The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Merchant's Tale Analysis

The Merchant’s Tale is built on a sense of goodness gone slightly bad – like a ripe pear that has turned just a bit rotten. It begins with the initial description of January as a noble knight, but this description is combined with uncomfortably vivid descriptions of his less pleasant physical characteristics, like his scratchy beard. Likewise, although May is described as young and beautiful, she is also deceitful, and the fact that she escapes without punishment is an unsatisfactory ending for a tale that makes it clear she has done wrong. Unlike January, whose thoughts and actions are laid out as clearly as his physical description, the tale does not peer into May’s thoughts or motivations, and when it does describe her, it focuses only on her physical beauty and youth – another indication that while she may be lovely on the outside, something is rotten in the middle.

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Contents