There is no doubting Chaucer’s mastery at paroemia; that his adaptations of his many and varied sources transcended their roots is attested by the fact that, unlike many of his contemporaries or authorities, his works have not “passen as dooth a shadwe upon the wal”. Yet while his skill as a medieval author is undisputed, the extent of his subtlety is not always fully appreciated. In The Canterbury Tales, for instance, while some tales were rapid in drawing academic interest and scholarly interpretations, others were quickly dismissed as ribald tales, as simple fabliaux hardly worthy of more than a cursory examination.
The Shipman’s Tale was one of these. That “[It] may be Chaucer’s earliest fabliau” and “relatively simple in design and execution” seemed, for a period of time, to be the general consensus on this piece; the primary concern of scholars was in unearthing its sources (which proved to be uncharacteristically problematic), not in analysing its structural complexities or for insights into medieval society and life. Yet recent research has renewed interest in this first tale from The Canterbury Tales’ Fragment VII, and it can now be seen as a fabliaux, yes, but as one that is as rich a tapestry – woven of biblical allusions, literary techniques, intertextuality, and social commentary – as any of the other tales. By pulling out and examining the care and skill with which Chaucer inserted just one of these multiple threads – in this case, the biblical allusions within The Shipman’s Tale – it can be shown that this is as significant a tale as any other.
There are a limited number of methods by which Chaucer can integrate a biblical all...
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...timis finibus pretium eius.” ; “Who shall find a valiant woman? far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her.” (Douay Translation).
Theresa Coletti, in “The Meeting at the Gate: Comic Hagiography and Symbol in The Shipman’s Tale”, associates the meeting of the merchant and his wife at the household gate (after his successful business venture) with the meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem. Assuming that the apocryphal tale was well known, Chaucer’s audience would have recognized the iconographic significance of a meeting by a gate. Gail McMurray Gibson, in “Resurrection as Dramatic Icon in the Shipman’s Tale” in Signs and Symbols in Chaucer’s Poetry, suggests that the tale alludes to the Resurrection, especially via Christ’s meeting with Mary Magdalene. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure a copy of that work for this essay.
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