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The Shipman’s Tale: Analysis of the Main Concepts

There is no doubt that immoral people can spring from all walks of life, Tall, quick, wealthy, poor and every thing in in between – any of these can fall victim to the vices of the human spirit. When sex and cash mix, a potentially dangerous (but exciting, at least for an outside observer) spectacle can take place. But what occurs when that bomb just fizzles? Geoffrey Chaucer is surely a master of depicting the profane and seedy side of human nature, but as he demonstrates by way of The Shipman’s Tale of The Canterbury Tales, sometimes a quiet murmur can pack just as difficult of a punch as a huge explosion. The Shipman’s Tale does not require a large confrontation or a public burning to make statements about the morality of human desires and the quest for them. Rather, a discussion amongst a married couple in bed as effectively as an fascinating twist on a marriage vow culminates a story that has a lot to say about the nature of debt – monetary and otherwise – and the marriage of sex and cash.

The Shipman’s Tale is a tale that is scant in plot but rife with information. The story of an unfaithful wife and her clueless husband both becoming duped by her lover is not new in fact, speculation on Chaucer’s supply material will be discussed later. Nevertheless, it is in the delivery of the tale – the information provided and left out, the attitude towards the infidelity, the assigning of blame or lack thereof – that rocket the Shipman’s Tale into the realm of scholarly study. The Shipman ranks the value of specifics in the story in a way unfamiliar to these avid listeners of bawdy tales. There are lengthy descriptions of the merchant’s generosity towards his buddies, particularly the monk – how he frequently entertains them in his residence, offers them gifts, and so on. Nonetheless, the scandalous extramarital affairs (that, on technicality, turn the merchant’s wife into a prostitute) are offered as a lot fanfare as a grocery list. Rather, the plot seems not for the excitement of illicit affairs and “wykked wyves”, but as an alternative as a car for extended puns and double-entendres.

Some Chaucer scholarship has flagged the Shipman’s Tale as straight-up fabliaux – that is, following the formula of the bawdy trickster tales well-known in France exactly where either a clever trick is pulled successfully or a frequent trickster gets his or her due punishment. Peter Nicholson, nonetheless, argues that the Shipman’s Tale can not be strict fabliaux for these exact same causes that the story itself is subject to academic scrutiny. The reality that the bawdy affair has been “nearly smothered by information in the lives of the characters entirely extraneous to the plot” drives the audience’s focus away from the affair itself and towards the other details of the story, such as the abundance of description of the friendship amongst the monk and the merchant. (Nicholson 583) For example, there are six lines total that deal with the actual affair (lines 313-319) plus two lines earlier that mention lustful kissing (lines 202-203). Even just in the text located among these two passages, there are twenty-four lines (lines 224-248) of the husband lecturing his wife about enterprise and money, and a thirty-five line conversation (lines 257-292) in which the merchant and the monk go over their friendship and the monk asks for money. Even in the brief taboo scenes, Chaucer does not appeal to the voyeuristic audience he adopts a approach reminiscent of a Greek tragedian describing an off-stage death of a minor character. The plot-crucial affair is practically an afterthought. 1 of the most striking parts of this story, says Nicholson, is the “structure in which the commercialization of sexual dealings, not the traditional triumph of one character over yet another, appears to be the significant point.” (Nicholson 583) No character at the finish of the story is painted to be “right” or “wrong” – the tale’s teller appears hesitant to assign blame to any party

An additional reason to shy away from a strict fabliaux label is the extended puns and double-entendres, says Nicholson, which are not present in the typical Fabliaux model. For example, the discussion in between the monk and the merchant appropriate just before the merchant leaves for Flaundres provides birth to a string of increasingly dirty double-entendres, created much more amusing by two facts: a single, the conversation is totally serious two, the husband is oblivious to the which means beyond the surface. 1 such instance is that Daun John tells the merchant that he needs to borrow money “for certein beestes that I moste beye” (line 278) when he is truly preparing on employing the income to barter with the merchant’s wife for sex. As a purchaser for the monastery, it is perfectly reasonable for Daun John to buy quantities of cattle however, Chaucer here is referring to purchasing satisfaction for animalistic desires (Daun John’s lust and the wife’s greed). The merchant is, of course, clueless, and happily lends him the money prior to going out of town.

These animalistic desires and the animal imagery in common is a single of 4 key realms of imagery outlined by Janet Richardson in The Facade of Bawdry: Image Patterns in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale . The 4 “image clusters” (Richardson 304) are animals, diet plan, trade and sex. It is through the interaction of these 4 spheres in such a way as to bring about the overarching theme as identified by Nicholson, which is the commercialization of sex. Richardson takes a slightly broader tack for her interpretation of the ultimate theme: trade is the ultimate image to which the other 3 relate, simply because the story focuses so strongly on the materialism permeating the world of the bourgeoisie. It is the links between these diverse image sets that bring to light the delicacies of a tale that at initial glance can come off bland.

Though there are many connections that Richardson has pulled from the text, I would like to focus on one particular in specific, and that is the interaction among the image lexicon of sex and the image lexicon of trade. As Richardson notes on web page 306, the “cosynage” (though not of blood) in between the merchant and the monk is properly-documented throughout the tale it is offered considerably more lines than the main plot points (i.e., the adultery scene). Clearly, this partnership is anything that Chaucer desires to use as a device for his commentary. The objectives of the two males differ: the merchant desires cash and material wealth and the monk desires sex, particularly sex with his friend’s wife. They are each provided the very same supply by the wife – sex in exchange for the cash that she owes. With out the conventional fabliaux ending in which some morality, even so questionable, is enacted, these two guys are left on the reader’s palate as moral equals. The monk primarily represents the animalistic, lustful nature of the human spirit and the merchant represents the greedy, materialistic side of the human spirit. Given that they are provided identical situations, Chaucer is equating lust and greed – trade and sex.

The equating of trade and sex appears out of spot in the bourgeoisie globe of the merchant and his wife. They are accustomed to hosting his enterprise guests for dinners and banquets, no matter how she protests that he is stingy with his income. She definitely is not lacking in the basics for living, i.e., meals, shelter and clothing (even though she may possibly beg to differ on the latter.) The linking of trade and sex (and the bastard kid from that union, prostitution) is has extended been linked with the lower classes women who want the income selling their bodies for income for meals and shelter, or to care for kids. Rather, we have a bored housewife who feels neglected in the bedroom and desires income for frivolities such as fancy dresses, selling her body to a member of the clergy and then to her personal husband.

The amusement of a higher-class lady promoting her physique not when, but twice (and to her own husband as properly!) can be identified in a number of similar stories that could have been source material for Chaucer. The two most commonly noted by scholars are tale 31 of Sercambi’s Novelle and Day VIII, tale I of Boccaccio’s Decameron. Robert A. Pratt meticulously outlines the variations amongst the 3, and they are surprisingly similar . For example, the husband in Boccaccio’s tale does not request prompt repayment of the sum, whilst Chaucer and Sercambi’s husbands do. The most notable difference is in the endings. Sercambi’s and Boccaccio’s wives repay their husbands, but with cash, not sex. Chaucer’s wife has spent her funds, so she must repay her husband with sex instead. It is not a stretch to suggest that Chaucer may possibly have “borrowed” heavily from these sources whilst molding and modifying the story’s delivery to give a various type of morality upon closure. Several stories in Boccaccio, for instance, are closer to the true Fabliaux kind they are told by Italian nobles who might have been familiar with the tradition. Chaucer, however, exploits the expectations that readers familiar with the common fabliaux tale bring to the table to have an unlikely resolution and unusual commentary. He has attempted this trick ever considering that the quite beginning of the Canterbury Tales in which a beautiful springtime setting sets the stage not for romantic, epic really like, but rather a long religious trip with some quite uncommon characters.

The delightfully vapid characters of The Shipman’s Tale lend an amusing twist to a cast of characters who, at very first glance, do not appear to have anything that is that exciting about them. By excluding a “big trick” from the plot, we are forced to apply the identical lighthearted, humorous consideration to concepts that are not necessarily lighthearted or humorous, such as greed, lust, and prostitution. It is for these depths of literary and cultural readings that Chaucer has earned a spot in the group of authors recognized for the their keen understanding of human nature and mankind – authors whose performs teach us a tiny much more about ourselves and other individuals, no matter whether it is our very first time via or our one-thousandth. The underbelly of humanity constantly has a new trick to teach.

Functions Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales Complete. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Organization, 2000.

Nicholson, Peter. “The “Shipmans Tale” and the Fabliaux.” ELH Winter 1978: 583-596.

Pratt, Robert A. “Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale and Sercambi.” Modern day Language Notes February 1940: 142-145.

Richardson, Janet. “The Facade of Bawdry: Image Patterns in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale.” ELH September 1965: 303-313.
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