Effective Use of Menace in The Merchant's Tale

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Effective Use of Menace in The Merchant's Tale

Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Merchant's Tale" uses menace to reinforce many of the themes within the Tale and it is present in more areas than simply Januarie. There is menacing imagery adding tension to the Tale and the way in which the Tale is written often reiterates that. Menaces comes through more than plain threat, it is evident in such ideas as Januarie's inappropriate search for a wife.

The way in which Januarie bases his search for a wife on concern for his own salvation and economic interests is menacing as it is a foreboding image for the rest of the marriage. His main interest lies in what he should do to ensure he experiences Paradise both alive and dead and thus highlighting his selfish nature. The economic concerns he shows for the match not only highlight this, but also his threatening lack of emotion that he is prepared to commit to the marriage. Rather than a child, he hopes for an heir, seeing only economic opportunity in any offspring. His fiancée can hope for little love for herself or any children.

The suffocating nature of Januarie's so-called love for "fresshe May" means that he is unable to think of anyone else being with her. He would wish her to be "soul as the turtle that lost hath hire make". This extreme emotion only serves to heighten the irony of the affair that ensues and the previous Biblical references to women who cheated their husbands. The uncertainty caused by the fact that even the Church bids brides "be lyk Sarra and Rebekke" adds to air of uneasiness that little can be trusted.

The dramatic irony that comes with the image of "warm wex" shows the hidden power of May, that Januarie knew nothing about. He is unaware that she has equal knowledge of the usefulness of warm wax and uses it to copy the key to the garden for Damyan. The deviousness of the wife is menacing as she is almost a champion of the image that has previously been so repulsive to the reader.

The references that Januarie makes to images of being bound are as menacing as his private determination that on their wedding night he "wolde hire streyne". His plan to be such a physical power in the marriage is suffocating. Not only does he want to dominate physically, but his spiritual dominance in the relationship is unfair as May's views are not considered and she speaks very little.
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