Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - Marriage as Portrayed in Merchant's Prologue and Tale

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Marriage as Portrayed in The Merchants Prologue and Tale  

The story of Januarie's marriage to May and her subsequent infidelity with Damyan allows for not only Chaucer's view of marriage to come through, but also includes the opinions of contemporary writers. Chaucer allows his views to be made known as the narrator and his views could also be said to infiltrate the speeches of the Merchant. Justinus and Placebo's views are also accounted for as the fictional characters also air their opinions on the institution of marriage. In this way, Chaucer has allowed for a fair deal of discussion of marriage.

Chaucer places the character of Januarie in Pavia, which has a reputation for brothels. In this somewhat uncouth place, Januarie is in a self-imposed race against time to find a wife. At 60 years old, Januarie is getting married simply because he feels that he should before he dies and believes that, like St Paul says, to get married purely in order to avoid sin, is perfectly reasonable. Januarie wants a wife of "warm wex" in order to be able to ply her to his own demands and needs. His friends would have liked to have advised Januarie further on his choice of wife, however there was no time. Januarie sees the marriage very much as a business transaction and he uses his friends to scour the land for suitable women as it is a quicker way of finding the best deal.

Like Januarie, Justinus is concerned with the economic ideals of the union. However he does have further concerns as to the age difference that will occur. He soon sees the possibility of infidelity on the wife's part. Unlike Januarie who quite simply requires a pretty face and a weak character, Justinus advises that the woman should have "Mo goode thewes than ...

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...nfidelity is wrong. The Merchant says little about the business like manner in which the marriage took place, but has more to say about the untrustworthy nature of women, his cynicism from his own relationships showing through his occasional selections of Biblical references to deceitful women such as Rebecca and Judith. The Tale's own deceitful woman, May, yearns for a more emotional relationship and believes that she finds this with Damyan. However, he holds what appears to be a more typical male view of marriage. It is much more enjoyable to be a bachelor and to have no ties. May's only emotional links with him, such as the letters they exchange, have to be disposed of in the privy. The mercantile, unromantic nature of marriage seems to be prevalent in most men's minds as women cannot be trusted unless perhaps under some kind of bond other than purely spiritual.

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