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The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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7: The Shipman's Tale Questions and Answers

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Study Questions
1. How does the wife in the story obtain the money she needs for her new dress?

2. How is Don John's loan actually repaid and by whom?

3. Does the merchant learn of the arrangement between his wife and Don John?

4. What elements of the fabliau are obvious in this tale?

5. What does the author seem to be saying about marriage?

6. What rationale does the wife use to convince the husband that she really must be well-dressed?

7. Does the husband, who is a merchant, appear to be miserly or just careful?

8. What makes the monk Don John unattractive as a person?

9. How does the merchant in this story seem to parallel the pilgrim Merchant?

10. Why is this tale suited to the Shipman? (refer to General Prologue)

Answers
1. She borrows it from the monk, Don John.

2. The wife spends the night making love to Don John. That is the repayment.

3. The merchant never learns nor suspects the arrangement.

4. Infidelity; the trickery of the husband; and the sexual nature of the tale are the obvious fabliau elements here.

5. Wives cannot be trusted where other men and finery are involved.

6. She tells him that her attractiveness reflects well on him.

7. He is careful.

8. He is a very conniving and disloyal friend to the merchant. He also betrays his vows as a monk.

9. The Merchant on the pilgrimage is said to be a gambler and risk-taker. The merchant in the tale has risked all by purchasing more merchandise than he can pay for on the speculation that it will sell well and earn him a profit.

10. The Shipman has travelled all over and is familiar with many foreign ports, such as St. Denis where this story is set. He is unscrupulous just like the monk who cuckolds the merchant. He wants no moralizing or preaching so his characters seem to have no consciences.

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