The canterbury tales, p.107
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.107

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  927–38 These lines are Chaucer’s own addition.

  932 On Job as an exemplary type of patience, see n. to WB 436.

  935 On the traditional antagonism between women and clerks, see WB 688–710, and nn. to WB 527, 688–91. Chaucer thus creates an irony here by having his Clerk speak favourably of women.

  1047 For this and similar proverbial comparisons (e.g., ‘steadfast as a wall’,) see Whiting W11, 13–15.

  1142–60 These lines follow Petrarch closely; this religious interpretation is his original contribution to the Griselda story.

  1148 heigh style: Petrarch’s tale is not written in a particularly elevated style. At the corresponding point of his story he says that he has written it ‘in a different style’ (‘stilo … alio’; see SA2 I, 129, and Opere latine, ed. Bufano, II, 1336) from Boccaccio, by which he probably just means that he has told it differently. The manuscript Chaucer had in front of him seems to have read ‘stilo … alto’ (‘high style’), as is confirmed by the fact that this is the reading of the marginal quotation of Petrarch in El and Hg at this point (see G. L. Hendrickson, MP, 4 (1906), 179–92, at pp. 189–91).

  1153–4 ‘Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of the wicked, and he tempteth no man’ (James 1:13).

  1163–1212 With these stanzas Chaucer leaves his Petrarchan source and shifts to a note of flippancy which interestingly parallels Boccaccio’s shift from seriousness to flippancy at the end of his Griselda story. After making the serious observation quoted in the n. to Cl 155–6, he concludes:

  Who else but Griselda could have endured so cheerfully the cruel and unheard of trials that Gualtieri [Walter] imposed upon her without shedding a tear? For perhaps it would have served him right if he had chanced upon a wife, who, being driven from the house in her shift, had found some other man to shake her skin-coat for her, earning herself a fine new dress in the process.

  (Decameron X.10, tr. McWilliam, p. 824)

  The shift in mood is marked by a shift in verse-form: the Envoy (lines 1177–1212) is written in six-line stanzas rhyming ababcb, with the same rhymes repeated in each stanza, in place of the seven-line stanzas of rhyme royal used for the tale.

  1188 Chichevache was the name of a mythical cow who fed on patient wives and was in consequence always thin and hungry, while her companion Bicorne, who fed on patient husbands, was always fat (A. Jubinal, Mystères inédits du quinzième siècle, vol. I (Paris, 1837), pp. 248, 389–91; John Lydgate, The Minor Poems, ed. H. N. MacCracken, vol. II (1934; repr. London, 1961), EETS o.s. 192, pp. 433–8).

  1189 Ekko: The nymph Echo had incurred the enmity of the goddess Juno, who deprived her of the power of saying anything other than repeating the last words spoken to her (Ovid, Metamorphoses III.359–401).

  1200 clappeth as a mille: Proverbial; see Pars 406 and Whiting C276 and M557.

  1211 as light as leef on linde: Proverbial; see Whiting L139.

  1212a–g The so called ‘Host’s stanza’ is not found in a large number of CT MSS (although it appears in both El and Hg), and it raises problems of several kinds. First, it returns to the sevenline rhyme royal of ClT, and is thus metrically discontinuous with the six line stanzas of the preceding Envoy. Second, it interrupts the verbal link between line 1212 (‘care, and wepe, and wringe, and waille’) and the first line of MchPr (‘Weping and wailing, care and oother sorwe’). Third, its content suggests scribal padding or patching: lines 1212c–d are very close to Mk 1893–4, and may have been borrowed from there, while lines 1212e–g are so vacuous as to be virtually meaningless. The first two of these points might suggest that the link belonged to an early stage in the writing of CT, and was discarded later; combined with the third, however, they suggest that the stanza is not by Chaucer, and was a scribal attempt to provide a tidy ending for ClT (possibly in separate circulation). In view of its doubtful authenticity, it is set in italics.


  The Merchant’s Prologue is absent from Hg, evidently as a result of the piecemeal order in which the scribe was receiving the material to be copied (see the Facsimile and Transcription of the Hengwrt Manuscript, ed. P. G. Ruggiers (Norman, OK, 1979), pp. xxvi–xxxiii). This meant that the Merchant’s Tale had already been copied after the Squire’s Tale (with a leaf left blank to accommodate a link, if one were to arrive), and the scribe was then obliged to adapt the Sq– Fkl link by substituting ‘Marchant’ for ‘Frankeleyn’. The text of the Prologue printed here is based on El.

  1230 Seint Thomas of Inde: See n. to Sum 1980. Presumably it is for the sake of rhyme that St Thomas is invoked here.


  The Merchant’s Tale draws on much of the same antifeminist material as the Wife of Bath’s Prologue (see Headnote). The advice given to January by his friends Justinus and Placebo on his belated decision to get married has obvious affiliations to the literary form known as the ‘dissuasion against marriage’ (dissuasio de non ducenda uxore). For an accessible account of the dissuasion tradition, see K. M. Wilson and E. M. Makowski, Wikked Wyves and the Woes of Marriage: Misogamous Literature from Juvenal to Chaucer (Albany, NY, 1990). Juvenal’s sixth Satire, and the long passage of Theophrastus quoted by Jerome (see Headnote to WBPr), formed models for the genre, which were imitated by medieval writers from Walter Map’s Dissuasion of Valerius to Rufinus (see n. to WB 671) in the twelfth century, to Deschamps, Miroir de Mariage in the fourteenth (see Miller, pp. 411–14, 438–46, and Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 40–47). Chaucer’s own Envoy to Bukton is an example of the type. Less obviously, the enthusiastic encomium on marriage with which the tale opens also derives from this tradition; the dissuasion disguises itself as persuasion, given an ironic inflection by the context, so that the selfish expectations men have of marriage, and the knowledge that they are doomed to be disappointed, coexist within the same discourse (Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 47–52).

  The old man married to a young wife is a familiar situation in the comic tales known as fabliaux (see Headnote to MilT), and the story of the blind husband cuckolded by his wife making love in a fruittree above his head has many parallels (see SA, pp. 341–56, and SA2 II). In some stories, his sight is restored when he himself prays to God; in others, it is because God and St Peter observe the scene and the latter asks God to work the miracle. Only in Chaucer are Pluto and Proserpina the invisible spectators of the adultery; this change enables him to enrich his theme with another picture of a marital relationship that shows male aggression answered by female shrewishness (Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 52–4). In all versions, the wife exculpates herself by claiming that her motive was to restore her husband’s sight; thus taking her place with other fabliau wives who manage to persuade their husbands to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes (see n. to Mch 2272–5).

  1245–6 Lumbardye … Pavie: Pavia, in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy, was a wealthy city in the fourteenth century. Lombard merchants were active in international trade and finance, and there were numbers of them resident in medieval London, whom Chaucer may have known.

  1251 Some critics have thought that this line implies that the speaker is a cleric, and is therefore an indication that the tale was originally assigned to someone other than the Merchant; however, others have pointed out that it could quite well be spoken by a layman commenting sardonically on the folly of his own kind.

  1294–1310 Theofraste: Theophrastus’s arguments against marriage, including the points quoted here, are known only through their incorporation into Jerome’s treatise Against Jovinian (I.47); see further Headnote to WBPr.

  1305–6 The second half of line 1305, and line 1306, were originally left blank in Hg (presumably because the exemplar was illegible), and completed by a later hand with a unique and obviously spurious variant: ‘she wole destroye | Thy good substance and thy body annoye’.

  1310 The confident ‘herke me’ in this line throws into relief the difficulty of deciding who is to
be identified as the speaker of this introductory passage. Its exuberant enthusiasm for women and marriage sorts oddly with the gloomy bitterness on these subjects exhibited by the Merchant in his Prologue. Although much of it can be read as sarcasm, and thus would fit the Merchant, it incorporates materials used elsewhere in CT in serious praise of women (see following notes). It might be taken as a quasidramatic representation of January’s naive delusions, were it not that a more knowing attitude occasionally reveals itself (see lines 1316–18, 1378). For discussion of the problem, see D. R. Benson, ChauR, 14 (1979), 48–60, and for an attempt to resolve it, see Mann, Feminizing Chaucer, pp. 47–52.

  1311–14 A Latin gloss in El and Hg quotes Albertano of Brescia, De amore dei (f. 40r): ‘A wife should be loved because she is a gift of God. Jesus, son of Sirach [says that] “a house and riches are given by one’s parents, but a good and prudent wife is truly from the Lord”’ (the biblical quotation is actually from Proverbs 19:14). On this and other borrowings in MchT from the De amore dei, see E. Koeppel, Archiv, 86 (1891), 40–46.

  1315 ‘To pass like a shadow’ is a proverbial expression (see Whiting S185); ‘upon the wal’ is Chaucer’s characteristic addition to it (see Sh 9, Pars 1068).

  1325–35 These lines allude to Genesis 2:18, 21–4: ‘And the Lord God said, “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a helpmeet like unto himself” … So the Lord God put Adam to sleep, and when he had fallen asleep, he took one of his ribs, and replaced it with flesh. And the Lord God made the rib which he had taken from Adam into a woman, and led her to Adam. And Adam said, “This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” … wherefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.’ A Latin gloss in El and Hg quotes the résumé of this biblical passage in Albertano of Brescia’s De amore dei, f. 39v.

  1341 The claim that something exceeds human powers of description is a rhetorical convention in medieval literature, known as the ‘inexpressibility topos’ (E. R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. W. R. Trask (New York, 1953), p. 159).

  1345 This line echoes Walter’s proposal to Griselda at Cl 355.

  1358–61 These lines are omitted in El, obviously by eyeskip between the end of line 1357 and the end of line 1361.

  1362–74 The biblical heroines Rebecca, Judith, Abigail and Esther are also cited as examples of the ‘good conseil’ of women in Mel (1098–1101), whose ultimate source is the Liber consolationis et consilii (Book of Consolation and Counsel) of Albertano of Brescia (see Headnote to Mel); portions of this passage in the Liber consolationis (ed. Sundby, p. 17.7–17) are reproduced as marginal glosses in El and Hg. This makes it highly unlikely that these lines are to be read ironically (as they sometimes are), as ipso facto examples of the trickery or wiliness of women.

  Rebekke: Jacob’s mother Rebecca tied the skins of goatkids on his hands and neck, so that his blind father Isaac was deceived into thinking he was his hairier brother Esau, and gave Jacob his elder brother’s inheritance (Genesis 27:1–29).

  Judith … Olofernus: On Judith and Holofernes, see nn. to ML 939–42 and Mk 2551–74.

  Abigail … Nabal: Abigail appeased the anger of King David against her husband Nabal; after Nabal’s death, David took her as his wife (1 Samuel 25).

  Ester … Mardochee … Assuere: The biblical book of Esther relates how Esther, wife of Ahasuerus, king of the Persians, saved her people the Jews when they were threatened with destruction by the king’s councillor Haman; Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and adopted father, was then promoted in Haman’s place.

  1375–6 Senek: A Latin gloss in El and Hg likewise attributes to Seneca the maxim ‘As nothing is [superior] to a meek wife, so nothing is worse than a quarrelsome woman’; in fact the quotation is taken from the story of Alcestis in Fulgentius’s Mythologies (I.22), and the immediate source is probably Albertano of Brescia’s Liber consolationis et consilii, ed. Sundby, p. 18.14–18 (see n. to Mch 1362–74).

  1377 Caton: On ‘Cato’, see n. to Mil 3227, and on Chaucer’s use of this well known text, see R. Hazelton, Speculum, 35 (1960), 357–80. The proverb quoted is ‘See that you endure your wife’s tongue, if she is thrifty’ (Distichs of Cato III.23); it is also quoted in Albertano of Brescia’s Liber consolationis as part of the defence of women which includes the passages used in Mch 1362–74 and 1375–6 (see nn.). The Latin original appears as a marginal gloss in El and Hg.

  1379 Probably an allusion to the passage of Albertano’s Liber conso lationis which immediately follows the quotations from ‘Cato’ and Petrus Alfonsi referred to in the preceding and following notes: ‘a good woman, by acting well and obeying her husband, wins him over to the extent that … she seems to rule him’ (ed. Sundby, p. 19.6–9).

  1380 A Latin gloss in El reads ‘A good wife is a good and faithful keeper of the household.’ The maxim originates in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina clericalis (Exemplum XIV, p. 22.4–5), and is quoted both in Albertano of Brescia’s De amore dei (f. 40v) and in his Liber consolationis (ed. Sundby, p. 19.5–6), in the section which includes the passages used in Mch 1362–74, 1375–6 and 1377 (see nn.).

  1381–2 These lines are based on Ecclesiasticus 36:27: ‘Where there is no hedge, the property is despoiled, and where there is no wife, a man will lament his poverty.’ Chaucer’s ‘sike man’ shows that the intermediate source was Albertano’s De amore dei (f. 40r), where eger (‘sick’) is given as an alternative reading to the Bible’s egens (‘poor’).

  1384–8 This compilation of verses from Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesi ans (quoted as a marginal gloss in El and Hg) is borrowed from Albertano of Brescia’s De amore dei (ff. 39v–40r), where it follows the quotation of Genesis used in Mch 1325–35 (see n.): ‘The Apostle Paul to the Ephesians: Love your wives as Christ loved his church et cetera [Ephesians 5:25] … Thus the Apostle: Husbands ought to love their wives like their own bodies, for he who loves his wife loves himself. No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it [5:28–9] … And later: Let everyone love his wife as himself [5:33].’

  1416–26 Albertano of Brescia similarly advises marrying a young girl rather than a widow (De amore dei, f. 40r).

  1418–20 Proverbial; this is the first recorded example in English (see Whiting F236).

  1424 Wades boot: Thomas Speght’s edition of Chaucer (1598) refers to the story of Wade ‘and his bote called Guingelot, as also his strange exploits in the same’, but does not recount it, on the grounds that it was ‘long and fabulous’. This decision was unfortunate, since no English version of the tale survives; for evidence of its nature provided by stories about Wade in Norse, German and Anglo Latin, as well as brief allusions to it in English sources, see K. P. Wentersdorf, JEGP, 65 (1966), 274–86. Speght’s characterization of the story, taken together with Chaucer’s other reference to it at TC III.614, suggests that what the term means in this line is ‘romancing’ or ‘spinning a line’.

  1425 broken harm: F. G. Cassidy (MLN, 58 (1943), 23–7) suggests that ‘broken’ is not the past participle of ‘break’ but an infinitive of the verb ‘brook’, meaning ‘to make use of, avail oneself of’. See MED s.v. brouken 2b.

  1427–8 The Wife of Bath expresses a similar idea at WB 44c–e.

  1448–52 The procreation of children, the avoidance of lechery and the payment of the marital ‘debt’ are the three reasons for sexual intercourse sanctioned in Pars 939–40; for a discussion of the views of medieval churchmen on the subject, see Kelly, Love and Marriage, pp. 245–63.

  1452 For the idea that sexual intercourse is a ‘debt’ owed by one marital partner to the other, see n. to WB 129–30.

  1476 Placebo: A Latin word meaning ‘I shall please’. The name reflects Placebo’s character as a yes man. See also n. to Sum 2075.

  1485–6 A quotation of Ecclesiasticus 32:24; see further n. to Mil 3530.

  1524–5 The maxim is not from Seneca, but from the brief proverbs that preface the Distichs
of Cato: ‘Take care to whom you give’ (17). The maxim is used as a warning against marriage in the Dissuasio Valerii: ‘Friend, it is heathen wisdom to say: “Take heed to whom thou givest”: it is Christian ethics to say “Take heed to whom thou givest thyself”’ (pp. 294–5).

  1532–6 This is a variation on the traditional complaint that whereas other goods can be tried out before purchase, a wife’s characteristics can only be fully known after marriage; see WB 285–92, which is based on Jerome, Against Jov. I.47.

  1537–9 Albertano of Brescia similarly insists that no wife is perfect, quoting the verse of Ecclesiastes to this effect which is used later in MchT by Pluto (De amore dei, f. 40v; cf. n. to Mch 2247–8).

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