One of the important cities for Mary was Ephesus, where the goddess Diana was worshipped. It's not surprising that Mary drew upon the imagery associated with the goddesses, because that was the imagery the people knew. In the same way, we have imagery of Christ with a triumphant crowd looking like an emperor. Later Rabbinic sources tell us that Jewish girls could be betrothed as early as 12 years and a day or any time after the age of twelve and a half. The actual marriage involved two stages. First of all there was the betrothal and then - after an interval of several months, perhaps a year - the young girl would have been taken to the house of her husband to be and at that moment, once they started to live together, they were considered properly married.
This could have been quite a traumatic process for a young girl; to leave behind her mother and father and all the people she was used to, and go to live in an alien household. The choice of husband was made by the family, not by the girls themselves. It was a legal agreement between the father and the husband.
Girls did not have a part in that legality. A girl who became pregnant out of wedlock would have been terrified. The whole social structure was set up for children to be born within marriage. Genealogy and ownership of children was seen as very important. Girls who became pregnant outside marriage would probably have had to leave their homes and their families.
There was the potential of being sold into slavery or of being stoned to death. She may have been married off quickly or banished from her home and village, which may have led a women to prostitution or slavery when she had no way of supporting herself. According to the New Testament Joseph, after being visited by an angel, decided not to send her away or to expose her but to marry her. Jewish women in first century Palestine had very limited legal and economic rights. It's particularly in the domain of economic rights that this is a big problem.
When a girl was in the household of her father, any work that she did or wages that she earned would belong to her father. Once she married, her wages and products that she made belonged to her husband.
There were very few times when she would have any sense of financial and economic autonomy. A woman didn't have the right to divorce her husband, but he could divorce her. If she divorced she would lose her children as well. Most inheritances that she received would go straight to her husband. The husband would maintain legal responsibility for the children. We have multiple sources for knowing about women's lives in 1st century Roman Palestine. There are literary sources such as the Bible, texts from writers such as Josephus and Pliny and the Apocryphal texts although these have to be read with a pinch of salt as they refer to a slightly later time.
There are the early Rabbinic materials, which provide a good deal of information. There's also archaeological evidence and material culture to give us clues about how women lived and what kind of houses they lived in. There is a great deal of information about Roman women's lives in Roman texts and novels throughout the provinces of Rome.
Mary, like most Jewish women and girls of her time, would have spent most of her day working. Almost as soon as she could walk she would have been helping out with the many chores it took to keep daily life going. Stoves needed to be tended, beds needed to be made, homes need to be kept in repair, food needed to be prepared, animals needed to be tended whether one was on a farm or in a village. Food needed to be prepared for the future, so meat and vegetables needed to be preserved for future times as well. Water had to be drawn from cisterns and from wells.
An incredible amount of work had to be done every day and it was done primarily by women and girls. People at this time ate a fairly straightforward diet. Most days people would have eaten lots of bread from wheat or barley, cereals or gruels. Olives, dates and figs were also eaten. Meat was eaten every now and again, usually after a big festival and the slaughtering of a lamb or goat.
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A lot of wine was drunk too. Politically Mary would have lived at quite a difficult time. She would have seen the end of the reign of Herod the Great and all the revolts that accompanied the end of his reign. She would have seen the Roman Legions coming in to Galilee to put down these revolts and all the atrocities associated with the legions. We know from Jewish writings of the time that the Romans burnt cities and took people away into slavery.
Galilee was politically fairly stable throughout most of Jesus' lifetime but there would have been isolated pockets of resistance and certainly no one would have liked the idea that Judea to the south was a Roman province, or that the Romans were present in the Holy City of Jerusalem and in the temple itself. Galilee in the 20s was occupied by Romans and would have been an oppressing place for the Jews. If a Roman soldier said "you've got to carry my backpack one mile", they'd have to do it; they had no option.
The Romans forced the Jews to pay taxes to Caesar. At night they might have heard the soldiers march by with their swords clanging, and they would have been afraid. One can imagine there was talk about trusting in God and that maybe in their lifetime he would send a Messiah. The Jews, as they became more and more oppressed, may have became more and more obsessed with God.
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They may have thought that this could be the time for the Saviour to come. And it was in this highly charged theological atmosphere that Mary wove her way to the well, perhaps holding in her arms the infant Jesus. The immaculate conception of Mary has no historical basis at all. This is something that was invented by later Christians to extend the idea of her holiness. The purity, the perpetual virginity, all of those kind of themes end up with Mary as well as Jesus having to be conceived immaculately. One of the difficulties that many people today have with the virgin birth is not so much historical, the idea that it couldn't happen, but theological; the idea that it must have happened in order for Jesus not to have had any sin.
Early Christians like Augustine tended to think that Adam's original sin was passed on in the act of sex and that therefore in order for Jesus to be holy and sinless it was necessary for him not to have been born from parents who had had sex. Theologically people now have more problems with the Virgin Birth than they would have done in the past. In the past it was almost necessary to have a virgin birth in order to get Jesus out of this rather sticky difficulty of having been born with ordinary human parents who'd had sex.
In the New Testament, many of the women characters are either so holy and pure that it's unrealistic, or they're prostitutes. And Mary falls into the category of being holy and pure and absolutely without sin; and she carries on in that trajectory right through the tradition so that she gets more and more holy and her virginity is stressed more and more and her holiness throughout her whole life is stressed, so that she too becomes sinless.
She is assumed into heaven rather than having to die, she herself gets born of an immaculate conception; so you get a development in the idea of the perpetual virginity, because she's begun a journey to becoming ever more holy, ever more pure which in the end can only end up with those concepts of perpetual virginity. The virgin birth is a very powerful story which explains the theological truth that Jesus is the son of God - not just the son of God from his resurrection or from his baptism, as perhaps the gospel of Mark might suggest, but the son of God from the moment of his conception.
To what extent it's historical is much more difficult to analyse. One of the difficulties is that we hear nothing at all of a virgin birth tradition, until late in the first century. Only in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were probably written in the 80s or 90s of the first century, is there a mention of the virgin birth. Another difficulty with the virgin birth idea is that the texts in Matthew and Luke are clearly overlaid with references to the Old Testament. They're evocative of the typical Old Testament annunciation narrative: the angel going down to one or two of the parents; the insurmountable problem, which usually in the Old Testament is the fact that the parents are elderly or barren ; the angel proclaiming that the problem is going to be surmounted; and the birth ensues.
It's very similar to the stories about the birth of Isaac or the birth of Samson or Samuel. The story of the birth of Jesus has to be even better. Mary can't be an elderly barren woman: instead she's a young girl who's also a virgin. There were lots of stories of miraculous births in Greco-Roman society. Famous figures tended to attract these stories as people speculated on what it would have been like to be present at the birth of such a person. Astrology was also important, so it was felt that if a person was going to be very prominent their fate was already preordained, that in their horoscope one would see how wonderful they were going to be.
It's not surprising they began to think that perhaps their birth was miraculous and wonderful. In the Greek and Roman system of gods and goddesses, the goddesses themselves could be said to be virgin mothers. Athene and Artemis were regarded as virgins. They gave birth and then dipped themselves into the rivers so their virginity was renewed. The Greek and Roman stories are not quite the same as the virgin birth stories in the gospels.
They differ in that there's a male god and a human mother and the male god comes down to earth and impregnates the mother in a very graphic way. In the gospel stories there's no mention of God or the Holy Spirit taking the form of a human being and actually coming down and impregnating Mary. There was an ancient legend from the Jewish side that Mary was the victim of a rape. They even gave us the name of the Roman soldier who was supposed to have carried out this rape: a man called Panthera, which apparently was quite a common name for Roman soldiers.
Recently some scholars looked at this theory and decided it was simply an ancient slur, anti-Christian slander made up in the second century to try to prevent belief in Jesus. Some say that perhaps it isn't so impossible as previously we thought. There are certain clues in the New Testament to suggest that Mary was in quite a terrible state after the beginning of the pregnancy. The fact that she went in great haste to see Elizabeth. The fact that she talks about herself as a "lowly handmaid": why is she lowly?
Some people believe the lowliness was because she was actually the victim of a crime. The strength of the idea is that just as Jesus in his crucifixion identifies with those who suffer , Mary, as victim of rape, is somebody that women who suffer can identify with. The problem of the theory is that Jesus could have been the son of a Roman soldier, which is even more unpalatable for people than the idea that Mary wasn't a virgin.
The idea that Jesus was somehow genetically dependent upon a rapist is more difficult to swallow and it would take a tremendous radical leap of faith to accept that kind of theory. The book of James establishes that Mary was a virgin during the birth of Jesus - in other words she remained intact, physically, despite the birth, which is miraculous. It led to later speculation that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life, before her pregnancy, during the birth of Jesus, and after.
The book of James begins to speculate on the birth of Jesus in quite graphic detail. The idea that Mary is intact comes from the idea that she suffers no pain. This is theologically important to the early Christians because of the curse, mentioned in Genesis, of the two human beings who are responsible for the fall. Adam's curse is to work in sweat in the fields and Eve's curse is to bear children in pain. The idea that Mary and Jesus are free of sin, that they are immaculate, leads us to think that Mary wouldn't suffer the pain of Eve, that she would have a painless birth.
Some would argue that this makes her rather distant from the ordinary woman. The way that the tradition has dealt with that is to say she had a painless birth but she wasn't without pain because she saw her son die on the cross. The great tradition of Mary as the "Mother of Sorrows" comes into being and there are often depictions of Mary as a woman in tears, of a woman laid low by grief. John's gospel refers to the crucifixion as a laborious birth, so if Mary does have a painful birth in the Christian tradition she has it at the crucifixion.
The word virgin developed in western culture has become a synonym for purity and good behaviour. But virginity in Jewish society at the time that we are talking about was about ensuring that the new husband wasn't getting second hand merchandise. Virginity was only important for the moment of the first marriage. The first marriage was more important; for example, in the Jewish marriage contract for a first marriage they paid twice as much as for a second marriage. Virgins went out on the wedding procession with their hair open and flowing so that everyone could see and it would then be remembered that she had been a virgin when she entered her husband's house at that event.
In fact after a while, instead of being a prize, virginity became a burden. We know this from several Jewish burial inscriptions where women were buried and the messages of mourning on their tomb say how sad it was that she died a virgin. From the first century to the present day there has been a debate about Jesus having brothers and sisters.
According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus had at least four brothers who survived into the time when he was an adult. They also say, "Are not his sisters here with us? Regularly mentioned by Paul and sometimes mentioned by other early Christian writers, was Jesus's brother James. James seems to have had a very important role in running the church from very early on in Jerusalem but it's a role that's become forgotten in later Christian tradition.
Later Christian traditions have redefined these brothers and sisters, either as cousins or as Joseph's children by an earlier marriage, in order to preserve the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity. It is quite likely that Mary was present at the Crucifixion. Mary is only explicitly said to be at the Cross in John's gospel but there are hints that she was there in the other gospels.
Indeed, he had no chance to utter his sentiments, unless he interrupted, -- something not to be expected of his quiet 'coy' and sober temperament. But it is not to be imagined that his thoughts were idle. He could be trusted to speak to the purpose whenever his opportunity should come. Now the substance of the Wife's false doctrines was not the only thing that must have roused the Clerk to protesting answer. The very manner of her discourse was a direct challenge to him. She had garnished her sermon with scraps of Holy Writ and rags and tatters of erudition, caught up, we may infer, from her last husband.
Thus she had put herself into open competition with the guild of scholars and theologians, to which the Clerk belonged. Further, with her eye manifestly upon this sedate philosopher, she had taken pains to gird at him and his fellows. At first she pretends to be modest and apologetic, -- 'so that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe,' -- but later she abandons all pretense and makes an open attack:. And there was more still that the Wife made our Clerk endure. The Wife not only trampled on his principles in her theory and practice, but she pointed her attack by describing how she had subdued to her heretical sect a clerk of Oxenford, an alumnus of our Clerk's own university.
The Wife's discourse is not malicious. She is too jovial to be ill-natured, and she protests that she speaks in jest. But it none the less embodies a rude personal assault upon the Clerk, whose quiet mien and habitual reticence made him seem a safe person to attack. She had done her best to make the Clerk ridiculous, He saw it; the company saw it. He kept silent, biding his time.
All this is not speculation. It is nothing but straightforward interpretation of the text in the light of the circumstances and the situation. We can reject it only by insisting on the manifest absurdity shown to be such in every heading and endlink that Chaucer did not visualize the Pilgrims whom he had been at such pains to describe in the Prologue, and that he never regarded them as associating, as looking at each other and thinking of each other, as becoming better and better acquainted as they jogged along the Canterbury road.
Chaucer might have given the Clerk a chance to reply to the Wife immediately. But he -- was too good an artist. The drama of the Pilgrimage is too natural and unforced in its development under the master's hand to admit of anything so frigidly schematic.
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The very liveliness with which he conceived his individual dramatis personae forbade. The Pilgrims were interested in the Wife's harangue, but it was for the talkative members of the company to thrust themselves forward. He, too, could not refrain from comment:. The Summoner reproved him, in words that show not only his professional enmity but also the amusement that the Pilgrims in general were deriving from the Wife's disclosures.
They quarreled, and each threatened to tell a story at the other's expense, Then the Host intervened roughly, calling for silence and bidding the Wife go ahead with her story. She assented, but not without a word of good-humored, though ironical, deference to the Friar:. It is a side-remark in which she is talking at the Friar, precisely as she has talked at the Clerk in her prologue. The quarrel between the Summoner and the Friar was in abeyance until the Wife finished her tale.
They let her end her story and proclaim her moral in peace, -- the same heretical doctrine that we have already noted, that the wife should be the head of the house. Then the Friar spoke, and his words are very much to our present purpose. He adverts in significant terms both to the subject and to the manner of the Wife's discourse, a discourse, we observe, that was in effect a doctrinal sermon illustrated as the fashion of preachers was by a pertinent exemplum:.
She has handled a hard subject that properly belongs to scholars. She has quoted authorities, too, like a clerk.
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Such things, he says, are best left to ecclesiastics:. But it serves to recall our minds to the Wife's usurpation of clerkly functions. If we think of the Clerk at all at this point and assuredly Chaucer had not forgotten him , we must feel that here is another prompting undesigned though it be on the Friar's part to take up the subject which the Wife has in the Clerk's eyes so shockingly maltreated.
Then follows the comic interlude of the Friar and the Summoner, in the course of which we may perhaps lose sight of the serious subject which the Wife had set abroach, -- the status of husband and wife in the marriage relation. But Chaucer did not lose sight of it. It was a part of his design that the Host should call on the Clerk for the first story of the next day.
This is the opportunity for which the Clerk has been waiting. He has not said a word in reply to the Wife's heresies or to her personal attack on him and his order. Seemingly she has triumphed. The subject has apparently been dismissed with the Friar's words about leaving such matters to sermons and to school debates.
The Host, indeed, has no idea that the Clerk proposes to revive the discussion; he does not even think of the Wife in calling upon the representative of that order which has fared so ill at her hands. Even here there is a suggestion casual, to be sure, and, so far as the Host is concerned, quite unintentional of marriage, the subject which is occupying the Clerk's mind. For the Host is mistaken. The Clerk's abstraction is only apparent. He is not pondering syllogisms; he is biding his time. At this word clerk , pronounced with grave and inscrutable emphasis, the Wife of Bath must have pricked up her ears.
But she has no inkling of what is in store, nor is the Clerk in any hurry to enlighten her. He opens with tantalizing deliberation, and it is not until he has spoken more than sixty lines that he mentions marriage. These words may or may not have appeared significant to the company at large. To the Wife of Bath, at all events, they must have sounded interesting. Clearly the Clerk is catching up the subject proposed by the Wife. The discussion is under way again. Yet despite the cheerful view that Walter's subjects take of the marriage yoke, it is by no means yet clear to the Wife of Bath and the other Pilgrims what the Clerk is driving at.
Indeed, it is not until vvs. From that point to the end there is no room for doubt in any Pilgrim's mind: the Clerk is answering the Wife of Bath; he is telling of a woman whose principles in marriage were the antithesis of hers; he is reasserting the orthodox view in opposition to the heresy which she had expounded with such zest and with so many flings and jeers at the clerkly profession and character. What is the tale of Griselda? Our present concern, however, is primarily with the question what it seemed to be to the Canterbury Pilgrims, told as it was by an individual Clerk of Oxford at a particular moment and under the special circumstances.
The answer is plain. To them it was a retort indirect, impersonal, masterly to the Wife of Bath's heretical doctrine that the woman should be the head of the man.
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It told them of a wife who had no such views, -- who promised ungrudging obedience and kept her vow. The Wife of Bath had railed at her husbands and badgered them and cajoled them: Griselda never lost her patience or her serenity. On its face, then, the tale appeared to the Pilgrims to be a dignified and scholarly narrative, derived from a great Italian clerk who was dead, and now utilized by their fellow-pilgrim, the Clerk of Oxford, to demolish the heretical structure so boisterously reared by the Wife of Bath in her prologue and her tale.
He was aware that Griselda was no model for literal imitation by ordinary womankind. If so taken, his tale proved too much; it reduced his argument. If he let it go at that, he was playing into his opponent's hands. Besides, he was a conscientious man. He could not misrepresent the lesson which Petrarch had meant to teach and had so clearly expressed, -- the lesson of submissive fortitude under tribulation sent by God.
Hence he does not fail to explain this moral fully and in unmistakable terms, and to refer distinctly to Petrarch as authority for it:. For, sith a womman was so pacient Un-to a mortal man, wel more us ogthe Receyven al in gree that God us sent; For greet skile is, he preve that he wroghte. But he no tempteth no man that he boghte, As seith sent Jame, if ye his pistel rede; He preveth folk al day, it is no drede, And suffreth us, as for our exercyse, With sharpe scourges of adversitee Ful often to be bete in sondry wyse; Nat for to knowe our wil, for certes he, Er we were born, knew al our freletee; And for our beste is al his governaunce: Lat us than live in vertuous suffrance.
Yet the Clerk has no idea of failing to make his point against the Wife of Bath. And so, when the tale is finished and the proper Petrarchan moral has been duly elaborated, he turns to the Wife whom he has thus far sedulously refrained from addressing and distinctly applies the material to the purpose of an ironical answer, of crushing force, to her whole heresy.
There is nothing inappropriate to his character in this procedure. Quite the contrary. There are few Griseldas now-a-days. Most women will break before they will bend. Our companion, the Wife of Bath, is an example, as she has told us herself. Therefore, though I cannot sing, I will recite a song in honor, not of Griselda as you might perhaps expect , but of the Wife of Bath, of the sect of which she aspires to be a doctor, and of the life which she exemplifies in practice Her way of life -- she had set it forth with incomparable zest.
Her sect -- she was an heresiarch or at least a schismatic. The terms are not accidental: they are chosen with all the discrimination that befits a scholar and a rhetorician. And then comes the Clerk's Envoy, the song that he recites in honor of the Wife and all her sect, with its polished lines, its ingenious rhyming, and its utter felicity of scholarly diction. Nothing could be more in character. To whom in all the world could such a masterpiece of rhetoric be appropriate if not to the Clerk of Oxenford? It is a mock encomium, a sustained ironical commendation of what the Wife has taught.
Follow your great leader, the Wife of Bath. Rule your husbands, as she did; rail at them, as she did; make them jealous, as she did; exert yourselves to get lovers, as she did. And all this you must do whether you are fair or foul [with manifest allusion to the problem of beauty of ugliness presented in the Wife's story].
Do this, I say, and you will fulfill the precepts that she has set forth and achieve the great end which she has proclaimed as the object of marriage: that is, you will make your husbands miserable, as she did! And the Merchant hitherto silent, but not from inattention catches up the closing words in a gust of bitter passion:.
The Clerk's Envoy, then, is not only appropriate to his character and to the situation: it has also a marked dynamic value. For it is this ironical tribute to the Wife of Bath and her dogmas that, with complete dramatic inevitability, calls out the Merchant's cri de coeur. The Merchant has no thought of telling a tale at this moment.
He is a stately and imposing person in his degree, by no means prone so the Prologue informs us to expose any holes there may be in his coat. But he is suffering a kind of emotional crisis. The poignant irony of the Clerk, following hard upon the moving story of a patient and devoted wife, is too much for him. He has just passed through his honeymoon but two months wed and he has sought a respite from his thralldom under color of a pilgrimage to St. She would be an overmatch for the devil himself. He need not specify her evil traits: she is bad in every respect. The Merchant agrees, as in duty bound, for all the Pilgrims take care never to oppose the Host, lest he exact the heavy forfeit established as the penalty for rebellion.
But he declines to relate his own experiences, thus leaving us to infer, if we choose, -- for nowhere is Chaucer's artistic reticence more effective, -- that his bride has proved false to him, like the wife of the worthy Knight of Lombardy. And so the discussion of marriage is once more in full swing. The Merchant's Tale presents very noteworthy features, and has been much canvassed, though never it seems with due attention. In substance, it is nothing but a tale of bawdry, one of the most familiar of its class.
There is nothing novel about it except its setting, but that is sufficiently remarkable. Compare the tale with any other version of the Pear-Tree Story, -- their name is legion, -- and its true significance comes out in striking fashion. The simple fabliau devised by its first author merely to make those laugh whose lungs are tickle o' the sere, is so expanded and overlaid with savage satire that it becomes a complete disquisition of marriage from the only point of view which is possible for the disenchanted Merchant.
Thus considered, the cynicism of the Merchant's Tale is seen to be in no way surprising, and to answer another kind of comment which this piece has evoked in no sense expressive of Chaucer's own sentiments, or even of Chaucer's momentary mood. The cynicism is the Merchant's. It is no more Chaucer's than Iago's cynicism about love is Shakespeare's.
In a word, the tale is the perfect expression of the Merchant's angry disgust at his own evil fate and at his folly in bringing that fate upon himself. Thus, its very lack of restraint -- the savagery of the whole, which has revolted so many readers -- is dramatically inevitable.
The Merchant has schooled himself to his debts and his troubles. He is professionally adept at putting a good face on matters, as every clever business man must be. But when once the barrier is broken, reticence is at an end. His disappointment is too fresh, his disillusion has been too abrupt, for him to measure his words. He speaks in a frenzy of contempt and hatred. The hatred is for women; the contempt is for himself and all other fools who will not take warning by example.
For we should not forget that the satire is aimed at January rather than at May. That egotistical old dotard is less excusable than his young wife, and meets with less mercy at the Merchant's hands. That the Merchant begins with an encomium on marriage which is one of the most amazing instances of sustained irony in all literature, is not to be wondered at. In the first place, he is ironical because the Clerk has been ironical. Here the connection is remarkably close.
The spirit is different, but that is quite proper. For the Clerk's satire is the irony of a logician and a moral philosopher, the irony of the intellect and the ethical sense: the Merchant's is the irony of a mere man, it is the irony of passion and personal experience. The Clerk is a theorist, -- he looks at the subject from a point of philosophical detachment. The Merchant is an egotist, -- he feels himself to be the dupe whose folly he depicts. We may infer, if we like, that he was a man in middle age and that he had married a young wife.
There is plenty of evidence that the Merchant has been an attentive listener. One detects, for instance, a certain similarity between January and the Marquis Walter different as they are in that they have both shown themselves disinclined to marriage. Then again, the assertion that a wife is never weary of attending a sick husband But such things are trifles compared with the attention which the Merchant devotes to the Wife of Bath.
So far, in this act of Chaucer's Human Comedy, we have found that the Wife of Bath is, in a very real sense, the dominant figure. She has dictated the theme and inspired or instigated the actors; and she has always been at or near the center of the stage. It was a quarrel over her prologue that elicited the tale of the Friar and that of the Summoner. It was she who caused the Clerk to tell of Griselda -- and the Clerk satirizes her in his Envoy.
That the Merchant, therefore, should allude to her, quote her words, and finally mention her in plain terms is precisely what was to be expected. The order and method of these approaches on the Merchant's part are exquisitely natural and dramatic. First there are touches, more or less palpable, when he describes the harmony of wedded life in terms so different from the Wife's account of what her husbands had to endure. Then -- after a little -- comes a plain enough allusion put into January's mouth to the Wife's character, to her frequent marriages, and to her inclination to marry again, old as she is:.
Surely the Wife of Bath was a woman of many schools, and her emulation of clerkly discussion had already been commented on by the Pardoner and the Friar. Your wife may make you go straight to heaven without passing through purgatory. This is merely an adaptation of the Wife of Bath's own language in speaking of her fourth husband:. Are the italicized lines a part of the speech of Justinus, or are they interpolated by the Merchant, in his own person, in order to shorten Justinus' harangue?
They obviously belong to the narrator, the Merchant, as it is out of the question that Justinus had heard of the Wife of Bath. Perhaps it is an oversight. Either way, the lines are exquisitely in place. Chaucer is not speaking, and there is no violation of dramatic propriety on his part. It is not Chaucer who is telling the story.
It is the Merchant. And the Merchant is telling it as a part of the discussion which the Wife has started. It is dramatically proper, then, that the Merchant should quote the Wife of Bath and that he should refer to her. And it is equally proper, from the dramatic point of view, for Chaucer to let the Merchant make Justinus mention the Wife. That the Merchant should put into the mouth of Justinus a remark that Justinus could never have made is, then, not a slip on Chaucer's part.
On the contrary, it is a first-rate dramatic touch, for it is precisely what the Merchant might well have done under the circumstances. Nor should we forget the exquisitely comical discussion between Pluto and Proserpina which the Merchant has introduced. This dialogue is a flagrant violation of dramatic propriety -- not on Chaucer's part, however, but on the Merchant's.
And therein consists a portion of its merit. For the Merchant is so eager to make his point that he rises superior to all artistic rules. He is bent, not on giving utterance to a masterpiece of narrative construction, but on enforcing his lesson in every possible way. And Chaucer is equally bent on making him do it. Hence the Queen of the Lower World is brought in, discoursing in terms that befit the Wife of Bath the presiding genius of this part of the Canterbury Tales , and echoing some of her very doctrines. And note that Pluto who is as fond of citing authorities as the Wife's last husband yields the palm of the discussion to Proserpine.
This, too, was the experience of the Wife's husbands. The tone and manner of the whole debate between Pluto and his queen are wildly absurd if regarded from the point of view of gods and goddesses, but in that very incongruity resides their dramatic propriety. What we have is not Pluto and Proserpine arguing with each other, but the Wife of Bath and one of her husbands attired for the nonce by the cynical Merchant in the external resemblance of King Pluto and his dame.
As the Merchant had commented on the Clerk's Tale by speaking of his own wife, thus continuing the subject which the Wife had begun, so the Host comments on the Merchant's story by making a similar application:. However, my wife is true as any steel; but she is a shrew, and has plenty of other faults. If I should, it would be told to her by some of this company. There are but three women in the company. Neither the highborn and dainty Prioress nor the pious nun who accompanies her is likely to gossip with Harry Baily's spouse. It is the Wife, a woman of the Hostess's own rank and temper, who will tattle when the party returns to the Tabard.
And so we find the Wife of Bath still in the foreground, as she has been, in one way or another, for several thousand lines. But now the Host thinks his companions have surely had enough of marriage. The significance of the emphasis on love , which is inevitable if the address to the Squire is read as it should be continuously with the Host's comments on marriage, is by no means accidental.
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