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The Canterbury Tales: The Merchant's Tale

Heere bigynneth the Marchantes Tale

Whilom ther was dwellynge in Lumbardye A worthy knyght, that born was of Pavye, In which he lyved in greet prosperitee; And sixty yeer a wyflees man was hee, And folwed ay his bodily delyt On wommen, ther as was his appetyt, As doon thise fooles that been seculeer. And whan that he was passed sixty yeer, Were it for hoolynesse or for dotage, I kan nat seye, but swich a greet corage Hadde this knyght to been a wedded man That day and nyght he dooth al that he kan T'espien where he myghte wedded be, Preyinge oure lord to graunten him that he Mighte ones knowe of thilke blisful lyf That is bitwixe an housbonde and his wyf, And for to lyve under that hooly boond With which that first God man and womman bond. "Noon oother lyf," seyde he, "is worth a bene; For wedlok is so esy and so clene, That in this world it is paradys." Thus seyde this olde knyght, that was so wys. And certeinly, as sooth as God is kyng, To take a wyf it is a glorious thyng, And namely whan a man is oold and hoor; Thanne is a wyf the fruyt of his tresor. Thanne sholde he take a yong wyf and a feir, On which he myghte engendren hym and heir, And lede his lyf in joye and in solas, Where as thise bacheleris synge allas, Whan that they funden any adversitee In love, which nys but childyssh vanytee. And trewely it sit wel to be so, That bacheleris have often peyne and wo; On brotel ground they buylde, and brotelnesse They fynde, whan they wene sikernesse. They lyve but as a bryd or as a beest, In libertee, and under noon arreest, Ther as a wedded man in his estaat Lyveth a lyf blisful and ordinaat, Under this yok of mariage ybounde. Wel may his herte in joy and blisse habounde, For who kan be so buxom as a wyf? Who is so trewe, and eek so ententyf To kepe hym, syk and hool, as is his make? For wele or wo she wole hym nat forsake; She nys nat wery hym to love and serve, Thogh that he lye bedrede, til he sterve. And yet somme clerkes seyn it nys nat so, Of whiche he Theofraste is oon of tho. What force though Theofraste liste lye? "Ne take no wyf," quod he, "for housbondrye, As for to spare in houshold thy dispence. A trewe servant dooth moore diligence Thy good to kepe, than thyn owene wyf, For she wol clayme half part al hir lyf. And if that thou be syk, so God me save, Thy verray freendes, or a trewe knave, Wol kepe thee bet than she that waiteth ay After thy good and hath doon many a day. And if thou take a wyf unto thyn hoold, Ful lightly maystow been a cokewold." This sentence, and an hundred thynges worse, Writeth this man, ther God his bones corse! But take no kep of al swich vanytee; Deffie Theofraste, and herke me. A wyf is Goddes yifte verraily; Alle othere manere yiftes hardily, As londes, rentes, pasture, or commune, Or moebles, alle been yiftes of fortune, That passen as a shadwe upon a wal. But drede nat, if pleynly speke I shal, A wyf wol laste, and thyn hous endure, Wel lenger than thee list, paraventure. Mariage is a ful greet sacrement. He which that hath no wyf, I holde hym shent; He lyveth helplees and al desolat, -- I speke of folk in seculer estaat. And herke why, I sey nat this for noght, That womman is for mannes helpe ywroght. The hye God, whan he hadde Adam maked, And saugh him al allone, bely-naked, God of his grete goodnesse syde than, "Lat us now make an helpe unto this man Lyk to hymself"; and thanne he made him Eve. Heere may ye se, and heerby may ye preve, That wyf is mannes helpe and his confort, His paradys terrestre, and his disport. So buxom and so vertuous is she, They moste nedes lyve in unitee. O flessh they been, and o fleesh, as I gesse, Hath but oon herte, in wele and in distresse. A wyf! a, Seinte Marie, benedicite! How myghte man han any adversitee That hath a wyf? certes, I kan nat seye. The blisse which that is bitwixe hem tweye Ther may no tonge telle, or herte thynke. If he be povre, she helpeth hym to swynke; She kepeth his good, and wasteth never a deel; Al that hire housbonde lust, hire liketh weel; She seith nat ones "nay", whan he seith "ye". "Do this," seith he; "Al redy, sire," seith she. O blisful ordre of wedlok precious, Thou art so murye, and eek so vertuous, And so commended and appreved eek That every man that halt hym worth a leek, Upon his bare knees oughte al his lyf Thanken his God that hym hath sent a wyf, Or elles preye to God hym for to sende A wyf, to laste unto his lyves ende. For thanne his lyf is set in sikernesse; He may nat be deceyved, as I gesse, So that he werke after his wyves reed. Thanne may he boldely beren up his heed, They been so trewe, and therwithal so wyse; For which, if thou wolt werken as the wyse, Do alwey so as wommen wol thee rede. Lo, how that Jacob, as thise clerkes rede, By good conseil of his mooder Rebekke, Boond the kydes skyn aboute his nekke, For which his fadres benyson he wan. Lo, Judith, as the storie eek telle kan, By wys conseil she Goddes peple kepte, And slow hym Olofernus, whil he slepte. Lo Abigayl, by good conseil, how she Saved hir housbonde Nabal, whan that he Sholde han be slayn; and looke, Ester also By good conseil delyvered out of wo The peple of God, and made hym Mardochee Of Assuere enhaunced for to be. Ther nys no thyng in gree superlatyf, As seith Senek, above and humble wyf. Suffre thy wyves tonge, as Catoun bit; She shal comande, and thou shalt suffren it, And yet she wole obeye of curteisye. A wyf is kepere of thyn housbondrye; Wel may the sike man biwaille and wepe, Ther as ther nys no wyf the hous to kepe. I warne thee, if wisely thou wolt wirche, Love wel thy wyf, as Crist loved his chirche. If thou lovest thyself, thou lovest thy wyf; No man hateth his flessh, but in his lyf He fostreth it, and therfore bidde I thee, Cherisse thy wyf, or thou shalt nevere thee. Housbonde and wyf, what so men jape or pleye, Of worldly folk holden the siker weye; They been so knyt ther may noon harm bityde, And namely upon the wyves syde. For which this Januarie, of whom I tolde, Considered hath, inwith his dayes olde, The lusty lyf, the vertuous quyete, That is in mariage hony-sweete; And for his freendes on a day he sente, To tellen hem th'effect of his entente. With face sad his tale he hath hem toold. He seyde, "Freendes, I am hoor and oold, And almost, God woot, on my pittes brynke; Upon my soule somwhat moste I thynke. I have my body folily despended; Blessed be God that it shal been amended! For I wol be, certeyn, a wedded man, And that anoon in al the haste I kan. Unto som mayde fair and tendre of age, I prey yow, shapeth for my mariage Al sodeynly, for I wol nat abyde; And I wol fonde t'espien, on my syde, To whom I may be wedded hastily. But forasmuche as ye been mo than I, Ye shullen rather swich a thyng espyen Than I, and where me best were to allyen. "But o thyng warne I yow, my freendes deere, I wol moon oold wyf han in no manere. She shal nat passe twenty yeer, certayn; Oold fissh and yong flessh wolde I have ful fayn. Bet is," quod he, "a pyk than a pykerel, And bet than old boef is the tendre veel. I wol no womman thritty yeer of age; It is but bene-straw and greet forage. And eek thise olde wydwes, God it woot, They konne so muchel craft on Wades boot, So muchel broken harm, whan that hem leste, That with hem sholde I nevere lyve in reste. For sondry scoles maken sotile clerkis; Womman of manye scoles half a clerk is. But certeynly, a yong thyng may men gye, Right as men may warm wex with handes plye. Wherfore I sey yow pleynly, in a clause, I wol noon oold wyf han right for this cause. For if so were I hadde swich myschaunce, That I in hire ne koude han no plesaunce, Thanne sholde I lede my lyf in avoutrye, And go streight to the devel, whan I dye. Ne children sholde I none upon hire geten; Yet were me levere houndes hand me eten, Than that myn heritage sholde falle In straunge hand, and this I telle yow alle. I dote nat, I woot the cause why Men sholde wedde, and forthermoore woot I, Ther speketh many a man of mariage That woot namoore of it than woot my page, For whiche causes man sholde take a wyf. If he ne may nat lyven chaast his lyf, Take hym a wyf with greet devocioun, By cause of leveful procreacioun Of children, to th'onour of God above, And nat oonly for paramour or love; And for they sholde leccherye eschue, And yelde hir dette whan that it is due; Or for that ech of hem sholde helpen oother In meschief, as a suster shal the brother; And lyve in chastitee ful holily. But sires, by youre leve, that am nat I. For, God be thanked! I dar make avaunt, I feele my lymes stark and suffisaunt To do al that a man bilongeth to; I woot myselven best what I may do. Though I be hoor, I fare as dooth a tree That blosmeth er that fruyt ywoxen bee; And blosmy tree nys neither drye ne deed. I feele me nowhere hoor but on myn heed; Myn herte and alle my lymes been as grene As laurer thurgh the yeer is for to sene. And syn that ye han herd al myn entente, I prey yow to my wyl ye wole assente. Diverse men diversely hym tolde Of mariage manye ensamples olde. Somme blamed it, somme preysed it, certeyn; But atte laste, shortly for to seyn, As al day falleth altercacioun Bitwixen freendes in disputisoun, Ther fil a stryf bitwixe his bretheren two, Of whiche that oon was cleped Placebo, Justinus soothly called was that oother. Placebo seyde, "O Januarie, brother, Ful litel nede hadde ye, my lord so deere, Conseil to axe of any that is heere, But that ye been so ful of sapience That yow ne liketh, for youre heighe prudence, To weyven fro the word of Salomon. This word seyde he unto us everychon: Wirk alle thyng by conseil," - thus seyde he, "And thanne shaltow nat repente thee." - But though that Salomon spak swich a word, Myn owene deere brother and my lord, So wysly God my soule brynge at reste, I holde youre owene conseil is the beste. For, brother myn, of me taak this motyf, I have now been a court-man al my lyf, And God it woot, though I unworthy be, I have stonden in ful greet degree Abouten lordes of ful heigh estaat; Yet hadde I nevere with noon of hem debaat. I nevere hem contraried, trewely; I woot wel that my lord kan moore than I. With that he seith, I holde it ferme and stable; I seye the same, or elles thyng semblable. A ful greet fool is any conseillour That serveth any lord of heigh honour, That dar presume, or elles thanken it, That his conseil sholde passe his lordes wit. Nay, lordes been no fooles, by my fay! Ye han youreselven shewed heer to-day So heigh sentence, so holily and weel, That I consente and conferme everydeel Youre wordes alle and youre opinioun. By God, ther nys no man in al this toun, Ne in Ytaille, that koude bet han sayd! Crist halt hym of this conseil ful wel apayd. And trewely, it is an heigh corage Of any man that stapen is in age To take a yong wyf; by my fader kyn, Youre herte hangeth on a joly pyn! Dooth now in this matiere right as yow leste, For finally I holde it for the beste." Justinus, that ay stille sat and herde, Right in this wise he to Placebo answerde: "Now, brother myn, be pacient, I preye, Syn ye han seyd, and herkneth what I seye. Senek, amonges othere wordes wyse, Seith that a man oghte hym right wel avyse To whom he yeveth his lond or his catel. And syn I oghte avyse me right wel To whom I yeve my good awey from me, Wel muchel moore I oghte avysed be To whom I yeve my body for alwey. I warne yow wel, it is no childes pley To take a wyf withouten avysement. Men moste enquere, this is myn assent, Wher she be wys, or sobre, or dronkelewe, Or proud, or elles ootherweys a shrewe, A chidestere, or wastour of thy good, Or riche, or poore, or elles mannyssh wood. Al be it so that no man fynden shal Noon in this world that trotteth hool in al, Ne man, ne beest, swich as men koude devyse; But nathelees it oghte ynough suffise With any wyf, if so were that she hadde Mo goode thewes than hire vices badde; And al this axeth leyser for t'enquere. For, God it woot, I have wept many a teere Ful pryvely, syn I have had a wyf. Preyse whoso wole a wedded mannes lyf, Certein I fynde in it but cost and care And observances, of alle blisses bare. And yet, God woot, my neighebores aboute, And namely of wommen many a route, Seyn that I have the mooste stedefast wyf, And eek the mekeste oon that bereth lyf; But I woot best where wryngeth me my sho. Ye mowe, for me, right as yow liketh do; Avyseth yow - ye been a man of age - How that ye entren into mariage, And namely with a yong wyf and a fair. By hym that made water, erthe, and air, The yongeste man that is in al this route Is bisy ynough to bryngen it aboute To han his wyf allone. Trusteth me, Ye shul nat plesen hire fully yeres thre, - This is to seyn, to doon hire ful plesaunce. A wyf axeth ful many an observaunce. I prey yow that ye be nat yvele apayd." "Wel," quod this Januarie, "and hastow ysayd? Straw for thy Senek, and for thy proverbes! I counte nat a panyer ful of herbes Of scole-termes. Wyser men than thow, As thou hast herd, assenteden right now To my purpos. Placebo, what sey ye?" "I seye it is a cursed man," quod he, "That letteth matrimoigne, sikerly." And with that word they rysen sodeynly, And been assented fully that he sholde Be wedded whanne hym liste, and where he wolde. Heigh fantasye and curious bisynesse Fro day to day gan in the soule impresse Of Januarie aboute his mariage. Many fair shap and many a fair visage Ther passeth thurgh his herte nyght by nyght, As whoso tooke a mirour, polisshed bryght, And sette it in a commune market-place, Thanne sholde he se ful many a figure pace By his mirour; and in the same wyse Gan Januarie inwith his thoght devyse Of maydens whiche that dwelten hym bisyde. He wiste nat wher that he myghte abyde. For if that oon have beaute in hir face, Another stant so in the peples grace For hire sadnesse and hire benyngnytee That of the peple grettest voys hath she; And somme were riche, and hadden badde name. But nathelees, bitwixe ernest and game, He atte laste apoynted hym on oon, And leet alle othere from his herte goon, And chees hire of his owene auctoritee; For love is blynd alday, and may nat see. And whan that he was in his bed ybroght, He purtreyed in his herte and in his thoght Hir fresshe beautee and hir age tendre, Hir myddel smal, hire armes longe and sklendre, Hir wise governaunce, hir gentillesse, Hir wommanly berynge, and hire sadnesse. And whan that he on hire was condescended, Hym thoughte his choys myghte nat ben amended. For whan that he hymself concluded hadde, Hym thoughte ech oother mannes wit so badde That inpossible it were to repplye Agayn his choys, this was his fantasye. His freendes sente he to, at his instaunce, And preyed hem to doon hym that plesaunce, That hastily they wolden to hym come; He wolde abregge hir labour, alle and some. Nedeth namoore for hym to go ne ryde; He was apoynted ther he wolde abyde. Placebo cam, and eek his freendes soone, And alderfirst he bad hem alle a boone, That noon of hem none argumentes make Agayn the purpos which that he hath take, Which purpos was plesant to God, seyde he, And verray ground of his prosperitee. He seyde ther was a mayden in the toun, Which that of beautee hadde greet renoun, Al were it so she were of smal degree; Suffiseth hym hir yowthe and hir beautee. Which mayde, he seyde, he wolde han to his wyf, To lede in ese and hoolynesse his lyf; And thanked God that he myghte han hire al, That no wight his blisse parten shal. And preyed hem to laboure in this nede, And shapen that he faille nat to spede; For thanne, he seyde, his spirit was at ese. "Thanne is," quod he, "no thyng may me displese, Save o thyng priketh in my conscience, The which I wol reherce in youre presence. I have," quod he, "herd seyd, ful yoore ago, Ther may no man han parfite blisses two, - This is to seye, in erthe and eek in hevene. For though he kepe hym fro the synnes sevene, And eek from every branche of thilke tree, Yet is ther so parfit felicitee And so greet ese and lust in mariage, That evere I am agast now in myn age That I shal lede now so myrie a lyf, So delicat, withouten wo and stryf, That I shal have myn hevene in erthe heere. For sith that verray hevene is boght so deere With tribulation and greet penaunce, How sholde I thanne, that lyve in swich plesaunce As alle wedded men doon with hire wyvys, Come to the blisse ther rist eterne on lyve ys? This is my drede, and ye, my bretheren tweye, Assoilleth me this question, I preye. Justinus, which that hated his folye, Answerde anon right in his japerye; And for he wolde his longe tale abregge, He wolde noon auctoritee allegge, But seyde, "Sire, so ther be noon obstacle Oother than this, God of his hygh myracle And of his mercy may so for yow wirche That, er ye have youre right of hooly chirche, Ye may repente of wedded mannes lyf, In which ye seyn ther is no wo ne stryf. And elles, God forbede but he sente A wedded man hym grace to repente Wel ofte rather than a sengle man! And therfore, sire - the beste reed I kan - Dispeire yow noght, but have in youre memorie, Paraunter she may be youre purgatorie! She may be Goddes meene and Goddes whippe; Thanne shal youre soule up to hevene skippe Swifter than dooth and arwe out of bowe. I hope to God, herafter shul ye knowe That ther nys no so greet felicitee In mariage, ne nevere mo shal bee, That yow shal lette of youre savacion, So that ye sue, as skile is an reson, The lustes of youre wyf attemprely, And that ye plese hire nat to amorously, And that ye kepe yow eek from oother synne. My tale is doon, for my wit is thynne. Beth nat agast herof, my brother deere, But lat us waden out of this mateere. The Wyf of Bathe, if ye han understonde, Of mariage, which we have on honde, Declared hath ful wel in litel space. Fareth now wel, God have yow in his grace." And with this word this Justyn and his brother Han take hir leve, and ech of hem of oother. For whan they saughe that it moste nedes be, They wroghten so, by sly and wys tretee, That she, this mayden, which that Mayus highte, As hastily as evere that she myghte, Shal wedded be unto this Januarie. I trowe it were to longe yow to tarie, If I yow tolde of every scrit and bond By which that she was feffed in his lond, Or for to herknen of hir riche array. But finally ycomen is the day That to the chirche bothe be they went For to receyve the hooly sacrement. Forth comth the preest, with stole aboute his nakke, And bad hire be lyk Sarra and Rebekke In wysdom and in trouthe of mariage; And seyde his orisons, as is usage, And croucheth hem, and bad God sholde hem blesse, And made al siker ynogh with hoolynesse. Thus been they wedded with solempnitee, And at the feeste sitteth he and she With othere worthy folk upon the deys. Al ful of joye and blisse is the paleys, And ful of instrumentz and of vitaille, The mooste deyntevous of al Ytaille. Biforn hem stoode instrumentz of swich soun That Orpheus, ne of Thebes Amphioun, Ne maden nevere swich a melodye. At every cours thanne cam loud mynstralcye, That nevere tromped Joab for to heer, Nor he Theodomas, yet half so cleere, At Thebes, whan the citee was in doute. Bacus the wyn hem shynketh al aboute, And Venus laugheth upon every wight, For Januarie was bicome hir knyght, And wolde bothe assayen his corage In libertee, and eek in mariage; And with hire fyrbrond in hire hand aboute Daunceth biforn the bryde and al the route. And certeinly, I dar right wel seyn this, Ymeneus, that God of weddyng is, Saugh nevere his lyf so myrie a wedded man. Hoold thou thy pees, thou poete Marcian, That writest us that ilke weddyng murie Of hire Philologie and hym Mercurie, And of the songes that the Muses songe! To smal is bothe thy penen, and eek thy tonge, For to descryven of this mariage. Whan tendre youthe hath wedded stoupyng age, Ther is swich myrthe that it may nat be writen. Assayeth it youreself, thanne may ye witen If that I lye or noon in this matiere. Mayus, that sit with so benyngne a chiere, Hire to biholde it semed fayerye. Queene Ester looked nevere with swich an ye On Assuer, so meke a look hath she. I may yow nat devyse al hir beautee. But thus muche of hire beautee telle I may, That she was lyk the brighte morwe of May, Fulfild of alle beautee and plesaunce. This Januarie is ravysshed in a traunce At every tyme he looked on hir face; But in his herte he gan hire to manace That he that nyght in armes wolde hire streyne Harder than evere Parys dide Eleyne. But nathelees yet hadde he greet pitee That thilke nyght offenden hire moste he, And thoughte, "Allas! O tendre creature, Now wolde God ye myghte wel endure Al my corage, it is so sharp and keene! I am agast ye shul it nat sustene. But God forbede that I dide al my myght! Now wolde God that it were woxen nyght, And that the nyght wolde lasten everemo. I wolde that al this peple were ago." And finally he dooth al his labour, As he best myghte, savynge his honour, To haste hem fro the mete in subtil wyse. The tyme cam that resoun was to ryse; And after that men daunce and drynken faste, And spices al aboute the hous they caste, And ful of joye and blisse is every man, - Al but a squyer, highte Damyan, Which carf biforn the knyght ful many a day. He was so ravysshed on his lady May That for the verray peyne he was ny wood. Almoost he swelte and swowned ther he stood, So soore hath Venus hurt hym with hire brond, As that she bar it daunsynge in hire hond; And to his bed he wente hym hastily. Namoore of hym as at this tyme speke I, But there I lete hym wepe ynogh and pleyne, Til fresshe May wol rewen on his peyne. O perilous fyr, that in the bedstraw bredeth! O famulier foo, that his servyce bedeth! O servant traytour, false hoomly hewe, Lyk to the naddre in bosom sly untrewe, God shilde us alle from youre aqueyntaunce! O Januarie, dronken in plesaunce In mariage, se how thy Damyan, Thyn owene squier and thy borne man, Entendeth for to do thee vileynye. God graunte thee thyn hoomly fo t'espye! For in this world nys worse pestilence Than hoomly foo al day in thy presence. Parfourned hath the sonne his ark diurne; No lenger may the body of hym sojurne On th'orisonte, as in that latitude. Night with his mantel, that is derk and rude, Gan oversprede the hemysperie aboute; For which departed is this lusty route Fro Januarie, with thank on every syde. Hoom to hir houses lustily they ryde, Where as they doon hir thynges as hem leste, And whan they sye hir tyme, goon to reste. Soone after than, this hastif Januarie Wolde go to bedde, he wolde no lenger tarye. He drynketh ypocras, clarree, and vernage Of spices hoote, t'encreessen his corage; And many a letuarie hath he ful fyn, Swiche as the cursed monk, daun Constantyn, Hath writen in his book De Coitu; To eten hem alle he nas no thyng eschu. And to his privee freendes thus seyde he: "For Goddes love, as soone as it may be, Lat voyden al this hous in curteys wyse." And they han doon right as he wol devyse. Men drynken, and the travers drawe anon. The bryde was broght abedde as stille as stoon; And whan the bed was with the preest yblessed, Out of the chambre hath every wight hym dressed; And Januarie hath faste in armes take His fresshe May, his paradys, his make. He lulleth hire, he kisseth hire ful ofte; With thikke brustles of his berd unsofte, Lyk to the skyn of houndfyssh, sharp as brere - For he was shave al newe in his manere - He rubbeth hire aboute hir tendre face, And seyde thus, "Allas! I moot trespace To yow, my spouse, and yow greetly offende, Er tyme come that I wil doun descende. But nathelees, considereth this," quod he, "Ther nys no werkman, whatsoevere he be, That may bothe werke wel and hastily; This wol be doon at leyser parfitly. It is no fors how longe that we pleye; In trewe wedlok coupled be we tweye; And blessed be the yok that we been inne, For in oure actes we mowe do no synne. A man may do no synne with his wyf, Ne hurte hymselven with his owene knyf; For we han leve to pleye us by the lawe." Thus laboureth he til that the day gan dawe; And thanne he taketh a sop in fyn clarree, And upright in his bed thanne sitteth he, And after that he sang ful loude and cleere, And kiste his wyf, and made wantown cheere He was al coltissh, ful of ragerye, And ful of jargon as a flekked pye. The slakke skyn aboute his nekke shaketh, Whil that he sang, so chaunteth he and craketh. But God woot what that may thoughte in hir herte, Whan she hym saugh up sittynge in his sherte, In his nyght-cappe, and with his nekke lene; She preyseth nat his pleyyng worth a bene. Thanne seide he thus, "My reste wol I take; Now day is come, I may no lenger wake." And doun he leyde his heed, and sleep til pryme. And afterward, whan that he saugh his tyme, Up ryseth Januarie; but fresshe May Heeld hire chambre unto the fourthe day, As usage is of wyves for the beste. For every labour somtyme moot han reste, Or elles longe may he nat endure; This is to seyn, no lyves creature, Be it of fyssh, or bryd, or beest, or man. Now wol I speke of woful Damyan, That langwissheth for love, as ye shul heere; Therfore I speke to hym in this manere: I seye, "O sely Damyan, allas! Andswere to my demaunde, as in this cas. How shaltow to thy lady, fresshe May, Telle thy wo? She wole alwey seye nay. Eek if thou speke, she wol thy wo biwreye. God be thyn helpe! I kan no bettre seye." This sike Damyan in Venus fyr So brenneth that he dyeth for desyr, For which he putte his lyf in aventure. No lenger myghte he in this wise endure, But prively a penner gan he borwe, And in a lettre wroot he al his sorwe, In manere of a compleynt or a lay, Unto his faire, fresshe lady may; And in a purs of sylk, heng on his sherte He hath it put, and leyde it at his herte. The moone, that at noon was thilke day That Januarie hath wedded fresshe May In two of Tawr, was into Cancre glyden; So longe hath Mayus in hir chambre abyden, As custume is unto thise nobles alle. A bryde shal nat eten in the halle Til dayes foure, or thre dayes atte leeste, Ypassed been; thanne lat hire go to feeste. The fourthe day compleet fro noon to noon, Whan that the heighe masse was ydoon, In halle sit this Januarie and May, As fressh as is the brighte someres day. And so bifel how that this goode man Remembred hym upon this Damyan, And seyde, "Seynte Marie! how may this be, That Damyan entendeth nat to me? Is he ay syk, or how may this bityde?" His squieres, whiche that stooden ther bisyde, Excused hym by cause of his siknesse, Which letted hym to doon his bisynesse; Noon oother cause myghte make hym tarye. "That me forthynketh," quod this Januarie, "He is a gentil squier, by my trouthe! If that he deyde, it were harm and routhe. He is as wys, discreet, and as secree As any man I woot of his degree, And therto manly, and eek servysable. And for to been a thrifty man right able. But after mete, as soone as evere I may, I wol myself visite hym, and eek May, To doon hym al the confort that I kan." And for that word hym blessed every man, That of his bountee and his gentillesse He wolde so conforten in siknesse His squier, for it was a gentil dede. "Dame," quod this Januarie, "taak good hede, At after-mete ye with youre wommen alle, Whan ye han been in chambre out of this halle, That alle ye go se this Damyan. Dooth hym disport - he is a gentil man; And telleth hym that I wol hym visite, Have I no thyng but rested me a lite; And spede yow faste, for I wole abyde Til that ye slepe faste by my syde." And with that word he gan to hym to calle A squier, that was marchal of his halle, And tolde hym certeyn thynges, what he wolde. This fresshe May hath streight hir wey yholde, With alle hir wommen, unto Damyan. Doun by his beddes syde sit she than, Confortynge hym as goodly as she may. This Damyan, whan that his tyme he say, In secree wise his purs and eek his bille, In which that he ywriten hadde his wille, Hath put into hire hand, withouten moore, And softely to hire right thus seyde he: "Mercy! and that ye nat discovere me, For I am deed if that this thyng be kyd." This purs hath she inwith hir bosom hyd, And wente hire wey; ye gete namoore of me. But unto Januarie ycomen is she, That on his beddes syde sit ful softe. He taketh hire, and kisseth hire ful ofte, And leyde hym doun to slepe, and that anon. She feyned hire as that she moste gon Ther as ye woot that every wight moot neede; And whan she of this bille hath taken heede, She rente it al to cloutes atte laste, And in the pryvee softely it caste. Who studieth now but faire fresshe May? Adoun by olde Januarie she lay, That sleep til that the coughe hath hym awaked. Anon he preyde hire strepen hire al naked; He wolde of hire, he seyde, han som plesaunce, And seyde hir clothes dide hym encombraunce, And she obeyeth, be hire lief or looth. But lest that precious folk be with me wrooth, How that he wroghte, I dar nat to yow telle; Or wheither hire thoughte it paradys or helle. But heere I lete hem werken in hir wyse Til evensong rong, and that they moste aryse. Were it by destynee or aventure, Were it by influence or by nature, Or constellacion, that in swich estaat The hevene stood, that tyme fortunaat Was for to putte a bille of Venus werkes - For alle thyng hath tyme, as seyn thise clerkes - To any womman, for to gete hire love, I kan nat seye; but grete God above, That knoweth that noon act is causeless, He deme of al, for I wole hole my pees. But sooth is this, how that this fresshe May Hath take swich impression that day Of pitee of this sike Damyan, That from hire herte she ne dryve kan The remembrance for to doon hym ese. "Certeyn," thoghte she, "whom that this thyng displese, I rekke noght, for heere I hym assure To love hym best of any creature, Though he namoore hadde than his sherte." Lo, pitee renneth soone in gentil herte! Heere may ye se how excellent franchise In wommen is, whan they hem narwe avyse. Som tyrant is, as ther be many oon, That hath an herte as hard as any stoon, Which wolde han lat hym sterven in the place Wel rather than han graunted hym hire grace; And hem rejoysen in hire crueel pryde, And rekke nat to been an homycide. This gentil May, fulfilled of pitee, Right of hire hand a lettre made she, In which she graunteth hym hire verray grace. Ther lakketh noght, oonly but day and place, Wher that she myghte unto his lust suffise; For it shal be right as he wole devyse. And whan she saugh hir tyme, upon a day, To visite this Damyan gooth May, And sotilly this lettre doun she threste Under his pilwe, rede it if hym leste. She taketh hym by the hand, and harde hym twiste So secrely that no wight of it wiste, And bad hym been al hool, and forth she wente To Januarie, whan that he for hire sente. Up riseth Damyan the nexte morwe; Al passed was his siknesse and his sorwe. He kembeth hym, he preyneth hym and pyketh, He dooth al that his lady lust and lyketh; And eek to Januarie he gooth as lowe As evere dide a dogge for the bowe. He is so plesant unto every man (For craft is al, whoso that do it kan) That every wight is fayn to speke hym good; And fully in his lady grace he stood. Thus lete I Damyan aboute his nede, And in my tale forth I wol procede. Somme clerkes holden that felicitee Stant in delit, and therfore certeyn he, This noble Januarie, with al his myght, In honest wyse, as longeth to a knyght, Shoop hym to lyve ful deliciously. His housynge, his array, as honestly To his degree was maked as a kynges. Amonges othere of his honeste thynges, He made a gardyn, walled al with stoon; So fair a gardyn woot I nowher noon. For, out of doute, I verraily suppose That he that wroot the romance of the rose Ne koude of it the beautee wel devyse; Ne Priapus ne myghte nat suffise, Though he be God of gardyns, for to telle The beautee of the gardyn and the welle, That stood under a laurer alwey grene. Ful ofte tyme he Pluto and his queene, Proserpina, and al hire fayerye, Disporten hem and maken melodye Aboute that welle, and daunced, as men tolde. This noble knyght, this Januarie the olde, Swich deyntee hath in it to walke and pleye, That he wol no wight suffren bere the keye Save he hymself; for of the smale wyket He baar alwey of silver a clyket, With which, whan that hym leste, he it unshette. And whan he wolde paye his wyf hir dette In somer seson, thider wolde he go, And May his wyf, and no wight but they two; And thynges whiche that were nat doon abedde, He in the gardyn parfourned hem and spedde. And in this wyse, many a murye day, Lyved this Januarie and fresshe May. But worldly joye may nat alwey dure To Januarie, ne to creature. O sodeyn hap! O thou fortune unstable! Lyk to the scorpion so deceyvable, That flaterest with thyn heed whan thou wolt stynge; Thy tayl is deeth, thurgh thyn envenymynge. O brotil joye! o sweete venym queynte! O monstre, that so subtilly kanst peynte Thy yiftes under hewe of stidefastnesse, That thou deceyvest bothe moore and lesse! Why hastow Januarie thus deceyved, That haddest hym for thy fulle freend receyved? And now thou hast biraft hym bothe his ye, For sorwe of which desireth he to dyen. Allas! this noble Januarie free, Amydde his lust and his prosperitee, Is woxen blynd, and that al sodeynly, He wepeth and he wayleth pitously; And therwithal the fyr of jalousie, Lest that his wyf sholde falle in som folye, So brente his herte that he wolde fayn That som man bothe hire and hym had slayn. For neither after his deeth, nor in his lyf, Ne wolde he that she were love ne wyf, But evere lyve as wydwe in clothes blake, Soul as the turtle that lost hath hire make, But atte laste, after a month or tweye His sorwe gan aswage, sooth to seye; For whan he wiste it may noon oother be, He paciently took his adversitee, Save, out of doute, he may nat forgoon That he nas jalous everemoore in oon; Which jalousye it was so outrageous, That neither in halle, n'yn noon oother hous, Ne in noon oother place, neverthemo, He nolde suffre hire for to ryde or go, But if that he had hond on hire alway; For which ful ofte wepeth fresshe May, That loveth Damyan so benyngnely That she moot outher dyen sodeynly, Or elles she moot han hym as hir leste. She wayteth whan hir herte wolde breste. Upon that oother syde Damyan Bicomen is the sorwefulleste man That evere was; for neither nyght ne day Ne myghte he speke a word to fresshe May, As to his purpos, of no swich mateere, But if that Januarie moste it heere, That hadde an hand upon hire everemo. But nathelees, by writyng to and fro, And privee signes, wiste he what she mente, And she knew eek the fyn of his entente. O Januarie, what myghte it thee availle, Thogh thou myghte se as fer as shippes saille? For as good is blynd deceyved be As to be deceyved whan a man may se. Lo, Argus, which that hadde an hondred yen, For al that evere he koude poure or pryen, Yet was he blent, and, God woot, so been mo, That wenen wisly that it be nat so. Passe over is an ese, I sey namoore. This fresshe May, that I spak of so yoore, In warm wex hath emprented the clyket That Januarie bar of the smale wyket, By which into his gardyn ofte he wente; And Damyan, that knew al hire entente, The cliket countrefeted pryvely. Ther nys namoore to seye, but hastily Som wonder by this clyket shal bityde, Which ye shul heeren, if ye wole abyde. O noble Ovyde, ful sooth seystou, God woot, What sleighte is it, thogh it be long and hoot, That Love nyl fynde it out in som manere? By Piramus and Tesbee may men leere; Thogh they were kept ful longe streite overal, They been accorded, rownynge thurgh a wal, Ther no wight koude han founde out swich a sleighte. But now to purpos: er that dayes eighte Were passed, er the month of Juyn, bifil That Januarie hath caught so greet a wil, Thurgh eggyng of his wyf, hym for to pleye In his gardyn, and no wight but they tweye, That in a morwe unto his May seith he: "Rys up, my wyf, my love, my lady free! The turtles voys is herd, my dowve sweete; The wynter is goon with alle his reynes weete. Com forth now, with thyne eyen columbyn! How fairer been thy brestes than is wyn! The gardyn is enclosed al aboute; Com forth, my white spouse! Out of doute Thou hast me wounded in myn herte, o wyf! No spot of thee ne knew I al my lyf. Com forth, and lat us taken oure disport; I chees thee for my wyf and my confort." Swiche olde lewed wordes used he. On Damyan a signe made she, That he sholde go biforn with his cliket. This Damyan thanne hath opened the wyket, And in he stirte, and that in swich manere That no wight myghte it se neither yheere, And stille he sit under a bussh anon. This Januarie, as blynd as is a stoon, With Mayus in his hand, and no wight mo, Into his fresshe gardyn is ago, And clapte to the wyket sodeynly. "Now wyf," quod he, "heere nys but thou and I, That art the creature that I best love. For by that lord that sit in hevene above, Levere ich hadde to dyen on a knyf, Than thee offende, trewe deere wyf! For Goddes sake, thenk how I thee chees, Noght for no coveitise, doutelees, But oonly for the love I had to thee. And though that I be oold, and may nat see, Beth to me trewe, and I wol telle yow why. Thre thynges, certes, shal ye wynne therby: First, love of Crist, and to youreself honour, And al myn heritage, toun and tour; I yeve it yow, maketh chartres as yow leste; This shal be doon to-morwe er sonne reste, So wisly God my soule brynge in blisse. I prey yow first, in covenant ye me kisse; And though that I be jalous, wyte me noght. Ye been so depe enprented in my thoght That, whan that I considere youre beautee, And therwithal the unlikly elde of me, I may nat, certes, though I sholde dye, Forbere to been out of youre compaignye For verray love; this is withouten doute. Now kys me, wyf, and lat us rome aboute." This fresshe May, whan she thise wordes herde, Benyngnely to Januarie answerde, But first and forward she bigan to wepe. "I have," quod she, "a soule for to kepe As wel as ye, and also myn honour, And of my wyfhod thilke tendre flour, Which that I have assured in youre hond, Whan that the preest to yow my body bond; Wherfore I wole answere in this manere, By the leve of yow, my lord so deere: I prey to God that nevere dawe the day That I ne sterve, as foule as womman may, If evere I do unto my kyn that shame, Or elles I empeyre so my name, That I be fals; and if I do that lak, Do strepe me and put me in a sak, And in the nexte ryver do me drenche. I am a gentil womman and no wenche. Why speke ye thus? But men been evere untrewe, And wommen have repreve of yow ay newe. Ye han noon oother contenance, I leeve, But speke to us of untrust and repreeve." And with that word she saugh wher Damyan Sat in the bussh, and coughen she bigan, And with hir fynger signes made she That Damyan sholde clymbe upon a tree, That charged was with fruyt, and up he wente. For verraily he knew al hire entente, And every signe that she koude make, Wel bet than Januarie, hir owene make; For in a lettre she hadde toold hym al Of this matere, how he werchen shal. And thus I lete hym sitte upon the pyrie, And Januarie and may romynge ful myrie. Bright was the day, and blew the firmament; Phebus hath of gold his stremes doun ysent, To gladen every flour with his warmnesse. He was that tyme in Geminis, as I gesse, But litel fro his declynacion Of Cancer, Jovis exaltacion. And so bifel, that brighte morwe-tyde, That in that gardyn, in the ferther syde, Pluto, that is kyng of Fayerye, And many a lady in his compaignye, Folwynge his wyf, the queene Proserpyna, Which that he ravysshed out of Ethna Whil that she gadered floures in the mede - In Claudyan ye may the stories rede, How in his grisely carte he hire fette - This kyng of fairye thanne adoun hym sette Upon a bench of turves, fressh and grene, And right anon thus seyde he to his queene: "My wyf," quod he, "ther may no wight seye nay; Th'experience so preveth every day The tresons whiche that wommen doon to man. Ten hondred thousand (tales) tellen I kan Notable of youre untrouthe and brotilnesse. O Salomon, wys, and richest of richesse, Fulfild of sapience and of worldly glorie, Ful worthy been thy wordes to memorie To every wight that wit and reson kan. Thus preiseth he yet the bountee of man: 'Amonges a thousand men yet foond I oon, But of wommen alle foond I noon.' - Thus seith the kyng that knoweth youre wikkednesse. And Jhesus, filius Syrak, as I gesse, Ne speketh of yow but seelde reverence. A wylde fyr and corrupt pestilence So falle upon youre bodyes yet to-nyght! Ne se ye nat this honurable knyght, By cause, allas that he is blynd and old, His owene man shal make hym cokewold. Lo, where he sit, the lechour, in the tree! Now wol I graunten, of my magestee, Unto this olde, blynde, worthy knyght That he shal have ayen his eyen syght, Whan that his wyf wold doon hym vileynye. Thanne shal he knowen al hire harlotrye, Bothe in repreve of hire and othere mo." Ye shal?" quod Proserpyne, "wol ye so? Now by my moodres sires soule I swere That I shal yeven hire suffisant answere, And alle wommen after, for hir sake; That, though they be in any gilt ytake, With face boold they shulle hemself excuse, And bere hem doun that wolden hem accuse. For lak of answere noon of hem shal dyen. Al hadde man seyn a thyng with bothe his yen, Yit shul we wommen visage it hardily, And wepe, and swere, and chyde subtilly, So that ye man shul been as lewed as gees. What rekketh me of youre auctoritees? I woot wel that this Jew, this Salomon, Foond of us wommen fooles many oon. But though that he ne foond no good womman, Yet hath ther founde many another man Wommen ful trewe, ful goode, and vertuous. Witnesse on hem that dwelle in cristes hous; With martirdom they preved hire constance. The Romayn geestes eek make remembrance Of many a verray, trewe wyf also. But, sire, ne be nat wrooth, al be it so, Though that he seyde he foond no good womman, I prey yow take the sentence of the man; He mente thus, that in sovereyn bontee Nis noon but god, but neither he ne she. Ey! for verray god, that nys but oon, What make ye so muche of Salomon? What though he made a temple, goddes hous? What though he were riche and glorious? So made he eek a temple of false goddis. How myghte he do a thyng that moore forbode is? Pardee, as faire as ye his name emplastre, He was a lecchour and an ydolastre, And in his elde he verray God forsook; And if this God ne hadde, as seith the book, Yspared hem for his fadres sake, he sholde Have lost his regne rather than he wolde. I sette right noght, of al the vileynye That ye of wommen write, a boterflye! I am a womman, nedes moot I speke, Of elles swelle til myn herte breke. For sithen he seyde that we been jangleresses, As evere hool I moote brouke my tresses, I shal nat spare, for no curteisye, To speke hym harm that wolde us vileynye." "Dame," quod this Pluto, "be no lenger wrooth; I yeve it up! But sith I swoor myn ooth That I wolde graunten hym his sighte ageyn, My word shal stonde, I warne yow certeyn. I am a kyng, it sit me noght to lye." "And I," quod she, "a queene of Fayerye! Hir answere shal she have, I undertake. Lat us namoore wordes heerof make; For sothe, I wol no lenger yow contrarie. Now lat us turne agayn to Januarie, That in the gardyn with his faire May Syngeth ful murier than the papejay, "Yow love I best, and shal, and oother noon." So longe aboute the aleyes is he goon, Til he was come agaynes thilke pyrie Where as this Damyan sitteth ful myrie An heigh among the fresshe leves grene. This fresshe May, that is so bright and sheene, Gan for to syke, and seyde, "Allas, my syde! Now sire," quod she, "for aught that may bityde, I moste han of the peres that I see, Or I moot dye, so soore longeth me To eten of the smale peres grene. Help, for hir love that is of hevene queene! I telle yow wel, a womman in my plit May han to fruyt so greet an appetit That she may dyen, but she of it have." "Allas," quod he, "that I ne had heer a knave That koude clymbe! Allas, Allas," quod he, For I am blynd!" "Ye, sire, no fors," quod she; But wolde ye vouche sauf, for Goddes sake, The pyrie inwith youre armes for to take, For wel I woot that ye mystruste me, Thanne sholde I clymbe wel ynogh," quod she, "So I my foot myghte sette ypon youre bak." "Certes," quod he, "theron shal be no lak, Mighte I yow helpen with myn herte blood." He stoupeth doun, and on his bak she stood, And caughte hire by a twiste, and up she gooth - Ladyes, I prey yow that ye be nat wrooth; I kan nat glose, I am a rude man - And sodeynly anon this Damyan Gan pullen up the smok, and in he throng. And whan that Pluto saugh this grete wrong, To Januarie he gaf agayn his sighte, And made hym se as wel as evere he myghte. And whan that he hadde caught his sighte agayn, Ne was ther nevere man of thyng so fayn, But on his wyf his thoght was everemo. Up to the tree he caste his eyen two, And saugh that Damyan his wyf had dressed In swich manere it may nat been expressed, But if I wolde speke uncurteisly; And up he yaf a roryng and a cry, As dooth the mooder whan the child shal dye: "Out! Help! Allas! Harrow!" he gan to crye, "O stronge lady stoore, what dostow?" And she answerde, "Sire, what eyleth yow? Have pacience and resoun in youre mynde! I have yow holpe on bothe youre eyen blynde. Up peril of my soule, I shal nat lyen, As me was taught, to heele with youre eyen, Was no thyng bet, to make yow to see, Than strugle with a man upon a tree. God woot, I dide it in ful good entente". "Strugle?" quod he, "ye algate in it wente! God yeve yow bothe on shames deth to dyen! He swyved thee, I saugh it with myne yen, And elles be I hanged by the hals!" "Thanne is," quod she, "my medicyne fals; For certeinly, if that ye myghte se. Ye wolde nat seyn thise wordes unto me. Ye han som glymsyng, and no parfit sighte." "I se," quod he, "as wel as evere I myghte, Thonked be god! with bothe myne eyen two, And by my trouthe, me thoughte he dide thee so." "Ye maze, maze, goode sire," quod she; "This thank have I for I have maad yow see. Allas," quod she, "that evere I was so kynde! "Now, dame," quod he, "lat al passe out of mynde. Com doun, my lief, and if I have myssayd, God helpe me so, as I am yvele apayd. But, by my fader soule, I wende han seyn How that this Damyan hadde by thee leyn, And that thy smok hadde leyn upon his brest. "Ye sire," quod she, "ye may wene as yow lest. But, sire, a man that waketh out of his sleep, He may nat sodeynly wel taken keep Upon a thyng, ne seen it parfitly, Til that he be adawed verraily. Right so a man that longe hath blynd ybe, Ne may nat sodeynly so wel yse, First whan his sighte is newe come ageyn, As he that hath a day or two yseyn. Til that youre sighte ysatled be a while, Ther may ful many a sighte yow bigile. Beth war, I prey yow; for, by hevene kyng, Ful many a man weneth to seen a thyng, And it is al another than it semeth. He that mysconceyveth, he mysdemeth." And with that word she leep doun fro the tree, This Januarie, who is glad but he? He kisseth hire, and clippeth hire ful ofte, And on hire wombe he stroketh hire ful softe, And to his palays hoom he hath hire lad. Now, goode men, I pray yow to be glad. Thus endeth heere my tale of Januarie; God blesse us, and his mooder Seinte Marie! Heere is ended the Marchantes Tale of Januarie.

The Merchant's Prologue | The Merchant's Epilogue

A discussion of Allegory and Allusion in The Merchant's Tale

One of the most famous examples of medieval literature is Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. This collection of poetry, which chronicles a group of pilgrims amusing themselves by telling tales on the way to Canterbury, proves to be a very entertaining read. However, Chaucer did not intend for The Canterbury Tales to be merely entertaining; each of the tales within teach valuable lessons about human nature by using a clever mix of allusions, metaphors, and allegory. None of the poems within The Canterbury Tales demonstrate this as well as “The Merchant’s Tale”, which is very adept at using allusions, allegories, and symbolism.

The first thing we notice about The Merchant’s Tale is the large degree that the narrator is reflected in the Tale. The Merchant’s Tale, which is the story of a less-than-exemplary marriage, is prefaced by the merchant telling the pilgrims about his own unhappy marriage. Although he says that the tale he tells will not be autobiographical, it is clear that the merchant is disapproving of wives. The knight January, it could be argued, represents the merchant, who thinks marriage is a good idea but discovers it is not the paradise that was expected.

The tale becomes more autobiographical in the very first line: “Once upon a time there dwelt in Lombardy”. During Chaucer’s lifetime, Lombardy was a major banking center, and the Lombards were notorious as usurers. Thus, the medieval reader would have caught the allusion and assumed that January had achieved his prosperity through usury and investment. January also has the mindset of a merchant, as he literally shops among the local girls for the one that he wants to marry. Finally, the fact that January wants to get married without having anybody in mind shows that January will not be concerned with his wife, but only the value she will bring to him, just a merchant cares not for the wheat he has, but for the value or price it will bring. In these ways, the knight January is a clear allegory for the merchant, and perhaps the merchant class in general.

After January decides to get married, a string of Biblical allusions follow. Although the merchant presents these parallels as examples of why marriage is good, it becomes clear that he is being sarcastic, as all of the women mentioned were responsible for bringing about the downfall of a man. He mentions Rebecca, who tricked Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau, thereby betraying both her son Esau and her husband Isaac. Abigail is also mentioned for how she “saved her husband, Nabal, when that he / should have been slain”. However, in order to “save” him, she betrayed his order by bringing food to David, and the news of Abigail’s betrayal caused Nabal’s heart to fail. Afterwards, she further honored Nabal by marrying David. The other two Biblical allusions, although neither of them betrays her husband, prove that women are tricky and deceitful. Esther tricked Haman into dining with her and Xerxes, which resulted in the hanging of Haman, and Judith used her charm to convince Holofernes, the leader of the attacking army, that she will betray her people. At night, Judith slew Holofernes in his sleep. These are allusions that show a very misogynist view of women, but their importance lies in the fact that the allusions are Biblical. The Merchant uses them to give the negative view of women that the Tale conveys justification. Furthermore, the readers of Chaucer’s era would easily pick up on these allusions, due to the large influence the Catholic Church had during the time period.

The names of the characters in “The Merchant’s Tale” carry allusions of their own. The knight’s wife is named May, and his own name is January. This suggests that the pair is truly not suited for each other. January is the month in which winter is at its strongest; life is ending everywhere. May, by contrast, represents the spring, the season of new life. Since January is sixty years old and May is in her twenties, the metaphor is an accurate one. When January seeks the advice of his brothers, we learn their names are Justinius and Placebo. Justinius, whose name means “just”, advises against marriage, and Placebo, whose name literally means “I will please”, tells January exactly what he wants to hear. Although Justinius gives the better advice, at least from the merchant’s point-of-view, January chooses to listen to the flatterer, Placebo. Because of this, the names of January’s brothers are very apt indeed.

Allusions to Greek and Roman mythology occur several times within “The Merchant’s Tale. The Roman Venus is mentioned several times, in the lines “And Venus gaily laughed for every wight / For January had become her knight.” This suggests that January is hopelessly in love with May, or perhaps more accurately due to his mercantile mindset, hopelessly lusts after her. Venus also appears twice in context with Damian, implying that this whole scenario is just a trick of the gods. Hymenaeus, the Greek god of marriage is mentioned once, and the legendary musicians Orpheus and Amphion are also alluded to, giving the impression that this wedding was of divine proportions. The merchant then goes to imply that no poet, not even Marcian, could describe the glory of the wedding. The largest allusion to classical mythology is in Pluto and Proserpine. Pluto talks with his wife about how women are treacherous, which is ironic, since it was Pluto that kidnapped Proserpine. Queen Proserpine vows that she will tell May what to say should January ever see May being unfaithful to their marriage. All of these classical allusions serve as a device to make the tale seem nobler, even though the merchant tells his story as a fabliau instead of the noble romance tales of the era. Once again, this reflects on the merchant as a narrator, for in 14th century Europe, the merchant class was suspended somewhere between the aristocrats and the normal people.

January’s walled garden can serve as both an allusion and an allegory. The original word “paradise” meant “a walled orchard or garden”. This reminds us of the Garden of Eden, where Eve tricked Adam into tasting the forbidden fruit. This allegory can be extended further when the root of May’s deception occurs in a fruit tree, and when discovered, she makes excuses, just as Eve blamed the serpent.

Another allusion is present in relation to the garden: the merchant refers to “he who wrote ‘The Romance of the Rose’”. The Romance of the Rose, by Guillaume de Lorris, was one of the most popular poems of Chaucer’s time. It was about a young man who enters the Garden of Pleasure through a wicker gate expecting to have a good time. However, the Garden of Pleasure turns out to be a trap; the man sees the image of a rose in the Spring of Narcissus and falls hopelessly in love with it, thus turning what he thought would be pleasure into pain and suffering. January’s garden is very similar to the Garden of Pleasure in description; both are walled, filled with fruit trees, and are only accessible through wicker gates in the wall. So, January has attempted to construct his own Garden of Pleasure, expecting to find joy, but like de Lorris’ Garden of Pleasure, it is a trap. Instead of happiness, January slaves away for May but only finds jealousy. This is a very important allegory in “The Merchant’s Tale”, because “The Romance of the Rose” was so popular at the time, the medieval reader would have picked up the parallel at once.

Chaucer’s masterful use of allegory and allusion have contributed to making “The Merchant’s Tale” one of the most complex and deepest works of literature of the Middle Ages. The merchant has not merely told us a tale, he has given us a scathing commentary on marriage and the battle of the sexes. Furthermore, Chaucer proved his adeptness at taking on personas; in The Merchant’s Tale, Chaucer BECOMES the merchant. Geoffrey Chaucer is regarded as the best medieval poet, and The Merchant’s Tale proves that title to be well-earned.

Node your Homework

For my essay, I used a modern English translation instead of the Middle English you see above.

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