The Chaucer Review: An Indexed Bibliography (Vols. 1-30)Return to the Subject List
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.
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.
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.