Comparison of “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Merchant’s Tale”
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer comprises of stories connected by 29 pilgrims headed for Saint Thomas Becket’s shrine in Canterbury. The deal was for each pilgrim to narrate two tales on their way to the shrine and two tales on their way back. This paper consists of a comparison between the “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Merchant’s Tale.”
The fabliau is the first thing that comes into a reader’s mind when comparing “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Merchant’s Tale.” The two tales are meant to delight the middle and lower social classes while, at the same time, criticize the fourteenth-century marriage and church. In “The Miller’a Tale,” the author uses Miller, the main character, who was always drunk to denote the lower social class and their liking for lewd stories. In “The Merchant’s Tale,” the character Merchant has been used to disparage marriage life. The author presents Merchant as a character who dislikes the time he has spent with his wife. Secondly, in “The Miller’s Tale,” Nicholas plays tricks on the carpenter so as he spends the night in his barn and the former with the carpenter’s wife. Similarly, Damian, a character in “The Merchant’s Tale” deceives and tricks January and has an affair with the latter’s wife.
“The Miller’s Tale” talks about John, a carpenter, married to Allison a young girl aged eighteen years (Chauser 83). John is rich and ignorant, and he fears to be cuckolded as portrayed by the fabliau theme. Allison has been described as beautiful and wild. Nicholas, a character in the same story is talented at making love and desires Allison. Nicholas convinces Allison to go against her husband so that they can fulfill their sexual pleasures (Pearsall 166). The carpenter is convinced there is a flood coming and for him to be safe he has to sleep separate from his wife. When the day of the plan came, Allison and Nicholas fulfilled their plan after John fell asleep. Nicholas was not the only one infatuated with Allison. Absolon, another character in the tale, also likes Allison and asks for a kiss, but receives a fart in his face instead. Feeling humiliated, he plans to avenge by burning Allison’s bottom. However, it is Nicholas’ bottom that is burned. Nicholas screamed making the carpenter believe that the floods have come. When the carpenter realized the truth, he felt humiliated before his neighbors (Chauser 86).
The author has also used Nicholas to criticize church corruption (Pearsall 224 ). This is because Nicholas likes to reward beautiful young girls and he even sang songs for Allison. As indicated by Chaucer, from the low class drunken Miller to the lewd and humorous tale, the author’s fabliau portrays a remarkable handling of this writing style and his notion of marriage at that time as well as his pleasure with church corruption and the doing of all corrupt members.
Unlike in “The Miller’s Tale,” the merchant is not interested in narrating a humorous tale, but intends to warn those who desire marriage. The main character in “The Merchant’s Tale” is an old rich man who was a knight. Besides, he is a learned man unlike the carpenter in “The Miller’s Tale.” Consequently, January, the character in ”The Merchant’s Tale” is unmarried unlike John in “The Miller’s Tale.” Nonetheless, January wishes to marry a young woman chosen for him. May, the wife chosen is tender and has a voluptuous body (Chaucer & Richmond 386). The author has used Damian to show that marriage is not as smooth as people believe. The other characters have been used to give their opinions on marriage. Some characters such as Placebo support marriage life and uses Bible quotes to support their arguments. He uses the words of Solomon, who states that, “Do all things by advice… and then you’ll have no reason to repent” (Chaucer & Richmond 381). The other characters such as Justinus are against marriage life, and he supports his arguments using Seneca’s philosophy, which states that it is good to always think twice before anything. This tale develops the same way as “The Miller’s Tale.” The newly married wife plays a trick on his wife and meets with the squire in the garden for sex. Unlike in “The Miller’s Tale,” the gods see the bad actions and intervene. They allow January to recover his eyesight so that he can see the unfaithfulness of his wife. However, May is given some powers to confuse his husband (Chaucer & Richmond 383-385).
Lastly, “The Merchant’s Tale” is different from “The Miller’s Tale” in that it is indecent and not humorous. Allison from “The Miller’s Tale” is treacherous and his actions are not forgiven. Besides, John the fool is humiliated before his neighbors for believing in the premonition given by Nicholas. For being cunning, Nicholas ends up in pain from the burn. On the other hand, May gets his husband to continue trusting her, whereas Damian uses that opportunity to continue having sex with May behind her husband’s back. This scene portrays some truth of the highest class in the society, which is that people receive punishment for their treacherous actions, and the others are humiliated before the public.
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In conclusion, the comparison of “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Merchant’s Tale” written by Chauser has allowed the reader to see the author’s mastery of the humorous and non-humorous fabliau style. Secondly, by using the indecent merchant’s tale that shows the contrast between the two tales represents the conventions of the time.