Does Chaucer accept the Merchant's view of marriage? Find two extracts from the prologue and tale, which best illustrate your argument.

Essay by Fee_SpellmanHigh School, 12th gradeA, May 2005

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The debate surrounding marriage is a central theme of both the Merchant's Tale and of the wider Canterbury Tales. Chaucer gives us a variety of opinions on the subject, without ever overtly expressing his own. The Merchant is extremely cynical about the institution of marriage. He feels that he has been trapped in the "snare" of holy matrimony, and that his "shrewe" of a wife has caused him constant misery. In the tale that the Merchant relates, foolish January is deceived by his young wife, which reflects the Merchant's own anti-feminism. Chaucer's treatment of the Merchant certainly does not suggest that he agrees with this viewpoint, but neither does he seem to condone May's behaviour. There is therefore a certain degree of ambiguity concerning Chaucer's view of marriage.

The Merchant is fiercely and bitterly opposed to marriage. He bases this view on his own experiences of wedlock, of just "this monthes two".

Having been married for such a short time himself, the Merchant is remarkably resolute in his judgement of "the moore part". Sitting "hye on horse", he is a proud, obstinate character, who gives his opinions "ful solempnely". Throughout his tale, there is an underlying tone of bitterness and cynicism. Given the Merchant's own anti-feminist view of marriage, it is unsurprising that May deceives her foolish old husband. Indeed, the Merchant uses his tale in an attempt to justify his opinions on marriage.

The view of marriage presented by the Merchant does not necessarily constitute Chaucer's. After all, marriage is a recurring theme in many of his tales, with various characters presenting different opinions on the matter. The Merchant is the fictional narrator of one tale, whereas Chaucer is the writer of them all. "Sowninge alwey th'encrees of his winning", the Merchant is not described in...

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