The Canterbury Tales The Shipman's Tale Summary
A rich merchant who lived in St. Denis (today a suburb of Paris) had a beautiful wife, whose wardrobe was very expensive, and a best friend who was a monk named John. One day, as he was planning a visit to Bruges (in Belgium), the merchant invited John to visit him; they spent two full days eating and drinking together. On the third day, the merchant rose early and went to balance his books before leaving.
The monk went into the garden, where he encountered the merchant’s wife. The wife begins to complain about her husband in confidence to the monk. She does not love him, and she owes someone else a debt of one hundred franks, which will disgrace her if she cannot pay it and her husband finds out about it. The monk promises to help the wife with her problem by bringing her the money; then he grabs her and kisses her.
After dinner, John the monk pulls the merchant aside and asks the merchant to lend him one hundred franks. The merchant agrees, giving the money to his friend and telling him to repay it whenever he can. Nobody writes down the deal: it is made solely between the monk and the merchant.
The merchant then leaves on business, and the monk goes to the wife, where he offers her a deal: if she has sex with him, he will give her the hundred franks. The wife agrees, and the two consummate their deal.
When the merchant gets home, he delightedly tells first the monk and his wife about how well he did in business while on his trip. The monk tells the merchant that he gave the merchant’s wife the hundred franks. When the merchant gets home, his wife drags him into bed and has sex with him all night and well into the morning. When the merchant complains that he’s late for work and that the wife needs to give him back the hundred franks, the wife says that she can do what she likes with her own money and that she will never “pay” her husband except by sleeping with him.