The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Hermann, John P. "Dismemberment, Dissemination, Discourse: Sign and Symbol in the Shipman's Tale." 19 (1985): 302-37.
In the Shipman's Tale the monk's use of hunting language in his first conversation with the merchant's wife points to the cruelty of his position as an adulterer. This language also indicates the dismemberment of the merchant/husband as a result of his wife's adultery. When the wife swears to keep her conversation with Don John secret, she curses herself with dismemberment. The monk also stands in danger of dismemberment for his treachery to the merchant whom he claims as his kin and to God whom he has vowed to serve chastely. The adultery separates the two parts of the unified sign, and instead of reconstructing it, indulges in and privileges the "free play of signifiers" (314). The metaphor of plowing, both sexually and monetarily also figures into this play. The monk, merchant, and wife all exchange roles, vows, and money in this tale. The demands of the body in contrast to the demands of God, dominate the tale. The French setting of the tale gives rise to a number of charged, parodic references, including the association of the wife with Mary Magdalene, and references to Peter, John, St. Martin, and St. Denis. The references to animals remind readers of the animal nature of the characters in the tale.