Human Nature and Human Folly in the Merchant's Tale

Human Nature and Human Folly in the Merchant's Tale

Length: 1056 words (3 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
How effectively does Chaucer depict human nature and human folly in
the Merchant's tale?

"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today"

January our main character of this tale shows a resemblance to this
quotation, particularly in how it effects his behavior. What the late
James Dean is trying to tell us simply is that try and make each day
count, and never waste a minute because you could drop down dead. Now
for most this appears to be a little dramatic lets say, but for
January who has already outlived his peers and now sits at a grand age
then it all becomes relevant. With this is mind we can look at how
Chaucer has let January become the character he is partially down to
the fact of his age. We know January is highly sexually driven there
is no argument. Yet Chaucer leaves us believing this is down to his
personality and character, his age is not used as a justifiable tool
to any extent; so what if the man is 60 he still wants to have sex
right, yet our author plays this fact more on the person he is than
his age.

We are told that January does have a sexual appetite and does
regularly feed it mostly with a selection of middle aged women, so
when he requires himself a young and "untouched" girl for a wife we
are taken aback. Now Chaucer throws age into the mix and we begin to
see just how January thinks and more precisely what he desires.

Justinus and placebo's scene with January for me is more like him
talking to himself and there being an angel on one shoulder and a
devil on the other. Placebo is the "devil" and the free thinking no
conscience side of |January whilst Justinus is the angel who shows
conscience and justice. Chaucer has used this scene well to show us
exactly the knight's thoughts. As the characters tell him what they
think, inversely it is really what he thinks; by the way he chooses to
ignore Justinus we know that he throws the proper thinking aside, and
by listening to Placebo he listens to what he wants.and desires.

The folly for January is his great lack of realism. Not only is it
portrayed by the way he expects to have a young wife at the age of 60,
but by the way he thinks that he "still has it" and that his age has
not effected his status with women. This is one of the seven sins that
Chaucer uses in all of the Canterbury tales; VANITY.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Human Nature and Human Folly in the Merchant's Tale." 24 Jan 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Essay on Variety in The Merchant's Tale

- Use of Variety in The Merchant's Tale   The Merchant's Tale tells the story of an old man searching for a wife and finding one, who is ultimately unfaithful to him. Chaucer uses a variety of elements in the poem to show his knowledge of contemporary interests and his story telling capacity through another figure. Irony flows through the poem, laced with allusions to the Bible. Chaucer's use of his astronomical knowledge not only allows modern day scholars to date events, but also adds another dimension of interest for the contemporary audience and of course, the pilgrims....   [tags: The Merchant's Tale]

Research Papers
1150 words (3.3 pages)

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - The Modern and Mediaeval Merchant's Tale Essay

- The Modern and Mediaeval Merchant's Tale   "The Merchant's Prologue and Tale" is mainly concerned with the infidelity of May while she is married to Januarie. Infidelity is undoubtedly a popular topic for discussion in modern times and is often the subject of magazine or television stories. Despite the concern with marriage and the status of men and women within such a relationship keeping the story applicable to the audience even more than 600 years later, there are many elements of the Prologue and Tale which root them in a mediaeval context....   [tags: The Merchant's Tale]

Free Essays
960 words (2.7 pages)

Effective Use of Menace in The Merchant's Tale Essay

- 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....   [tags: Merchant's Tale Essays]

Free Essays
792 words (2.3 pages)

The Folly And The Nature Of Agriculture Essay

- The Folly in the Nature of Agriculture Clever Hans would go to see his fiancée named Gretel in the morning and ask for something, when Gretel gives him a gift he mishandles it and loses the gift. Foley interprets the information of numerous sources and presents his data in a professional manner. He conveys his ideas about the nature of agriculture with a high degree of education, identifying the issues in agriculture, and stating solutions to rectify imperfections in the agriculture system. Foley presented his journal for an educated audience....   [tags: Agriculture, Human, Human nature, Clever Hans]

Research Papers
774 words (2.2 pages)

Essay about The Wanton Cynic in The Merchant's Tale

- The Wanton Cynic in The Merchant's Tale The Merchant's Prologue and Tale presents the darkest side of Chaucer's discussion on marriage. Playing off both the satire of the moral philosopher, the Clerk, and the marital stage set by the Wyf of Bathe, the Merchant comes forth with his angry disgust about his own marital fate. Disillusioned and depraved, the Merchant crafts a tale with a main character who parallels his own prevarication and blind reductionism while he simultaneously tries to validate his own wanton life by selling his belief to the other pilgrims....   [tags: Merchant's Tale Essays]

Research Papers
2093 words (6 pages)

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

- 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....   [tags: The Merchant's Tale]

Research Papers
1204 words (3.4 pages)

Summary and Analysis of The Merchant's Tale Essays

- Summary and Analysis of The Merchant's Tale (The Canterbury Tales) Prologue to the Merchant's Tale: The merchant claims that he knows nothing of long-suffering wives. Rather, if his wife were to marry the devil, she would overmatch even him. The Merchant claims that there is a great difference between Griselde's exceptional obedience and his wife's more common cruelty. The Merchant has been married two months and has loathed every minute of it. The Host asks the Merchant to tell a tale of his horrid wife....   [tags: Canterbury Tales The Merchant's Tale Essays]

Research Papers
1743 words (5 pages)

Essay on Vision, Truth, and Genre in the Merchant's Tale

- Vision, Truth, and Genre in the Merchant's Tale     In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which gives them greater powers of perception but also causes their expulsion from Paradise. The story creates a link between clear vision and the ability to perceive the truth‹which, in this case, causes mankind to fall from a state of blissful ignorance to one of miserable knowledge. In the Merchant's Tale, vision and truth do not enjoy such an easy relationship....   [tags: Merchant's Tale Essays]

Research Papers
1443 words (4.1 pages)

Essay on Critiquing Society through In Praise of Folly

- Critiquing Society through In Praise of Folly   It may seem strange to praise Folly, but there is one certain advantage to foolishness: the freedom to speak the truth. In Praise of Folly, Erasmus put this freedom to good use in reminding his readers, a society greatly corrupted by worldly concerns, that one cannot serve both God and Mammon. He smoothed over his satire by assuring us that "there is merit in being attacked by Folly" (7), and finished with the reminder that "it's Folly and a woman who's been speaking" (134), a disclaimer that allowed him to be as harsh as he needed to be in his criticism....   [tags: In Praise of Folly Essays Papers Erasmus]

Research Papers
1322 words (3.8 pages)

In Praise of Folly - Erasmus' Dichotomy Essay

- In Praise of Folly - Erasmus' Dichotomy      The Silenus box is a "case carved like an ugly Silenus" that can be "opened to reveal beautiful, precious objects" (Erasmus 43, footnote). This box appears in Erasmus' Praise of Folly as a metaphor for the central claim in the novel, which is that that which appears to be Folly (ugly) externally, is wise (precious) within. Erasmus reveals this dichotomy on three levels: in the image of the box itself, in his genuine praise of Folly, and in the structure of the novel as a whole....   [tags: In Praise of Folly Essays]

Research Papers
1269 words (3.6 pages)

It is reinforced
by the way he totally refuses to listen to Justinus, as he is the
"truth" that he totally ignores.

"A man can do and be what he wants"

Lawrence of Arabia

Whether you consider the quote to be arrogant or noble it is the way
that January is portrayed to think by Chaucer. Although he is a
bachelor right unto the point where he meets May and marries her, we
have been given little or no real background to his life only where he
lives, his age and that he chased women. The total expectation of a
"young and fair" wife is surely meant to be interpreted as arrogance.
Yet the way January voices his expectation one can perhaps drop the
idea of arrogance and even pick up one of empathy. The reason this can
be done is because the way which he prays to god for a wife and even

"True as god is king to take a wife is a glorious thing".

Chaucer has created two sides to the knight, one of blissful ignorance
and total arrogance, the other a noble and respectful god fearing
Christian; although the latter is the least pronounced of the two.

May the eventual wife of January really stumbles upon the scene and
again we are given little background to her and how they presumed to
marry. Chaucer has evidently done this to give the impression of May
simply marrying January for his wealth, this is furthermore apt when
we learn that she is but barely a woman and a virgin at that. For
which woman of this status would want to marry a 60 year old man? She
only makes an impact upon the reader shortly after their wedding; when
she is perceived to be a victim. The whole scene where January
cremates the marriage is graphic and leaves you feeling deep sympathy
for May, Chaucer does this well by describing Januarys rough hanging
skin upon his neck rubbing her soft fair skin.

GREED has obviously been the major if not only reason as to why May
has married January at all. This is her folly. For she regrets it,
even though this emotion is not greatly put across by Chaucer it is
definitely felt to be true.

Our next character of probing is the squire and pupil of January,
Damien. Who as soon as he realizes has married his master goes to his
bed and falls ill with woe. Chaucer writes this whole act surely as a
reference to courtly love, the true art of romancing etiquette. This
by gives our squire a very fresh and immature feel, linking himself
and May in their age and adolescence.

When the two realize that each other likes one another they plot to
meet up and this is where we first become aware of May deceitful and
calculated side of her personality, Chaucer gives her the lead role
out of the two, the dominant female.

The use of January's secret and locked garden is presumably a
reference by Chaucer to the Garden of Eden where woman tempted man,
ironically the same happens here. The idea of May being the stronger
willed of the young pair is made clear here as she guides Damien into
the garden and then tells him to get up a tree to which he does with
no hesitation. Chaucer then has her getting up to Damien upon her
husbands back deep irony is played here as he is helping her cheat on
him. Chaucer has also given May a very cruel and sadistic shade also
because at this time January is blind and can therefore be portrayed
as a victim of May.
Return to