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The Role of Women in the Miller's and Merchant's Tale.

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Introduction

The Role of Women in the Miller's and Merchant's Tale. * We can comfortably read Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale, as a tale about a deluded, old husband who is cuckolded by his young, resourceful wife. Like Chaucer's other fabliaux The Miller's Tale, The Merchant's Tale relies upon conventional comedic oppositions between old, ignorant husband and young, resourceful wife to inform its narrative on adultery. Like the plot of The Miller's Tale, within The Merchant's Tale January's wife, May, constructs an elaborate ruse to allow for an adulterous tryst with Damian, her secret liaison. May leads her (temporarily blind) husband to their fruit garden - in which Damian is hiding within a pear tree - so that she may climb upon his back and enter the tree. Yet soon after the tryst begins, January recovers his sight and sees the adultery. Like Alison in The Merchant's Tale, May elides recriminations from her husband. But how does she achieve this elision? Alison's avoidance of recriminations stems from her husband's ignorance over the adultery. ...read more.

Middle

We can see her childish immaturity in the scenes where she lets Absalom "kiss" her. We do not learn the details of her marriage such as her feeling toward John, her husband. We simply know that it is a mis-matched marriage with a large age gap between them. * May is not described in much detail compared to Alison. She is simply young, meek and beautiful. The disgusting details of her marriage though are clearly shown. January makes speeches about his desire to consummate his marriage and loathingly promises to take his time. We are with May when the real horror she feels at having to sleep with January is described: "But God woot what that May thoughte in hir herte/ Whan she hym saugh up sittynge in his sherte/ In his nyght-cappe, and with his nekke lene" (IV. 1851-53). This quote follows distasteful descriptions of January who eagerly awaits May in bed. The reader is privy to none of this with Alison. * It does not take much persuasion on Nicholas' part to talk Alison into having an affair with her. ...read more.

Conclusion

2388-89). How ridiculous and awful that January believes her explanation. * Therefore we can see while both stories have similar elements, the Miller's Tale is straight comedy. The reader is not shown the emotions of the characters. Alison is not a fully developed character. She is and stays what she was described as in the beginning of the tale: an eighteen-year-old wild girl. The tale is more a parody on courtly love. * In contrast, in the Merchant's Tale the reader is shown the disgusting details of January's motives and subsequent marriage. May's character is more fleshed out, the assaults against her explicitly shown. We may feel sorry for the carpenter but January never gets our sympathy. * The authorial condemnation of May also departs from the other fabliaux of the Canterbury Tales. Like Alison of the Miller's Tale, she is crafty, but May is also wicked. She escapes without punishment from her husband, but unlike the Miller's Tale this is not a satisfactory conclusion. While the Miller's Tale prized cunning and crafty behaviour, the Merchant's Tale adheres to more traditional values. Therefore, May's escape from punishment is a dissonant element of the story, for she behaves contrary to the established values that the Merchant has set for his tale. ...read more.

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