Marriage and Women in the Merchant's Prologue of Canterbury Tales

1925 Words8 Pages
Marriage and Women in the Merchant's Prologue of Canterbury Tales 'The Merchant's Tale' is part of the Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories loosely linked together. Through these poems Chaucer provides an insight into the attitudes, weaknesses, virtues and preoccupation of English men and women of the Fourteenth Century. Chaucer imagines a group of pilgrims, setting off from the Tabard Inn on a journey from London to the shrine of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury. In order to pass time, the pilgrims tell each other stories; in this case we are told 'The Merchant's Tale'. From reading and discussing the first part of 'The Merchant's Tale', this essay will explore the narrators concerns of marriage and women, and attempt to explain their contextual relevance. To begin with I will discuss the values of marriage and the social status of women during the Fourteenth Century. Conventional attitudes to the institution of marriage were regarded as a mercantile transaction and the consolidation of title, land and money was of great importance among the wealthy and noble status. Furthermore marriage was rarely undertaken for love, and could take place under force agreement if money was involved. Marriage was considered a sacrament of the church that mirrored the union of Christ and Christ's church; it was deemed an important practice of the Christian religion during this period. Subsequently through this ceremony women gained the status of domestic animals characterised by unquestionable obedience to male command. This era had demanding expectations of women which echoed the misogynistic. Before the audience are introduced to th... ... middle of paper ... ...f the Knight who begins with a long eulogy in praise of marriage; as the Merchant is himself unhappily married which is quite ironic. The narrative of the Knight seems to entail two ideals; one is a naively exaggerated description the ideal state of holy matrimony for the good of the soul. The other is a darker and more selfish concept of marriage as providing great convenience for an ageing lecher. His wife should be obedient and give him joy; and nurse him when ill as well as be the mother to his heir. Chaucer effectively outlines the traditional values and characteristics of women and marriage, through these two characters. It could be argued that the character of the Merchant is used to depict some of the dangers that may occur from 'new women' emerging in society, those that are bold and outspoken like his wife.
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