Sweetheart, unless I have my will
For secret love of you, then die I will!’
And held her hard by the haunch bones,
And: ‘Sweetheart, love me, now,’ he moans,
‘Or I will die, as God shall me save!’

“Queynte” works as a pun for “clever” as well as a woman’s private parts, which is why the word gets repeated in the Middle English passage. But Nicholas’s signifier, “hende,” is an even better pun, meaning “courteous” but hinting at its modern definition of “clever or skillful in using your hands.”

Donald claims that “no man respects women more than I do,” which means that wants to be seen as “hende” in the medieval sense. His actions, however, show him to be the other kind of hende. Unlike Nicholas, however, he failed in making inroads with the woman mentioned in the Access Hollywood tape. Chaucer’s university student, while having none of Trump’s advantages, nevertheless persuades Allison to engage in consensual sex. He does not force her, dominate her, or humiliate her.

In certain ways, Trump more resembles the carpenter, an elderly man who has no business marrying a young woman that is as slick as a weasel and frolicsome as a colt. As the Miller observes,

He knew nat catoun [Cato], for his wit was rude, 
That bad [bade] man sholde wedde his simylitude. 
Men sholde wedden after hire estaat, 
For youthe and elde is often at debaat.

Of course, the Miller himself is perpetuating a sexist stereotype by suggesting to his aroused mostly male audience that young women like to be approached in this manner. However, we are hearing increasing numbers of complaints (including from beauty pageant contestantsApprentice cast and crew members,  and others) that “hende Donald’s” approach is a humiliating invasion.

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