The Shipman's Tale Notes from The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales The Shipman's Tale

In Saint Denis, a merchant lived with a very beautiful and extravagant wife who spent most of her time in sociable festivals and dances. He foolishly lost money on buying her objects of material wealth such as clothing, to aid in her self-indulgent appearance. In need of money, the wealthy merchant housed and befriended a young monk of thirty years named John. Dan John claimed to be his cousin and thereupon the two established a friendship. John, who was kind and generous to the servants, planned a trip to Burges, which was interrupted by an invitation from the merchant and his wife. The three enjoyed one another's company for three full days.

On the morning of the merchant's supposed departure from Saint Denis, all three awoke early and walked in the garden: the merchant balancing his books, Dan John to pray, and the wife to worry about John. She tells him that she has no lust for her husband in bed and feels melancholy. The two promise to disclose what is truly bothering one another, for they have genuine feelings and kiss. Dan John reveals that he is not truly the merchant's cousin: "He is na moore cosyn unto me / Than is this leef that hangeth on the tree!" Shipman's Tale, l.149-150. The wife tells him that she does has neither love nor honor for her husband. She also explains the six things she expects from a man as a husband:

"And wel ye woot that wommen naturelly
Desiren thynges sixe as wel as I
They wolde that hir housbondes sholde be
Hardy, and wise, and riche, and therto free,
And buxom unto his wyf, and fressh abedde."
Shipman's Tale, l.173-177

Topic Tracking: Sexuality 9

She tells John that she must pay a debt to her husband of one hundred francs, as to be a respectable woman. He loans her the money and kisses her, for they both realize that they are not truly cousins. Before the merchant leaves for Flanders, Dan John asks him for one hundred francs to buy cattle. The merchant secretly gives the money to Dan John and then talks to his wife and to John about their friendship and trust. The merchant happily gives him the money, which he immediately gives to the wife. The merchant told the two to keep an extra eye on his land and books, to make sure that nothing goes awry. The two then fall into bed together while the merchant is away, to repay Dan John for his supposed good deed for the wife.

Topic Tracking: Loyalty 13

The merchant eventually returns to Saint Denis to find out the truth of what happened with the hundred francs and his wife. The merchant had repaid his loan in Paris and realized what occurred with the money. He embraced his wife in bed and revealed the truth to her about Dan John's chicanery. The wife is shocked and upset by her actions and gullibility and promises her husband the merchant that she will be true to him and repay him for all she has done in bed. They were married and now would become an intimate couple. The tales ends as the merchant forgives her for her actions.

Topic Tracking: Sexuality 10

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