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Analyse the encomium on marriage showing how Chaucer reveals attitudes to marriage. How might a modern reader respond?

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Introduction

Hannah Skehill Timed: 1hr Analyse the encomium on marriage showing how Chaucer reveals attitudes to marriage. How might a modern reader respond? An encomium is a formal expression of praise, a tribute. Chaucer makes use of this literary convention in his epic poem, 'The Merchant's Tale.' Through this encomium, which has been described by some critics to be 'one of the most amazing instances of sustained irony in all literature,' Chaucer reveals various attitudes towards marriage, through his use of language, style and irony. The fact that Chaucer has chosen an encomium in which to reveal to the audience different attitudes towards marriage, in itself conveys the attitude revealed. The sermon style immediately calls into question whether or not the digression is to be taken literally or if it is in fact used by Chaucer to ironically reveal to the reader the Merchant's true attitude towards marriage. The exaggerated language of praise supports this theory, as it can be seen as almost sardonic. ...read more.

Middle

Chaucer uses irony effectively here, to convey the Merchant's true attitude towards marriage. It can be seen that Chaucer expresses and reveals the Merchant's attitude towards marriage through his language throughout the encomium. The highly rhetorical and exaggerated style of speech suggests the insincerity of the Merchant. This is seen effectively when the Merchant praises marriage: "O bisful ordre of wedlock precious, Thou art so murye, and eek so virtuous," (L135-136) The language used here is almost hyperbolic, and to clearly convey the insincerity of the Merchant, Chaucer uses a rhetorical device called an apostrophe, where the narrator addresses an object. This is the tone and style of a sermon, highly suitable for the Merchant's exaggerated language. Through this technique, Chaucer is able to express the Merchant's real view of marriage. Chaucer's use of language also conveys to the audience the Merchant's attitude towards women within marriage. The Merchant uses the 'language of Merchants' and refers to wives as being made for a husband, much as Eve was Adam. ...read more.

Conclusion

It is through this that the audience is made aware of the insincere attitude in the encomium. This is further supported later in the poem, when Januarie talks of wishing to be 'wedded hastily.' Again, there is no mention of love between the couple, it is presented more so as a business transaction, linking to the language of the Merchant. Within the encomium, the Merchant praises the notion of an old man marrying a young woman of 'tendre of age.' It seems that Chaucer is displaying the almost lecherous attitude towards marriage held by some older men, as this is not a Medieval or Roman Catholic convention. Both a modern and Medieval audience would recognise the notion of an old man taking a young wife as unnatural. This goes against the Roman Catholic idea of marriage as a sacrament; it would have been seen as unnatural and wrong. The Merchant expresses the belief that this is acceptable and then goes on to use Biblical references in his encomium. Chaucer is using irony here, to undermine the Merchant's argument, as he is contradicting his beliefs. He is going against Catholic normalities, but yet cites examples from the Bible. ...read more.

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