The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Benson, Donald R. "The Marriage 'Encomium' in the Merchant's Tale: A Chaucerian Crux." 14 (1979): 48-60.
The Merchant's encomium on marriage presents several interpretive problems. The audience has great difficulty determining the speaker, whether or not the passage is an encomium or a mock-exhortation, and what kind of marriages the passage praises as exemplary. Because scholars lack decisive information from the tale, this passage is likely to remain a crux.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "Hortus Inconclusus: The Significance of Priapus and Pyramus and Thisbe in the Merchant's Tale." 4 (1969): 31-40.
The reference to Priapus in the Merchant's Tale should make readers think of Ovid's Priapus. The allusion to Priapus in the garden points to its sensual overtones, and his link to Damyan suggests that the sexual encounter with May does not end satisfactorily. January thus becomes Silenus; he cannot participate but becomes a defeated spectator. The Merchant thus ridicules courtly love and explores the idea that love of any kind lacks fulfillment. Also, the allusion to Pyramus and Thisbe highlights the coarseness of the affair between May and Damyan.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "Chaucer, the Merchant, and Their Tale: Getting Beyond Old Controversies: Part I." 13 (1978): 141-56.
The Merchant's Tale is misogynistic at heart, and the Merchant cannot be separated from it. The bondage imagery, the narrative voice, and the personal affront suggested by Damyan's description connect the prologue and the tale. The Merchant's Tale cannot be reduced to a happy or sarcastic fabliau because the Merchant's voice is too complex.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "Chaucer, the Merchant, and Their Tale: Getting Beyond Old Controversies: Part II." 13 (1979): 247-62.
The "L'Envoy de Chaucer a Bukton" contains statements about women similar to those made by the Merchant, suggesting that Chaucer cannot be so easily separated from the narrator of the Merchant's Tale as some previous scholars have thought.
Cherniss, Michael D. "The Clerk's Tale and Envoy, the Wife of Bath's Purgatory, and the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1972): 235-54.
The Clerk's Envoy presents a theme which continues through the Merchant's Tale. The Clerk's Tale presents both a secular and a spiritual moral to which even the Envoy does not resolve. The Envoy contains two ironies: one is the logical extreme that there are no Griseldas, and the other demands whether or not wives may trust their husbands. The double irony allows the Clerk to connect the marital (secular) sphere of his tale with a spiritual moral. An additional level of irony suggests that even shrewish wives perform a spiritual service for their husbands, helping them to develop the character of Job. The Clerk's idea of purgatory in marriage contrasts with January's idea of paradisical marriage, but aligns with the church's view of marriage. January, then, parodies Griselda's patience in the face of trials. Ironically, however, January never recognizes the purgatorial aspects of his marriage; he is too blind. The Host's response to these tales indicates that he believes marriage to be the purgatory the Wife and Merchant describe, not the paradise offered by the Clerk.
Delasanta, Rodney. "And of Great Reverence: Chaucer's Man of Law." 5 (1971): 288-310.
Chaucer creates a pattern of mistakes for the Man of Law which undermine his claim to authority. The Man of Law refers to characters mentioned in prologues to works as if they were the characters on which the work concentrated, thus suggesting that he has only read the prologues to these works, not the works themselves. Even his references to Old Testament characters reflect second-hand knowledge. In addition, Chaucer gives the Man of Law the same kind of rhetorical language he gives to characters like the Pardoner and the Merchant whom he deliberately undermines. Furthermore, in the Man of Law's Tale, Chaucer reveals the Man of Law to be a pharisee by having him paint Christians as completely good and the "enemy" as entirely evil. Chaucer thus undercuts both the Man of Law's pretended cultural refinements and his self-proclaimed righteousness.
Havely, N. R. "Chaucer's Friar and Merchant." 13 (1979): 337-45.
The Friar is an appropriate figure to link the genteel class with the bourgeois class because while he can participate in the church funtions, he is also characterized in terms of money and merchandise. The connection between the Friar and money makes him an ideal link to the Merchant's following portrait.
Hornstein, Lillian Herlands. "The Wyf of Bathe and the Merchant: From Sex to 'Secte.'" 3 (1968): 65-67.
Under Anglo-Saxon law, a person who filed a suit was required to have a secta, a group of oath-helpers, accompany him. When the Clerk says "and all hire secte mayntene" (E 1171), he wishes that God would keep the Wife and her compatriots (oath-helpers) in positions of power; he does not make some kind of counterargument. In this situation, the Merchant functions as the Wife's secta, by agreeing with her point of view from his experience.
Levy, Bernard S. "Gentilesse in Chaucer's Clerk's and Merchant's Tales." 11 (1977): 306-18.
In Chaucer, gentillesse can mean noble birth and virtue as well as acts of sexual pleasure. The gentillesse represented by Griselda in the Clerk's Tale contradicts the view of gentillesse presented by the Wife of Bath. Griselda's gentillesse in the face of Walter's cruel tests reinforces the theory that gentillesse does not necessarily result from noble birth, but the Clerk does not represent gentillesse as sexual pleasure as does the Wife. Finally, Griselda's submission to Walter brings him to behave with true gentillesse. To quite the Wife of Bath and the Clerk, the Merchant uses his tale to show January and May pretending to gentillesse. January chooses May because he believes she has gentillesse, though he knows she is lowly born. January also describes Damyan in terms that make Damyan the male complement to May's gentillesse. Because Damyan is so ill and January urges May to be good to Damyan, May's love-making to Damyan in the pear tree takes on characteristics of a noble deed. By abruptly presenting the climax of May and Damyan's love and having January recover his sight at that moment, the Merchant points out that gentility can cover vile behaviors. The Merchant presents marriage purely as physical satisfaction, not mutual gentillesse.
Martindale, Wight, Jr. "Chaucer's Merchants: A Trade-Based Speculation on Their Activities." 26 (1992): 309-16.
Most scholars read Chaucer's merchants negatively. The merchants do not, however, participate in any activities outside the realm of business dealings traditional for medieval merchants. In the Shipman's Tale the merchant of St. Denis most likely traded in cloth, and though complicated, his business transactions are not illegal. He would probably have been a client of a merchant like the one portrayed in the General Prologue who probably traded in foreign currency or operated a lending bank.
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.
Schleusener, Jay. "The Conduct of the Merchant's Tale." 14 (1980): 237-50.
The Merchant's Tale seems tactless, but Chaucer carefully draws readers in so that they are willing for the Merchant to attack January. The Merchant uses sarcasm and innuendo to trip up readers in their own imaginations. He manipulates May so that readers eventually respond cynically to her. Pluto and Proserpine restore the readers' sense of taste by applying common sense to the situation in the garden. The bitterness of the Merchant's Tale is a bitterness shared by Chaucer, the Merchant, and generations of readers who allow themselves to enjoy the tale.
Spencer, William. "Are Chaucer's Pilgrims Keyed to the Zodiac?" 4 (1970): 147-70.
The sequence of the pilgrims in the General Prologue suggests that they are keyed to the zodiac. Readers can view each pilgrim in terms of the influence of the planets and the stars. Among the pilgrims whom a knowledge of the medieval science of the zodiac helps to illuminate are the Knight, the Squire, the Yeoman, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Merchant, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Franklin, the Cook, the Shipman, the Physician, the Wife of Bath, the Parson, the Miller, the Manciple, the Reeve, the Summoner, and the Pardoner.
Stevens, Martin. "'And Venus laugheth': An Interpretation of the Merchant's Tale." 7 (1972): 117-31.
Chaucer characterizes the Merchant through his tale as a capable businessman with a shrewish wife. May is not, however, a portrait of the Merchant's wife. In order fully to appreciate the tale, readers must eliminate consideration of the narrator. The Merchant's Tale then appears as a fabliau mocking the senex amans.
Wilson, Grace G. "'Amonges othere wordes wyse': The Medieval Seneca and the Canterbury Tales." 28 (1993): 135-45.
Seneca acquired two reputations in the Middle Ages. First, he was a moral philosopher and, second, a "hackneyed aphorist" (136). Chaucer refers to Seneca more than any other philosopher in the Canterbury Tales. In the Parson's Tale and the Tale of Melibee, Chaucer uses Seneca straight, and those tales generally have less audience appeal. Tales where Seneca's morals are used more ironically seem to generate greater audience appreciation. A number of characters refer to Seneca and his ideas, for example: the Wife of Bath uses Seneca in her tale as part of the curtain lecture. The Pardoner, Summoner, Friar, Man of Law, Monk, Merchant, and Manciple all refer to Seneca, but use his teachings ironically. Seneca's teachings do not seem to be the object of Chaucer's ridicule. Instead, they help to characterize those who refer to him.
Wurtele, Douglas. "Ironical Resonances in the Merchant's Tale." 13 (1978): 66-79.
January's association of paradise with marriage to May ironically contrasts May's promiscuity with the Virgin Mary's chaste, but fruitful, womb. The references to sweet speech bring to mind Christian allegories of church doctrine and Mary's relationship to Christ. The Merchant carefully includes kissing, hands, and keys, leading careful readers to remember allegorical explanations of the Song of Songs in Canticum canticorum. As a response to the Clerk, the Merchant makes May the opposite of the Virgin Mary and of Griselda, who is closely associated with the Virgin.