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Where is there evidence of excessive sex, violence and money in "The Merchant's Tale"...

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jofinzi | Student, Grade 10 | eNoter

Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:40 PM via web

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Where is there evidence of excessive sex, violence and money in "The Merchant's Tale" of The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer?

 

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 29, 2012 at 2:54 AM (Answer #1)

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[You've left few clues as to whether you are studying Chaucer in Middle English or contemporary English translation. To be on the safe side, I'll give quotes in both, as I usually work in Middle English.]

"The Merchant's Tale" begins with allusions to excessive sex. The Knight Januarie is described as having lived to the age of sixty without having married and as having fulfilled his physical "appetyt" (appetite) with various women as he pleased:

36    And sixty yeer a wyflees man was hee,
    And folwed ay his bodily delyt
    On wommen, ther as was his appetyt,
[Contemporary English:
36    And sixty years a wifeless man was he,
    And followed ever his bodily delight
    In women, whereof was his appetite,]

In what is perhaps poetic justice for his choices and actions, Maia, Januarie's wife, later practices from his own pattern and provides another example of excessive sex when she and Damyan get caught up the tree:

1140    And sodeynly anon this Damyan
    Gan pullen up the smok, and in he throng.
[Contemporary English:
1140    For of a sudden this said Damian
    Pulled up her smock and thrust both deep and long.]

Reference to actual acts of violence is a little harder to pin down. Januarie is a knight and as such has fought in many battles, which, by definition, all included excessive violence. Also, we are told about Damyan's secret violent reaction and feelings in regard to Januarie's new bride Maia:

576   O Januarie, dronken in plesaunce
    In mariage, se how thy Damyan,
    Thyn owene squier and thy borne man,
    Entendeth for to do thee vileynye.
[Contemporary English:
576    O January, drunk of pleasure's brew
    In marriage, see how now your Damian,
    Your own trained personal squire, born your man,
    Wishes and means to do you villainy.]

As to references or allusions to excessive money, it is made clear in the text that Januarie is a knight of some considerable wealth. In the opening Chaucer describes him as being a knight of wealth:

    A worthy knyght, that born was of Pavye,
35    In which he lyved in greet prosperitee;
[Contemporary English:
    A worthy knight, born in Pavia,
35    And there he lived in great prosperity;

He also describes Januarie as having an "estate," which indicates an excess of money. Also, the fact that he has a secret walled garden guarded by Pluto on his estate, to which he takes May, indicates strongly that he has an excess of money:

815    To his degree was maked as a kynges.
    Amonges othere of his honeste thynges,
    He made a gardyn, walled al with stoon;
[Contemporary English:
815    Befitted his condition as a king's.
    Among the rest of his luxurious things
    He built a garden walled about with stone;]

Sources:

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