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Marriage is an institution viewed upon in many different ways. Some people believe it is a holy union of two people in order to reproduce. On the other hand, there are those who look at it as a social contract which often binds two people that are not necessarily right for each other. In Geoffrey Chaucher's The Canterbury Tales, the view taken is that of the former. Chaucher looks at marriage as an obligation that is almost always dominated by one of its two members, as view proven in the Miller's Tale, the Shipman's Tale, the Merchant's Tale, and the Wife of Bath's Tale.
The "Shipman's Tale" exemplifies the sarcastic view of marriage taken by Chaucer. Here, his wife along with his cousin, Sir John the monk, cuckolds a noble merchant. The merchant is completely trusting of his wife and his cousin, but still they take advantage of him. Money is the underlying theme in this tale. First, Sir John asks the merchant if he'd "contrive to lend [him] a hundred francs" (Chaucer, 164) which would actually be used to seduce the merchant's wife. The merchant gladly loans him the money; not knowing his cousin had ulterior motives. Then, the merchant leaves on a business trip and leaves his wife alone in their home, along with the monk. With the merchant never once questioning their honor, the wife and the monk take advantage of his leave in order to consummate their relationship. Although later the wife almost gets caught, ultimately her husband never learns that his wife has lied in anyone's "arms all night" (Chaucer, 165) that weren't his and the merchant is seen as a blind fool. The relationships in this tale are all defined, at least in part, in terms of finances:
"The wife defines her relationship with her husband at the beginning in terms of his niggardliness, and offers her body at the end in repayment of the hundred francs; she offers herself to Daun John in return for money"(Cooper, 281).
The selling of one's own body does not seem to be very important within the context of this tale. Instead, it is perceived as another way of making money. This can be seen because, "The merchant is not jealous; he gives his wife liberty"(Cooper, 281). This is further demonstrated at the end of the tale when "His rebuke of his wife at the end is a very mild one in what he believes to be the circumstances"(Cooper, 282). His "Wife's adultery for cash should appear all the more shocking for his forbearance, but moral judgement on any of the characters is entirely lacking"(Cooper, 282). Her disregard for the institution of matrimony and the merchant's naivete are the two reasons why the wife has the control in their relationship. Basically, Chaucer finds this situation somewhat humorous, thus proving his scorn for marriage.
The "Merchant's Tale" is yet another example of Chaucer's contempt for this institution. This story is "the irony of a mere man
Names mentioned in this term paper
his and the merchant, him]-all-at-once, Donald R. Chaucer, Daun John, Shipman, liberty”(Cooper, Howard, Damian, Miller, Geoffrey Chaucher, Nicholas, Sir John asks, Absalon, money, Jankyn,
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Oxford, London, New York,
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Chaucer, merchant, the wife, Canterbury Tales, The Canterbury Tales, the merchant, Geoffrey Chaucer, institution, personal experience, Absalon, His World, Oxford University Press, prologue, asks, fool, monk, first thing, moral judgement, francs, social contract, love triangle, business trip, material goods, old girl, cuckold, Penguin Group, New York, begs, sarcastic, show, interesting, emotional, contrive, sixty, consummation, seduce, Toronto, thrilled, rebuke, gullibility, ridiculing, trusting, cheated, endures, an affair, fabliau, matrimony, willful, hazy, ironic,