Essay on Variety in The Merchant’s Tale
Use of Variety in The Merchant’s Tale
The Merchant’s Tale tells the story of an old man searching for a wife and finding one, who is ultimately unfaithful to him. Chaucer uses a variety of elements in the poem to show his knowledge of contemporary interests and his story telling capacity through another figure. Irony flows through the poem, laced with allusions to the Bible. Chaucer’s use of his astronomical knowledge not only allows modern day scholars to date events, but also adds another dimension of interest for the contemporary audience and of course, the pilgrims.
Januarie’s discussion of Heaven and Hell leads to the idea of marriage providing a Heaven on Earth. It is said that a wife is a husband’s “paradis terrestre, and his disport” (l. 120), but at the introduction of the idea of a paradise, the reader can begin to contemplate the introduction of a serpent at a later point. Chaucer uses heavy irony as Januarie worries about experiencing his only Heaven on Earth. It becomes evident that May is anything but his Heaven. Her behaviour with Damyan in the pear tree is reminiscent of the story of Adam and Eve and the temptation of the apple tree as Damyan has become the serpent in Januarie’s paradise of wedded bliss.
The Biblical allusions that are used in the Tale have the effect of broadening the moral behind the story. By using the irony of the Biblical stories along with the thoughts of Januarie, a contemporary audience would have quickly perceived that there would be trouble with the marriage, as they would have been relatively well versed on the Bible. The priest at the marriage ceremony “bade [May] be lik Sarra and Rebekke” (l.492). While these two figures are held up as examples of holy and virtuous wom…
… middle of paper …
… the possibility, says Maurice Hussey, that Chaucer knew that St. Damian was the patron saint of medicine, thus giving ironic undertones to the sight-healing excuse for the pear tree tryst.
Geoffrey Chaucer used many different aspects of his wide knowledge when writing the Merchant’s Prologue and Tale. Biblical references and parallels with and inclusions of mythological characters are evidence of this. The appeal of such references to a medieval audience is extended with the inclusion of detailed and seemingly accurate astronomical minutiae. These details provide another level of information about the characters and their fates, such as the future of the marriage – it having been performed when the planet of war and the planet of love were in conjunction. Around these imaginative inclusions weaves a line of irony and a use of contemporary views and literature.