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Kloss, R.J. (1974). Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale: Tender Youth and Stooping Age. Am. Imago, 31(1):65-79.

(1974). American Imago, 31(1):65-79

Chaucer's The Merchant's Tale: Tender Youth and Stooping Age

Robert J. Kloss, Ph.D.

Though the Merchant's Tale is generally classified among the fabliaux of the Canterbury Tales, Benson and Andersson in The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux have rightly observed that the tale is “not typical of fabliaux literature, which is more exclusively interested in demonstrating the wiles of women. Thus, most of the analogues to the Merchant's Tale are concerned not with the portrait of a cuckold, but with the mechanics and outrageousness of the deception.” J. S. P. Tatlock has noted a further variation in that in none of the many analogues is the cuckold an old man; in most, his age is indeterminate. Why Chaucer chose to focus attention on the male rather than the female and why he chose to age his protagonist so greatly, we have no way of knowing. We can, however, scrutinize the effects these variations on a theme have upon readers as they react to the tale and make some deductions from them.

In “The Effect of the Merchant's Tale,” Donaldson, for example, concludes that “the Merchants Tale was carefully written to present the kind of world that can come into being if a man's approach to love and marriage is wholly mercantile and selfish—if he believes he can buy as a wife a domestic beast that will serve his every wish and, somehow, fulfill his most erotic fantasies.” Tatlock's opinion is stronger still: “Senile lechery seems to anybody repulsive, ridiculous at best. It is characteristic of [January] that his description of various kinds of women is in terms of things to eat, that it is when he is in bed that he thinks over his candidates for bride, and that he

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1 The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux: Texts and Translations, eds. Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson (Indiana and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971), p. 204.

2 J. S. P. Tatlock, “The Merchant's Tale,” in Chaucer Criticism, eds. Richard Schoeck and Jerome Taylor (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1960), I, 86.

3 E. Talbot Donaldson: “The Effect of the Merchant's Tale,” in Speaking of Chaucer (New York: Norton, 1970), pp. 44-45.

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