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The Marriage Debate.

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Introduction

The Marriage Debate. This includes stories about the conflict between men and women in marriage; the propriety or otherwise of marrying more than once; whether the old ought to marry the young; and the sin or otherwise of adultery. A medieval marriage was often illustrated by a man and woman each pulling at a pair of trousers. As nearly all marriages were arranged for economic reasons; very few married for love. Furthermore, the absence of husbands on crusade (a kind of on-going Gulf War), or in the Hundred Years' war with France, led to an eager rivalry between landless young aristocrats (squires) for the 'favour' of attractive young wives, wealthy widows, or spinster heiresses, left in command of castles and manors. In order to bring order to the stampede, a complex system of codes of behaviour came into existence by which the aspring young man had to prove his ardour by undertaking some 'labour of love' or quest. This had the advantage of getting rid of an over-eager pest for a space of time in which he might prove his bravery and grow up. It was a very elaborate survival of the fittest. Lower down the social scale such devious niceties were dispensed with, and both the Miller and the Merchant's stories are about sexual opportunists. The Merchant's Tale is one of a group of four in the Canterbury Tales that concern marriage, which includes the Tales of the Wife of Bath, the Clerk, the Merchant, and the Franklin. ...read more.

Middle

`Rise up, my wife, my love, my lady free...' he says, and we realise, with some surprise, that perhaps he has become genuinely fond of her after all. Damian sneaks into the garden ahead of them and, once inside, January offers May even more of his possessions and `al myn heritage, toun, and tour' if she will be faithful to him. May, doubtless crossing her fingers behind her back, tells him that she is `a gentil womman and no wenche' and offers to accept a ducking in the river otherwise. She also tells January that men `ben ever untrewe' and at the same moment indicates to Damian that he should climb the pear tree they are standing beneath as she had instructed in an earlier letter. A digression follows in the form of a dialogue between Pluto, king of the underworld and his enforced bride, Proserpine, condemned to live with him for six months of every year. He feels sorry for January and decides to return his sight if May is unfaithful. Proserpine replies that if he does, then she will make sure that any women in `any gilt y-take' thereafter will always find a good excuse, even if `a man seyn a thing with bothe his yen', and both settle down to await events. May would appear to be pregnant by this time and as `a woman in my plyt' decided she would like a pear from the tree, albeit an unripe one in late June. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, he seems to pass little judgment on the mercantile nature of the engagement. This matter is left to the reader to judge and wonder at. It is as if the Merchant is comfortable with "every writ and bond" by which [May] was endowed [Januarie's] land. The Biblical allusions in the poem and the consideration of Heaven play a part in Januarie's decisions and justifications. As May is brought to the marital bed, "as stille as stoon", the priest blesses the bed, thereby condoning the relationship in which Januarie simply uses May as a sexual object and a supplier of heirs. The Merchant makes a point of referring to women in the Bible who have been deceitful in some way, such as Rebecca who deceived her blind husband by gaining his blessing for the wrong son. Abigail saved her husband only to later make a marriage contract with another man. There are suggestions of May's excuse that her behaviour with Damyan in the tree returned Januarie's sight. She claims to have saved Januarie, but cares nothing for him. Chaucer's view of marriage can sometimes be difficult to distinguish form the views expressed by other characters in the poem, in particular the Merchant as their narration can become entwined. Chaucer appears to have a much more orthodox view of the reasons behind marriage than Januarie can be said to have. While Januarie sees marriage as something he should do to save his soul - and a means for sexual gratification, Chaucer has a more romantic view of marriage, enforcing his belief that infidelity is wrong. ...read more.

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