Advertisement

The Deliberate Ambiguity of Chaucer’s Anxious Merchants

  • Roger A. Ladd
Chapter
  • 44 Downloads
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Geoffrey Chaucer’s General Prologue Merchant reveals only indirectly the conflict between the residual antimercantile ideology developed in early response to an increasingly complex money economy, and the more conciliatory ideology emerging by Chaucer’s time.1 Indeed, this chapter will be in part an exploration of the Chaucerian critical tradition, as the poet himself avoids unequivocal adherence to either ideology, and generally refuses to be pinned down on his attitudes toward his birth-estate. His merchants do incorporate elements of the antimercantile ideology of his estates satire and penitential sources, but Chaucerian merchants also reflect the mercantile estate’s own responses to fears and expectations of damnation. This adaptation of both pro- and antimercan-tile traditions in Chaucer’s merchants suggests that the critical tradition of Chaucerian merchants has been so confused because Chaucer himself subtly negotiates between pro- and antimercantile treatments of merchants, thus supporting both readings. His deliberate ambiguity concerning merchants, though by no means central to the overall movement of the Canterbury Tales, does provide some insight into Chaucer’s much more central concern with the efficacy of satire, because he ultimately uses satiric material to charge merchants with discursive inadequacy. I focus initially on the site of the critical battleground of the General Prologue’s, description of the Merchant, and will then briefly follow the trajectory of Chaucer’s adaptation of antimercantile satire in the Tales, where Chaucer carefully structures his ambivalence toward merchants as a subtle criticism of their relations with texts.

Keywords

English Reader Negative Reading Medieval Literature Canterbury Tale English Merchant 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Lee Patterson addresses this conflict directly in Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), pp. 322–66.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lines X.777–78. All references to Chaucer’s poetry come from Larry D. Benson, ed., The Riverside Chaucer, 3rd edn. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987). Parenthetical references indicate both fragment and line number.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    John Matthews Manly, Some New Light on Chaucer: Lectures Delivered at the Lowell Institute (1926; repr. New York: Peter Smith, 1951).Google Scholar
  4. Muriel A. Bowden, A Commentary on the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, 2nd edn. (1948; repr. New York: Macmillan, 1967).Google Scholar
  5. Jill Mann, Chaucer and Medieval Estates Satire (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Edith Rickert, “Extracts from a Fourteenth-Century Account Book,” Modern Philology 24 (1926–27): 111–19; 249–56.Google Scholar
  7. Laura C. and Robert T. Lambdin update Bowden in Chaucer’s Pilgrims: An Historical Guide to the Pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), p. xii.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    George Lyman Kittredge, Chaucer and His Poetry (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1915), p. 156.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    J. Stephen Russell, Chaucer and the Trivium: The Mindsong of the Canterbury Tales (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998), p. 64.Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Wight Martindale, Jr., “Chaucer’s Merchants: A Trade-Based Speculation on Their Activities,” Chaucer Review 26 (1992): 309 [309–16].Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    Kenneth S. Cahn, “Chaucer’s Merchants and the Foreign Exchange: An Introduction to Medieval Finance,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 2 (1980): 81 [81–119].Google Scholar
  12. Malcolm Andrew, ed., Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer: Vol. II, The Canterbury Tales, Pt. 1 B, The General Prologue Explanatory Notes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), pp. 249–67.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    Thomas A. Knott, “Chaucer’s Anonymous Merchant,” Philological Quarterly 1 (1922): 9–10 [1–16].Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    John Kenny Crane “An Honest Debtor? A Note on Chaucer’s Merchant, Line A276,” English Language Notes 4 (1966): 84 [81–85].Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Derek Pearsall, The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), pp. 285–305; plates 3, 6–21. On historical merchants with forked beards, see Laura F. Hodges, Chaucer and Costume: The Secular Pilgrims in the General Prologue (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2000), pp. 80–86; plate 7.Google Scholar
  16. Laura F. Hodges, Chaucer and Costume: The Secular Pilgrims in the General Prologue (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2000), pp. 80–86; plate 7.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., “Structure as Deconstruction: ‘Chaucer and Estates Satire’ in the General Prologue, or Reading Chaucer as a Prologue to the History of Disenchantment,” Exemplaria 2 (1990): 246 [241–61].Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Rodney K. Delasanta, “The Horsemen of the Canterbury Tales,” Chaucer Review 3 (1969): 30–31 [29–36]; Reale, “A Marchant,”, Chaucer’s Pilgrims, pp. 95–96.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Paul Strohm, Social Chaucer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 89.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    LoyD. Martin, “History and Form in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” English Literary History 45 (1978): 10 [1–17].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 29.
    Of the forty-four fifteenth-century witnesses to these lines, only three feature a puncto after line 276 (“solempnely”), and only two feature one after line 277 (“wynnyng”). London, British Library ms. Harley 1758 (Ha2) and Oxford, Bodleian Library ms. Laud Misc. 39 (Ld2) both feature full stops after both lines 276 and 277; Ha2 (f. 3v) has a puncto at the end of every line in this passage, and Ld2 has them after most lines. The third manuscript featuring line-end punctuation here is Oxford, Bodleian Library, Trinity College ms. 49 (To1); punctuation for this witness shifts the phrasing of this passage considerably from the usual editorial choices. The manuscript evidence mandates neither my punctuation nor Benson’s, and To1 slightly supports my punctuation. Manuscript transcriptions and images all come from Elizabeth Solopova, ed., The General Prologue on CD-ROM (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    John Reidy, “Grouping of Pilgrims in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” Papers of the Michigan Academy of Sciences, Art and Letters 47 (1962): 600 [595–603].Google Scholar
  23. 33.
    B. A. Park, “The Character of Chaucer’s Merchant,” English Language Notes 2 (1964): 167 [167–75].Google Scholar
  24. 38.
    See also Lorraine Kochanske Stock, “The Meaning of Chevyssaunce: Complicated Word Play in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale,” Studies in Short Fiction 18 (1981): 245–49.Google Scholar
  25. 39.
    Oscar E. Johnson, “Was Chaucer’s Merchant in Debt? A Study in Chaucerian Syntax and Rhetoric, “Journal of English and Germanic Philology 52 (1953): 51 [50–57].Google Scholar
  26. Gardiner Stillwell, “Chaucer’s Merchant: No Debts?” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 57 (1958): 192 [192–96]; Cahn, “Chaucer’s Merchants,” pp. 81–119.Google Scholar
  27. 46.
    Karla Taylor, “Chaucer’s Reticent Merchant,”, The Idea of Medieval Literature: New Essays on Chaucer and Medieval Culture in Honor of Donald R. Howard (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992), p. 192 [189–205].Google Scholar
  28. 47.
    Gerald Morgan, “The Universality of the Portraits in the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales,” English Studies 58 (1977): 482–83 [481–93].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 51.
    Paul Strohm, “The Social and Literary Scene in England,”, The Cambridge Chaucer Companion, ed. Piero Boitani and Jill Mann (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p. 10 [1–18].Google Scholar
  30. 52.
    Donald R. Howard, Chaucer: His Life, His Works, His World (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1987), p. 5.Google Scholar
  31. 53.
    Linne R. Mooney, “Chaucer’s Scribe,” Speculum 81 (2006): 98 [97–138].Google Scholar
  32. 54.
    Martin Stevens, ‘“And Venus Laugheth’: An Interpretation of the Merchant’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 7 (1972): 118 [188–231].Google Scholar
  33. 55.
    Paul A. Olson, “The Merchant’s Lombard Knight,” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 3 (1961): 259–63.Google Scholar
  34. 56.
    David Wallace, Chaucerian Polity: Absolutist Lineages and Associational Forms in England and Italy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 294–95.Google Scholar
  35. 58.
    Olson, “Merchant’s Lombard Knight,” p. 262. See also Phillipa Hardman, “Chaucer’s Tyrants of Lombardy,” Review of English Studies n.s. 31 (1980): 172–78.Google Scholar
  36. 59.
    Rosalind Field, “January’s ‘Honeste Thynges’: Knighthood and Narrative in the Merchant’s Tale,” Reading Medieval Studies 20 (1994): 39–41 [37–49].Google Scholar
  37. 61.
    Robin Grove, for example, points out that the qualities January seeks “are not to be bought in a market-place.” “The Merchant’s Tale: Seeing, Knowing and Believing,” Critical Review 18 (1976): 31 [23–38].Google Scholar
  38. 62.
    Christian Sheridan, “May in the Marketplace: Commodification and Textuality in the Merchant’s Tale,” Studies in Philology 102 (2005): 29–33 [27–44].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 67.
    On the ethos of fabliau, see Charles Muscatine, The Old French Fabliaux (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pp. 73–104, 152.Google Scholar
  40. Joerg O. Fichte, “Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale Within the Context of the French Fabliaux Tradition,”, Chaucer’s Frame Tales: The Physical and the Metaphysical, ed. Joerg O. Fichte (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 1987), pp. 51–66.Google Scholar
  41. 69.
    In addition to Cahn, “Chaucer’s Merchants,” see V. J. Scattergood, “The Originality of the Shipman’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 11.3 (1977): 210–31.Google Scholar
  42. John McGalliard, “Characterization in Chaucer’s Shiptnan’s Tale,” Philological Quarterly 54 (1975): 1–18.Google Scholar
  43. 70.
    Albert H. Silverman, “Sex and Money in Chaucer’s Shiptnan’s Tale,” Philological Quarterly 32 (1953): 331 [329–36].Google Scholar
  44. 71.
    Our identification with her is further complicated by the tantalizing possibility that the tale was originally written for the Wife of Bath, who shares the wife’s energy, concern with having a “buxom” husband, and apparent interest in clerks. On analogues’ endings, see Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, eds., The Literary Context of Chaucer’s Fabliaux: Texts and Translations (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), pp. 275–337.Google Scholar
  45. 73.
    Thomas Hahn, “Money, Sexuality, Wordplay, and Context in the Shiptnan’s Tale”, in Julian N. Wasserman and Robert J. Blanch, eds., Chaucer in the Eighties (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986), 242–44.Google Scholar
  46. 74.
    Bernard S. Levy, “The Quaint World of The Shipman’s Tale,” Studies in Short Fiction 4 (1967): 117 [112–18].Google Scholar
  47. Janette Richardson, “The Façade of Bawdry: Image Patterns in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale” English Literary History 32 (1965): 306–7 [303–13].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 78.
    Robert Adams, “The Concept of Debt in The Shiptnan’s Tale,” Studies in the Age of Chaucer 6 (1984): 93 [85–102].Google Scholar
  49. 79.
    Gerhard Joseph, “Chaucer’s Coinage: Foreign Exchange and the Puns of the Shiptnan’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 17 (1983): 343–44 [341–57].Google Scholar
  50. 80.
    Joseph, “Chaucer’s Coinage,” p. 344. See also R. A. Shoaf, Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word: Money, Images, and Reference in Late Medieval Poetry (Norman, OK: Pilgrim Books, 1983), p. 173.Google Scholar
  51. 81.
    Karla Taylor, “Social Aesthetics and the Emergence of Civic Discourse from the Shiptnan’s Tale to Melibee,” Chaucer Review 39.2 (2005): 308 [298–322].Google Scholar
  52. John M. Ganim, “Double Entry in Chaucer’s Shiptnan’s Tale: Chaucer and Bookkeeping before Pacioli,” Chaucer Review 30 (1996): 294–305.Google Scholar
  53. 86.
    Gardiner Stillwell, “Chaucer’s ‘Sad’ Merchant,” Review of English Studies 20 (1944): 14 [1–18]; he cites Toulmin Smith, ed. English Gilds: The Original Ordinances of More Than One Hundred Early English Gilds, Early English Text Society o.s. 40 (London: N. Trübner & Co, 1870).Google Scholar
  54. 88.
    Michael W. McClintock, “Games and the Players of Games: Old French Fabliaux and the Shipman’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 5 (1970): 112–36.Google Scholar
  55. 90.
    See Ruth Huff Cline, “Four Chaucer Saints,” Modern Language Notes 60.7 (1945): 480–82, and William P. Keen, “Chaucer’s Imaginable Audience and the Oaths of The Shipman’s Tale,” Topic 50 (2000): 91–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 92.
    On the sources of the tale, see John Finlayson, “Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale, Boccaccio, and the ‘Civilizing’ of Fabliau,” Chaucer Review 36 (2002): 336–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Peter G. Beidler, “Chaucer’s French Accent: Gardens and Sex-Talk in the Shipman’s Tale”, in Comic Provocations: Exposing the Corpus of Old French Fabliaux, ed. Holly A. Crocker (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), pp. 149–61.Google Scholar
  58. 93.
    Lorraine Kochanske Stock, “La Vieille and the Merchant’s Wife in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale,” Southern Humanities Review 16 (1982): 337 [333–39].Google Scholar
  59. 95.
    Helen Fulton, “Mercantile Ideology in Chaucer’s Shipman’s Tale,” Chaucer Review 36 (2002): 320 [311–28].CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 96.
    Peter Spufford, Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2002), pp. 26, 34; see also map p. 26.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Roger A. Ladd 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roger A. Ladd

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations