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Discuss Chaucer's use of variety in The Merchant's Prologue and Tale.

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Introduction

Discuss Chaucer's use of variety in The Merchant's Prologue and 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. Januarie's discussion of Heaven and Hell leads to the idea of marriage providing a Heaven on Earth. It is said that a wife is a husband's "paradis terrestre, and his disport" (l. 120), but at the introduction of the idea of a paradise, the reader can begin to contemplate the introduction of a serpent at a later point. Chaucer uses heavy irony as Januarie worries about experiencing his only Heaven on Earth. It becomes evident that May is anything but his Heaven. ...read more.

Middle

The search for wife was based on a want for a companion and all that comes with marriage, rather than love and affection. Although no original story has been found, Chaucer uses various pieces of existing literature as parts of his Tale. "Mirror of Marriage" by Deschamps and "Liber Consolationis" by Albertano both add incidents to the story. The inclusion of references to contemporary works of literature allows the speaker to comment on the opinions held by others on the institution of marriage. "A trewe servant dooth more diligence/ Thy good to kepe, than thyne owene wyf" (l. 86) says Theophrastus. Again irony is used as Damyan, Januarie's servant, takes good care of his master's goods, that is, his wife. Some literary devices occur time and time again in the Tale as a motif. Irony is present throughout as are Biblical references. Another less common recurrence in the poem is the use of "warm wex" . While Januarie wishes his wife to be pliable; controllable by himself, the use of warm wax creeps back later to his disadvantage as the malleability of warm wax can also represent the waywardness of women. ...read more.

Conclusion

The economic concerns he shows for the match not only highlight this, but also his threatening lack of emotion that he is prepared to commit to the marriage. Rather than a child, he hopes for an heir, seeing only economic opportunity in any offspring. His fianc�e can hope for little love for herself or any children. The suffocating nature of Januarie's so-called love for "fresshe May" means that he is unable to think of anyone else being with her. He would wish her to be "soul as the turtle that lost hath hire make". This extreme emotion only serves to heighten the irony of the affair that ensues and the previous Biblical references to women who cheated their husbands. The uncertainty caused by the fact that even the Church bids brides "be lyk Sarra and Rebekke" adds to air of uneasiness that little can be trusted. The dramatic irony that comes with the image of "warm wex" shows the hidden power of May, that Januarie knew nothing about. He is unaware that she has equal knowledge of the usefulness of warm wax and uses it to copy the key to the garden for Damyan. The deviousness of the wife is menacing as she is almost a champion of the image that has previously been so repulsive to the reader. ...read more.

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