Marriage and Women in the Merchant's Prologue of Canterbury Tales
'The Merchant's Tale' is part of the Canterbury Tales, a collection of
stories loosely linked together. Through these poems Chaucer provides
an insight into the attitudes, weaknesses, virtues and preoccupation
of English men and women of the Fourteenth Century.
Chaucer imagines a group of pilgrims, setting off from the Tabard Inn
on a journey from London to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in
Canterbury. In order to pass time, the pilgrims tell each other
stories; in this case we are told 'The Merchant's Tale'.
From reading and discussing the first part of 'The Merchant's Tale',
this essay will explore the narrators concerns of marriage and women,
and attempt to explain their contextual relevance.
To begin with I will discuss the values of marriage and the social
status of women during the Fourteenth Century. Conventional attitudes
to the institution of marriage were regarded as a mercantile
transaction and the consolidation of title, land and money was of
great importance among the wealthy and noble status. Furthermore
marriage was rarely undertaken for love, and could take place under
force agreement if money was involved.
Marriage was considered a sacrament of the church that mirrored the
union of Christ and Christ's church; it was deemed an important
practice of the Christian religion during this period. Subsequently
through this ceremony women gained the status of domestic animals
characterised by unquestionable obedience to male command. This era
had demanding expectations of women which echoed the misogynistic.
Before the audience are introduced to the Merchant a depiction of his
character is portrayed through Chaucer's prologue (273-285).
The 'Marchant' emerges as a confident, 'hye on his horse he sat' and
pompous character, but contains qualities of distrust and mystery. The
audience receives an impressively dressed character 'boots clasped
faire and fetisly', suggesting an element of wealth, in order to
afford current trends of the period. In contrast, a feature such as
his 'forked berd' may contain a hidden meaning, although a fashionable
cut, it is usually associated with the devil and conveys a duplicitous
person. Furthermore the source of mystery surrounding the Merchant
includes the ambiguity of his name and the nature of his affairs. We
learn that the Merchant does not seem to have any spiritual motives
for joining the pilgrimage and perhaps is taking part to increase
trade since he was in 'dette', this is evident through his concern of
profit and interest in the trading route 'Betwixe Middle burh and
An issue concerning this image is its reliability since this narrative
is directly told by Chaucer, a controller of custom's, hence he may
present the Merchant in a negative...