Summary and Analysis of The Merchant's Tale (The Canterbury Tales)
Prologue to the Merchant's Tale:
The merchant claims that he knows nothing of long-suffering wives. Rather, if his wife were to marry the devil, she would overmatch even him. The Merchant claims that there is a great difference between Griselde's exceptional obedience and his wife's more common cruelty. The Merchant has been married two months and has loathed every minute of it. The Host asks the Merchant to tell a tale of his horrid wife.
The prologues that link the various Canterbury Tales shift effortlessly from ponderous drama to light comedy. The lamentable tale of Griselde gives way to the Host's complaint about his shrewish wife. This prologue further illustrates how each of the characters informs the tale he tells. The travelers largely tell tales that conform to their personal experiences or attitudes, such as the Merchant, whose awful marriage is the occasion for his tale about a difficult wife. In most cases the influence of the narrator on his tale is apparent, but the authorial touch lightly felt. The Merchant's Tale, for example, gains little from the prologue's information that the Merchant is disenchanted with his own marriage. Only a few of these tales exist largely as extensions of the characters who tell them; the Wife of Bath's Tale is the most prominent of these stories.
The Merchant's Tale:
The Merchant tells a tale of a prosperous knight from Lombardy who had not yet taken a wife. But when this knight, January, had turned sixty, whether out of devotion or dotage, he decided to finally be married. He searched for prospects, now convinced that the married life was a paradise on earth. Yet his brother, Placebo, cited the advice of the scholar Theophrastus, who advised men never to wed, for servants show more diligence and do not claim nearly as much. To this the knight retorted with Biblical stories that state a man without a wife is bent on ruin. These stories cites the creation of Eve for Adam as proof that a wife is man's support, as well as examples of humble and devoted wives. January, wished to have a young wife of no older than thirty, for a young wife would be more pliable, but Placebo warned him that it takes great courage for such an aged man to take a young wife. He warned him of the misery that can come from taking a wife, for she could be shrewish or a drunkard, facts that a husband will not learn until well into the marriage. Despite the common opinion that Placebo has a wonderful wife, he knows what faults she has. They argue about the merits of marriage, with Placebo predicting that January will not please his wife for more than three years, but Placebo eventually assents to January's plan. January finally decided to take a young and pretty wife, foolishly believing that nobody would find fault with his choice. He spoke to Placebo and his friends about his choice, praising his intended wife. January, however, worries...