In "The Merchant's Tale," Chaucer presents women through the prism of idealized perception and reality. Thus, a woman is all of these things: deceitful, materialistic, vulnerable, tender-hearted, resourceful, and formidable.
To Chaucer, a "good" woman is loyal and principled. She is like the biblical Esther, who enchants her husband, King Ahasuerus, and saves her people from annihilation.
Chaucer's "good" woman also resembles another biblical female character—Abigail, who intercedes for her husband, Nabal, and prevents bloodshed in her household. In short, the principled woman in Chaucerian England is "true" and "never wearies" to "love and serve."
Yet a woman can also be shrewd, faithless, and covetous. The merchant contends that "true friends" are better than a wife who waits to "own your goods" and cuckold you. And, seemingly, the female protagonist in "The Merchant's Tale" is no exception.
In the story, May, a beautiful and nubile young woman in the prime of her life, marries the elderly knight January.
Far from being the innocent newlywed that January envisions, May harbors an insatiable lust for Damian, one of January's pages.
While January agonizes over how his "tender creature" will react to his ardor on their wedding night, May conspires with Damian to plan a sexual dalliance.
And, after the sexual dalliance, May uses her shrewd perception of January's character to deceive him.
Chaucer's presentation of women in "The Merchant's Tale" also betrays a cynical attitude towards altruism in the female character.