Chaucer The Canterbury Tales[In April Geoffrey Chaucer at the Tabard Inn in Southwerk, across the Thames from London, joins a group of pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of Thomas à Becket in Canterbury. He describes almost all of the nine and twenty pilgrims in this company, each of whom practices a different trade (often dishonestly). The Host of the Tabard, Harry Bailey, proposes that he join them as a guide and that each of the pilgrims should tell tales (two on the outward journey, two on the way back); whoever tells the best tale will win a supper, at the other pilgrims\' cost when they return.
The pilgrims agree, and Chaucer warns his readers that he must repeat each tale exactly as he heard it, even though it might contain frank language. The next morning the company sets out, pausing at the Watering of St. Thomas, where all draw straws, and the Knight is thus selected to tell the first tale.]


(The General Prologue begins with the description of Spring characteristic of dream visions of secular love.

The Merchant\'s Tale
A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,
In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;
Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat,
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.


January, a noble sixty-year-old bachelor determines he must marry and beget an heir; he insists on a young wife and settles upon the fair and youthful May. Justinus, who argues against it, and Placebo, a flattering courtier who agrees with January’s determination to marry, debate the issue of January’s marriage. January loses his sight, and May conspires with a young squire to cuckold him, which she does in a pear tree. Pluto restores January\'s sight; Prosperine gives May the wit to convince the old man that he should not believe what he has seen with his own eyes.]


The most important sources of the Merchant\'s Tale appear among the Canterbury Tales themselves. The debate on marriage draws upon the Prologue of the Wife of Bath, which is itself cited by Justinus (VI.1685), and January\'s idea of a good wife seems to be based on the Clerk\'s Tale (cf. IV.2345-46 and IV. 351-57). Some of the ideas set forth in the debate on marriage echo those in the Parson\'s Tale (see n. 1441-55, p. 886 in The Riverside Chaucer) and the good wives cited are those listed in the Melibee (VII. 2551-74). St. Jerome\'s Adversus Jovinianum, especially his argument against marriage, is cited almost as often here as in the Wife of Bath\'s Prologue.


The central episode of the Merchant\'s Tale is like a fabliau , though of a very unusual sort:

The Fabliaux
Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys.
The Millere is a cherl; ye knowe wel this.
So was the Reve eek and othere mo,
And harlotrie they tolden bothe two.
(Miller\'s Prologue, I. 3182-84)


Medieval literature includes a great variety of comic tales, in both prose and verse, and in a variety of more or less distinct genres. For students of Chaucer, the most important comic genre is the fabliau (fabliau is the singular, fabliaux the plural). Chaucer\'s Miller\'s tale, Reeve\'s Tale, Shipman\'s Tale, Summoner\'s tale, and the fragmentary Cook\'s Tale are all fabliaux, and other tales -- such as the Merchant\'s Tale -- show traces of the genre:


"A fabliau is a brief comic tale in verse, usually scurrilous and often scatological or obscene. The style is simple, vigorous, and straightforward; the time is the present, and the settings real, familiar places; the characters are ordinary sorts -- tradesmen, peasants, priests, students, restless wives; the plots are realistically motivated tricks and ruses.


The Franklin\'s Tale
Whit was his berd as is the dayesye;
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.
An anlaas and a gipser al of silk
Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.

[Dorigen and Averagus marry, swearing that neither will ever exert absolute power over the other. Aurelius, a young squire, in Averagus\' absence, courts Dorigen, who rejects him by setting what she thinks is an impossible task: remove the threatening rocks from the coast, she promises, and I shall grant you my love. With the help of a learned clerk (to whom he promises an immense fee), Aurelius succeeds (though perhaps only by illusion) and he then demands her love. She