Merchant’s Tale Essay

Published: 2021-06-29 01:48:35
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Category: Drama

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The theme of marriage runs throughout the whole of Chaucer’s poem, a serious topic on which Chaucer wrote well and often. It could be argued that the views on marriage that are highlighted are those of the poet himself and that the fictional character of the Merchant is used as the poet’s mouthpiece. When looking at the theme of marriage in the section, I clearly found a number of different attitudes including that of cynicism. I am going to discuss some of these attitudes in this essay and comment on the way in which the theme of marriage is explored.
In the opening lines of the poem, the merchant begins to tell us the story of Januarie, for 60 years he lived without a wife and was satisfied with the life he had but he had a strong will to be married. The knight prays to god to grant his wish and let him have a blissful life with a young wife. ” Noon oother lyf, seyde he, is worh a bene” Januarie says that no other life is worth a bean, this is ironic because for 6o years he lived alone but now he thinks that the world will become a paradise. This is one of the many biblical allusions used by the poet. It is a reference to the Garden of Eden, which in itself is ironic because there was sin within the paradise of the garden.
The merchant tells the audience of Januaries criteria for a wife, she must be obedient, trustworthy and attentful, she must keep him in sickness and in health. These characteristics become ironic later in the tale, as his wife doesn’t hold any of these. From line 82 we can see the view of Theophrastus, the author of the golden book of marriage where we see another example of intertexuality. He believes that marriage is not a good thing, a wife will betray a husband, she will take half of what are his and that a man shouldn’t take a wife for economic reasons. Theophrastus believes that a servant would be more loyal than a wife, his view is conflicting with that of Januarie but it echoes that of the Merchant.
On line 98 we see the merchant begin to speak. It is ironic that we see him tell the audience to defy Theophrastus as he himself agrees with his view on marriage that women will deceive, they are not loyal and they are untruthful. We see the use of the sermon technique being used by Chaucer as the merchant speaks, this is to engage the audience. From line 126 onwards we see the view of both the merchant and Januarie, if a man was to be poor, his wife would help him by working, she should be virtuous and merry and he prays to god that he will not be deceived. From reading the tale we know that his wife will deceive him. Line 150 and onwards we see another intertexual reference, again to the bible. This states that even biblical idols have been deceived. This is Chaucer preparing his audience for deceit and it reinforces the merchant’s view on marriage. In this sense the merchant can be see as blasphemous if the lines where meant sarcastically.
“By good conseil delivered out of wo the peple of God, and made him Mardochee Of Assuere enhaunced for to be.” Januarie also believes that his marriage would withstand if he were to marry a younger woman. He thinks that if he married an older woman it would be easy to unfaithful and that she wouldn’t be able to give him an heir, he would rather be eaten by hounds than leave his money to a stranger “Yet were me levere houndes had me eten, than that myn heritage sholde falle in straunge hand…”
This also shows his materialism. He also believes that older women are skilled in malice but a younger wife would be pliable so he could change her to suit him. He feels as though he has to justify his need for a younger wife. Januarie believes that marriage is the only place to have children. In context with the text, this was the attitude of many people at that time. Januarie couldn’t make the decision to marry on his own, he asked for the advice of Placebo and Justinus. The two different views of marriage are showing that he is in two minds about what he should do. It is quite obvious whose opinion he wants to take. That is the one of Placebo, who is a sycophant and tells Januarie what he wants to hear. On the other hand Justinus believes that marriage is a sacred thing and that it shouldn’t be rushed into. Januarie takes the advice of Placebo and immediately goes looking for a wife to marry as soon as possible.
Chaucer uses the different characters to show the many different views of marriage. We see Januarie believing that he should marry a young wife quickly as it is the most important thing to do to make his life happy and complete before he dies. Marriage is the only place to have children and this is another reason for him wanting to be married, as he wants an heir. The view of the merchant is somewhat confusing, in the beginning he tells his audience that he wishes that he wouldn’t have married his wife as she is a “shrew” but then we see him telling us to defy the words of Theophrastus.
Theophrastus believes that marriage is the worse thing to do. Women deceive and are untruthful and that a servant would be more loyal. The differing views of Placebo and Justinus show the split mind of Januarie one view being not to marry and the other just to please him. Personally i think that Chaucer’s view would be that of the merchant, as he seems to use his character as a mouthpiece to show his views on marriage.

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