Signification Through Structural Irony in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

analytical Essay
2175 words
2175 words

The structure Geoffrey Chaucer chose for his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, of utilizing a melange of narrative voices to tell separate tales allows him to explore and comment on subjects in a multitude of ways. Because of this structure of separate tales, the reader must regard as extremely significant when tales structurally overlap, for while the reader may find it difficult to render an accurate interpretation through one tale, comparing tales enables him to lessen the ambiguity of Chaucer’s meaning. The Clerk’s Tale and The Merchant’s Tale both take on the institution of marriage, but comment on it in entirely different manner, but both contain an indictment of patriarchal narcissism and conceit.

Chaucer gives us a description of the structure of The Canterbury Tales within the text. In The Merchant’s Tale, the narrator states,

Diverse men diversely him tolde

Of mariage manye ensamples olde:

Somme blamed it, some preysed it…(Bantam, 252)

Indeed, the reader is given such diverse accounts of marriage, and it is the intricate task of the reader not only to integrate the meanings of tales, but to individually excavate the narrative voice to understand this meaning.

Both the Clerk’s Tale and The Merchant’s Tale utilizes an ironic structure to mean quite differently than the narrative voice says. M.H. Abrams defines irony thus:

Some literary works exhibit structural irony, in that they show sustained irony. In such works the author, instead of using an occasional verbal irony, introduces a structural feature which serves to sustain a duplicity of meaning. One common device of this sort is the invention of a naïve hero, or else a naïve narrator or spokesman, whose invincible simplicity or obtuseness leads him to persist in putting an interpretation on affairs which the knowing reader—who penetrates to, and shares, the implicit point of view of the authorial presence behind the naïve persona—just as persistently is called on to alter and correct. (Abrams, 90)

The structural irony within The Merchant’s Tale is announced at the outset.

By comparing the prologue with the opening of the tale, the reader can understand that the narrative voice of the Merchant signifies contrary to what is denotatively stated. The Merchant opens the tale deriding the institution of marriage:

Weping and wayling, care and other sorwe

I knowe ynogh, on even and a-morwe,”

Quod the Marchant, “and so doon othere o

That wedded been. I trowe that it be so,

For wel I woot it fareth so with me.

I have a wyf, the worste that may be;

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the merchant's narrative voice signifies contrary to what is denotatively stated. the merchant opens the tale deriding the institution of marriage.
  • Analyzes how the narrator opens his tale lauding the institution of marriage, stating that his wife could take on the devil.
  • Analyzes how marquis walter's proposal to griselde reeks of contractual obligation and foreshadows a marriage based on control.
  • Analyzes how the narrative voice is inconsistent with ’s purpose. chaucer likens man's marital habits to that of a lord.
  • Opines that chaucer's irony is evident at the conclusion.
  • Analyzes how chaucer urged the reader to empathize with the wife in both the merchant's tale and the clerk’s tale. the use of structural irony allowed leeway to create meaning.
  • Analyzes how chaucer used a melange of narrative voices to tell separate tales for his masterpiece, the canterbury tales.
  • Analyzes how m.h. abrams defines irony as a structural feature that sustains duplicity of meaning in literary works.
  • Analyzes how chaucer uses this bias in conjunction with his own bias to criticize the male in the institution of marriage.
  • Analyzes how chaucer comments on the masculine qualities of self-deception and narcissism in the merchant's tale.
  • Analyzes chaucer's interpretation of the merchant’s tale and the clerk’
  • Analyzes how chaucer's satirical irony is pervasive in the tale, pointing towards the masculine need for affirmation of power.
  • Analyzes chaucer's assertion that a fundamental problem in marriage is the masculine need to continually affirm the loyalty of his partner.
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