Chaucer Merchant's Tale

Topics: CultureMoney

Januarie’s preferences for a wife are shown like a ‘shopping list’. He places much stress on his prospective wife’s age “she shal not passe twenty yeer, certayn”. There is a sense of economics in the way January has chosen a younger wife to compensate for his old age. Januarie explains his penchant for a young wife in particularised language “a yong thyng may men gye, right as men may warm wex with hands plye” Januarie has delusions of pygmalionism: the state of being in love with an object of one’s own creation, Maye is his manufacture.

Januarie’s language is saturated with fiscal metaphor, metaphor is used to defamiliarise the audience; while he thinks about what his wife will look like, he describes the experience as though one has taken a mirror, polished bright and set it in “commune market-place, Thanne sholde he se ful many a figure pace”, women are like cattle to Januarie, Januarie values women in accordance to their beauty.

The link between women and carnate is very suggestive, Januarie is clearly longing for carnal embrace and his sexual frustration is evident. Januarie uses the sexual language of a cattle market “And bet than old boef is the tendre veel” women are viewed as meat within Medieval society.

The Merchants Tale Chaucer

One might cross-reference this carnal metaphor to the reader’s introduction to Damyan the servant “which carf biforn the knight ful many a day”, it is paradoxical that the boy Januarie has employed to carve meat will ultimately carve Januarie’s own meat (Maye), Januarie has unwittingly encouraged his own cuckolding by taking on Damyan, this is precursor for Januarie’s garden which facilitates Maye and Damyan’s affair; Januarie’s creation of a pleasure garden is presented to us as an extension of a cashbox in which the key is the all-important possession.

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It is damaging to Januarie’s honour that he has been cuckolded by Damyan “thyn owene squire and thy borne man” his own property. When Januarie becomes blind, “he wepeth” and with all the fire of his jealousy “Lest that his wyf sholde falle in som folye,” he becomes increasingly possessive of his wax moulded ‘doll’. Januarie’s blindness is ironic: when he was able to see he was still morally and spiritually blind, it is paradoxical that on balance his blindness initiates his enlightenment, Januarie’s over-dependency on is his eyes shows how pleasure-seeking, epicurean and hedonistic his life was before marriage.

Januarie’s blindness emphasises his obsession with the aesthetic and attainable by financial means. Sight is something, however, no amount of money can buy. Januarie will not suffer Maye leaving his side “But if he had a hand always on her”: Maye is his property. Januarie desperately clings to this young vital ‘animal’. For Aristotle it is the mark of a ‘barbarian’ that the husband treats his wife as a piece of property, like a domesticated animal.. On a metaphorical level Januarie is clutching on to his youth; his gluttonising ways are coming to a slow and painful end.

Januarie uses bribery at a mid-nuptial stage to prevent Maye from cuckolding him; “heritage, toun and tour” are used as a bargaining item. Januarie tells Maye she can attain these three things if she remains faithful. We see how Januarie is unable to distinguish between the spiritual and the material; he has bound them up together. Januarie combines a spiritual field with the diction of property and law, the concrete is fused with the abstract. The reader is never allowed to forget that Maye has ultimately sold her body for money; women become ‘objects’ and ‘commodities’.

Marriage through the Merchant eyes is equated with the giving away of good s. The Merchant’s Tale and Prologue is submerged with monetary metaphor and financial imagery, and it is therefore difficult to underplay the importance of money and possessions in this medieval world. However we are reminded that money and possessions are purely material and the love of a wife for a husband and visa-versa cannot be bought they must be earned through the Christian quality of gentillesse. Januarie can buy anything with his money on a material level, however he cannot buy time, for his clock is ticking and he is growing “oold and hoor”.

For this reason I believe The Merchant’s Tale is more about the worthlessness of money when stared in the face of time. The Merchant’s Tale is didactic and what the reader should take from it is the importance of having spiritual wealth as opposed to material wealth.

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Chaucer Merchant's Tale. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

Chaucer Merchant's Tale
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