Last Updated on July 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310
“The Merchant’s Tale” is one of the stories in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and it tells the story of a knight who wishes to get married in his old age, told by the merchant in the company on the way to Canterbury.
In the story, an old knight named Januarie wishes to be married to quench his lust, in spite of his advanced age of 60. So he takes on a young wife, May, who is under 20 years old, after seeking counsel from his friends Placebo and Justinus, who differ in their opinion of what to do.
After marrying, another man named Damyan begins courting May, saying he is deeply in love with her. Damyan is a young, virile man, and May decides to have sex with him. Januarie builds May an elaborate garden, where they can “do things they can’t do in a bed,” but Januarie soon goes blind inexplicably. While May is in the garden with her blind husband, Damyan sneaks in and waits for her high up in a pear tree. May claims to be pregnant and desires a pear, so she has her husband boost her into the tree since they can’t reach one by themselves. While she is up there, she and Damyan have sex while Januarie waits, unseeing and unsuspecting.
Several of the gods from the Greek pantheon look on in disgust at May’s actions, namely Pluto and Proserpina. Pluto grants Januarie his sight to catch May in the act, but Proserpina gives May the ability to talk her way out of it. Januarie regains his sight, but May convinces him that his refreshed eyes are tricking him, and that she was struggling with a man to help Januarie regain his sight. In the end, surprisingly, Januarie and May go back to life together and live happily ever after.
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