The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
Beidler, Peter G. "The Climax in the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1971): 38-43.
Similarities between Damyan and Priapus, and between the situations of Damyan and May and Pyramus and Thisbe, have been suggested as evidence that Damyan does not reach climax in his love-making with May. Damyan and Priapus, however, are more different than alike, and the situation of Pyramus and Thisbe is not at all like that of Damyan and May. Nor can readers use timing as a basis upon which to decide that Damyan does not reach climax. In the garden scene, Chaucer demonstrates that he is more interested in telling January's tale than in speculating about whether Damyan achieves climax. Questions regarding Damyan's sexual climax are extraneous to the tale.
Beidler, Peter G., and Therese Decker. "Lippijn: A Middle Dutch Source for the Merchant's Tale?" 23 (1989): 236-50.
Most scholars have ignored Middle Dutch plays, but the fourteenth-century play Lippijn may have been a source for Chaucer's Merchant's Tale. Chaucer may have encountered this play on one of his trips to the Low Countries. A number of parallels exist between Lippijn and the Merchant's Tale, including the specific details of the love triangle, the description of love making, and the husband's blindness. If Chaucer did know Lippijn, he altered his source to create more depth. A prose translation of Lippijn is provided.
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.
Bleeth, Kenneth. "Joseph's Doubting of Mary and the Conclusion of the Merchant's Tale." 21 (1986): 58-66.
The end of the Merchant's Tale in which January regains his sight parallels the end of the story of Joseph and Mary, told in the Cherry-Tree Carol and Ludus Coventriae, where Joseph is enlightened with regard to the spiritual nature of Mary's pregnancy. May's explanation of her behavior in terms of January's blindness is an ironic reversal of Joseph's response to Mary. Both January and Joseph apologize, and both finally respond to the pregnancy by stroking the womb of their wives. But in the end Joseph has been enlightened, whereas January refuses to perceive.
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.
Brown, Emerson, Jr. "The Merchant's Tale: Why is May Called 'Mayus'?" 2 (1968): 273-77.
The masculine name "Mayus" for the female protagonist suggests a theme of healing in the pear-tree episode. Damyan is named for St. Damian, known for healing various illnesses, including blindness. In the tale, Damyan is the agent for January's healing, thus suggesting that there might be other references to healing as well. May was the month associated with healing.
Burger, Douglas A. "Deluding Words in the Merchant's Tale." 12 (1977): 103-10.
The Merchant builds his tale on the separation between words and reality. The most blatant examples of this distance are the scenes in which January's friends tell him about marriage and the pear-tree episode.
Campbell, Thomas P. "Machaut and Chaucer: Ars Nova and the Art of Narrative." 24 (1990): 275-89.
Chaucer's narratives borrow both from Machaut's poetry and his music. The dissonance of conflicting solutions to an enigma, the simultaneity of events, and the nested perspectives found in poems like the Parliament of Fowls and the Knight's, Nun's Priest's, Merchant's, and Reeve's Tales can all be traced to medieval music. Examination of Machaut's ballad "Je Puis Trop Bien" demonstrates corresponding qualities of medieval music, especially the ballad form. Cursory examination of this ballad shows that contrast between music and the poetry joined to it was the mode. Scrutiny of the Miller's Tale shows that it uses all the musical techniques found in Machaut's ballad to maintain its unity.
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.
Collette, Carolyn P. "Umberto Eco, Semiotics, and the Merchant's Tale." 24 (1989): 132-38.
Medieval semiotics asserted that meaning came from God and from latent knowledge. Modern semioticians believe that signs are attached to specific things and ideas. Reading tales like the Merchant's Tale semiotically adds to our appreciation of the tale.
DiMarco, Vincent. "Richard Hole and the Merchant's and Squire's Tales: An Unrecognized Eighteenth-Century (1797) Contribution to Source and Analogue Study." 16 (1981): 171-80.
In writing Remarks on the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, Richard Hole alludes to a seventeenth-century analogue for the Merchant's Tale by Inayat Allah Kaubu in Bahar-i Danish. The 1799 translation is reprinted here with comments. The Elder Pliny's Historia naturalis may be the source for the Squire's magic sword.
Ebin, Lois. "Chaucer, Lydgate, and the 'Myrie tale.'" 13 (1979): 316-35.
Chaucer and the Host generate different definitions of the qualities of a good tale, and their definitions differ from Lydgate's perception. The Host operates under the definition that good stories compel the audience's attention and entertain. Chaucer seems, however, to operate under a different definition, one that examines the skill of the story-teller. This concern appears most clearly in the Reeve's Tale and the Man of Law's Tale. Chaucer further develops his concern with writing by connecting rhetorical skill to the intent of the story-teller as in the Merchant's, Squire's, Franklin's, and Pardoner's Tales. The Host's response to Melibee raises the question of multiple possible meanings. The Parson's Tale suggests an additional element of a good tale--audience benefit or edification. In Siege of Thebes, Lydgate suggests that a good tale both entertains and edifies. Lydgate moves away from his sources in order to emphasize virtues that the ruling class would imitate and to propound the power of words over the power of the sword.
Field, Rosalind. "'Superfluous Ribaldry': Spurious Lines in the Merchant's Tale." 28 (1994): 353-67.
Lines 2350-78 in the Caxton edition of the Merchant's Tale were added by a fifteenth-century scribe, taking up the challenge "I cannot glose" (2351). Clearly the person who contributed these lines had read Chaucer carefully. Though the Shipman's Tale also contains unnecessary bawdy, the lines in that tale do not remake the ending as they do in the Caxton version of Merchant's Tale.
Hoy, James F. "A Twentieth-Century Analogue to Chaucer's Merchant's Tale." 14 (1979): 155-57.
A number of analogues to the Merchant's Tale have been found, but none in the twentieth century. The recent joke recounted here parallels the tale at several important points.
Justman, Stewart. "Literal and Symbolic in the Canterbury Tales." 14 (1980): 199-214.
Medievalists accepted analogies as reality. The Wife of Bath and characters in the Shipman's Tale twist this traditional relationship, thereby undermining traditional ways of understanding. Turning a work such as the Song of Songs that is outside of social boundaries into symbol returns it to the social order. But re-literalizing such a text threatens authority. Chaucer employs the theme of counterfeiting or literalizing symbols in the Merchant's Tale. The Miller's, Pardoner's, and Nun's Priest's Tales also work to subvert authority. The "quitings" between characters are part of a pattern of sublimation. The action between the pilgrims is both physical and symbolic, however, so it does not completely destroy social order. Puns are part of Chaucer's questioning of authority in language.
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.
Mandel, Jerome. "Courtly Love in the Canterbury Tales." 19 (1985): 277-89.
In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer occasionally uses the trappings of courtly love as seen in the Clerk's, Merchant's, Shipman's, Squire's, Franklin's, Cook's, Reeve's, Miller's, and Knight's Tales, and the Tale of Sir Thopas. In the Canterbury Tales as a whole, however, Chaucer does not hold up courtly love as positive or important.
McGrady, Donald. "Chaucer and the Decameron Reconsidered." 12 (1977): 1-26.
Careful readers must reconsider the assumption that the Decameron is only marginally related to the Canterbury Tales. Likewise, the argument that Chaucer would not have known the Decameron because Boccaccio regretted writing it and wanted to prevent it from circulating must be rejected. Given the contacts Chaucer had with Florentine businessmen, he very likely read the Decameron before his first trip to Italy. Close reading of the Clerk's, Franklin's, Miller's, Merchant's, and Shipman's Tales reveals Chaucer's debt to Boccaccio's Decameron for elements which do not appear in any of Chaucer's other sources. The Miller's Tale, particularly borrows from three books of the Decameron. Chaucer seems, however, to have limited himself to borrowing details from the Decameron, perhaps in an effort to maintain a reputation for being an original poet.
Mogan, Joseph. "Chaucer and the Bona Matrimonii." 4 (1969): 123-41.
Chaucer's tales about marriage demonstrate a considerable theological interest in the subject. He refers to the belief that marital intercourse for pleasure or to ward off adultery was sinful. In the Miller's Tale we might interpret Nicholas's words regarding John and Alisoun's relationship to say that John could sin with his wife if all that he desires in his union with her is pleasure. The same extreme view applies to January in the Merchant's Tale, where his language suggests that he marries more for pleasure in bed than for an heir. January demonstrates a mistaken view of marriage at both human and divine levels. In the Wife of Bath's Prologue, Alison shows the clerks up by taking their view of the equality of the marriage debt and then using it to gain sovereignty over her husbands. Chaucer does not depict her as having transgressed, however; instead, her point of view causes the clerks to look ridiculous.
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.
Otten, Charlotte F. "Proserpine: Liberatrix Suae Gentis." 5 (1971): 277-87.
On the surface, the four biblical heroines mentioned in the Merchant's Tale do not seem to fit with the entrance of Proserpine. These five women, however, are linked by their roles as deliverers. The biblical women deliver Israel; Prosperine announces herself as the deliverer of all adulterous women. May assumes the role of January's deliverer in order to escape being caught in adultery, and becomes a comic figure in comparison to Rebecca, Judith, Abigail, and Esther.
Peterson, Joyce E. "The Finished Fragment: A Reassessment of the Squire's Tale." 5 (1970): 62-74.
Chaucer intentionally made the Squire's Tale a fragment. Examining it in terms of the larger structure of the Canterbury Tales, the narrator's point of view, and the action of tale demonstrate its completeness. Sir Thopas and the Monk's Tale show that intentional fragments result when the listeners or readers become frustrated. The Franklin halts the Squire by pretending his tale is done, showing the Franklin's sensitivity to social rank. The Squire's Tale thus becomes a "thematic link" to the Franklin's Tale. Instead of demonstrating how he is not like Damyan (Merchant's Tale), he shows the weakness of his own morality as it is based on the difference between "vulgarity and elegance, not cupiditas and caritas" (70). The Squire's Tale depicts the carnality of courtly tradition (gentillesse) and the unnaturalness of a caste system. Since the Squire has demonstrated all of this before the Franklin interrupts him, the Franklin can be said to have stopped him at the point where the action ends.
Rosenberg, Bruce A. "The 'Cherry-Tree Carol' and the Merchant's Tale." 5 (1971): 264-76.
Religious allusions in the Merchant's Tale suggest that the "Cherry-Tree Carol" is thematically linked with it. January's garden and May's Eve-attributes suggest that Mary is her opposite. To emphasize January's opposition to the church's position on marriage, Chaucer pulls from Jerome's Letter adversus Jovinianum in what appears to be January's parody of the Song of Songs. The garden January constructs parodies the garden in the "Cherry-Tree Carol." In addition, the garden also emphasizes the opposition between May and Mary: though both attain the fruit they seek, the difference between their methods and the final result demonstrates the difference between the two. January also becomes a perversion of Joseph. By mingling two different tales together, Chaucer demonstrates a valuable literary skill.
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.
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.
von Kreisler, Nicolai Alexander. "An Aesopic Allusion in the Merchant's Tale." 6 (1971): 30-37.
Justinius's complaint about his wife and January's response to it may be an expansion of an event in the Life of Aesop, which Chaucer probably knew from oral tradition. The conversation between Justinius and January demonstrates the belief that common sense is more valuable than book-knowledge. When January decides to follow Placebo's advice, he ignores the truth of the parable, thus underscoring his blindness. January's response to May's excuse for copulating with Damyan further emphasizes January's ignorance and lack of common sense, making him an object of readers' derision.
Waterhouse, Ruth, and Gwen Griffiths. "'Sweete wordes' of Non-Sense: The Deconstruction of the Moral Melibee (Part II)." 24 (1989): 53-63.
Throughtout the Tale of Melibee, there is a consistent misapplication of authorities. The exempla of Rebecca, Judith, Abigail, and Esther that Prudence cites undermine the argument that Melibee should accept her advice, particularly in light of the fact that her exempla portray deceived males who come to ruin. The order of these exempla refers the reader to the Merchant's Tale in which Chaucer uses the same exempla in the same order. The way in which Prudence controls Melibee with words is similar to the way in which Chaucer controls his audience. Ultimately, the author is responsible for making the audience accept "the self-deconstruction of any tale" (62).
West, Michael D. "Dramatic Time, Setting, and Motivation in Chaucer." 2 (1968): 147-87.
Because Chaucer chooses to focus on other elements of his stories, the analogues to his tales often surpass his in realistic elements. In the Merchant's Tale, the garden setting causes the tale to function in both the worlds of allegory and fabliau, giving the reader a sense of unreality while at the same time leaving the reader with the idea that marriage is "sheer hell" (176). The same elements operate in the Prioress's Tale. Chaucer significantly changes the timing of events from that in his source in order to satisfy the demands of the story. These changes, however, do not coincide with what the reader recognizes as reality. The Pardoner's Tale also demonstrates Chaucer's lack of concern for realistic action in his story. Chaucer's thieves do a number of strange things which thieves do not usually do, like getting three bottles of wine, but forgetting the bread. Unrealities also occur in Troilus and Criseyde. These actions demonstrate the overwhelming greed of his characters. The mutilation of realistic detail draws his audience into his stories, thus making the tales every bit as effective as the sources, but on their own terms.
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.