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"In The Merchant's Prologue and Tale Chaucer presents a world dominated by money and possessions" to what extent do you agree?

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Introduction

Wednesday, 12 March 2003 Jad Salfiti A2 English Literature, Poetry: The Merchant's Tale "In The Merchant's Prologue and Tale Chaucer presents a world dominated by money and possessions" to what extent do you agree? Money and possessions are continually resurfacing themes in The Merchant's Prologue and Tale. The Merchant's Tale has a subtle mind behind the narration, as an audience we are never sure whether the tale is being narrated by the Merchant or Chaucer himself. In the general Prologue the portrait of the merchant is unfavourable; the Merchant an ignorant, misogyist who is obsessed with money and financial gain, his insensitivity in this regard permeates the tale in his belief that everything has a price tag tied around its neck. Januarie's reasons for marriage are entirely self-serving; concern for his soul and a desire for a youg, beautiful wife who will satisfy his needs with minimum maintenance, both achieved in one fell swoop. Januarie treats the acquisition of a wife like the purchase of property "Thanne is a wyf the fruyt of his tresor" he constantly brings in financial imagery, the recurring economic motive reveal Januarie's view of marriage as a financial contract or animal passion, but as nothing of greater value. From a linguistic perspective Januarie's lexis persistently contains economic undertones "'Ne Take now wyf,' qoud he, 'for Housbondrye,', As for to spare in household thy dispense", here Januarie uses wordplay to state the benefits of marriage, such as to economise household expenditures. ...read more.

Middle

Januarie selects a woman without property or status, thinking this will guarantee his control over her. This reflects the social and cultural and an attitude of the time where title is equated with nobility and personal wealth is tied with respectability. When looking for a wife January literally 'shops' for the girl who will be fortunate enough to become his bride. Januarie's preferences for a wife are shown like a 'shopping list'. He places much stress on his prospective wife's age "she shal not passe twenty yeer, certayn". There is a sense of economics in the way January has chosen a younger wife to compensate for his old age. Januarie explains his penchant for a young wife in particularised language "a yong thyng may men gye, right as men may warm wex with hands plye" Januarie has delusions of pygmalionism: the state of being in love with an object of one's own creation, Maye is his manufacture. Januarie's language is saturated with fiscal metaphor, metaphor is used to defamiliarise the audience; while he thinks about what his wife will look like, he describes the experience as though one has taken a mirror, polished bright and set it in "commune market-place, Thanne sholde he se ful many a figure pace", women are like cattle to Januarie, Januarie values women in accordance to their beauty. ...read more.

Conclusion

Januarie uses bribery at a mid-nuptial stage to prevent Maye from cuckolding him; "heritage, toun and tour" are used as a bargaining item. Januarie tells Maye she can attain these three things if she remains faithful. We see how Januarie is unable to distinguish between the spiritual and the material; he has bound them up together. Januarie combines a spiritual field with the diction of property and law, the concrete is fused with the abstract. The reader is never allowed to forget that Maye has ultimately sold her body for money; women become 'objects' and 'commodities'. Marriage through the Merchant eyes is equated with the giving away of good s. The Merchant's Tale and Prologue is submerged with monetary metaphor and financial imagery, and it is therefore difficult to underplay the importance of money and possessions in this medieval world. However we are reminded that money and possessions are purely material and the love of a wife for a husband and visa-versa cannot be bought they must be earned through the Christian quality of gentillesse. Januarie can buy anything with his money on a material level, however he cannot buy time, for his clock is ticking and he is growing "oold and hoor". For this reason I believe The Merchant's Tale is more about the worthlessness of money when stared in the face of time. The Merchant's Tale is didactic and what the reader should take from it is the importance of having spiritual wealth as opposed to material wealth. ...read more.

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