The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Neuse, Richard. "Marriage and the Question of Allegory in the Merchant's Tale." 24 (1989): 115-31.
Chaucer raises the problem of allegory in the Clerk's and Merchant's Tales by making it the center of the tales, particularly in light of the source text. The Clerk's Tale does not close off the allegorical question at the end of the tale raised by Chaucer's use of Petrarchan material. The Merchant picks up on the question, dramatizing every aspect of marriage. The expansion of January's definition of marriage makes clear that the Merchant shares his view. January holds two opposing opinions of marriage: he speaks of marriage only in Biblical terms, but thinks of it merely as a practical way to fill his needs. The narrator describes the garden as one of "death or of pagan enchantments," and of "natural vitality and joy" (123). The Merchant treats the Bible as if it is not applicable to everyday life and refers to Sir Orfeo and to the Wife of Bath's Tale. The world of fairy as presented in these two texts is a a world where Biblical authority is not so powerful and where women are not viewed as objects. The Merchant touches on the themes of Fortune, with a passing reference to Purgatorio, blindness and the cure of blindness, and uses the redeemer motif, incorporating "the three realms of Dante's Commedia" (128). Like Dante, Chaucer attempts to use Biblical imagery for an everyday purpose, but through January, Chaucer presents an idea of paradise much different from that of Dante.