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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Shipman's Tale
Modern english adjacent to middle english

About The Canterbury Tales:
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a frame story, between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to kill time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.

About The Shipman's Tale:
The Shipman's Tale has no prologue. The Man of Law's Epilogue, which is the last part of The Man of Law's Tale, contains the introduction to The Shipman's Tale. The Host asks the Parson to tell a tale, but the Shipman interrupts stating that he does not want to listen to a sermon or gospel or somekind of preaching. The Shipman offers to tell a tale and announces a tale free of philosophy, physics and quaint terms of law. "There is but little Latin in my maw," says the Shipman (line 1190 of The Man of Law's Tale, which is the last line of The Man of Law's Epilogue).

Note that at this point the uncertainty about the order of the tales. It seems clearly that The Shipman's Tale follows directly after The Man of Law's Tale. However, what comes next in most editions of The Canterbury Tales is The Wife of Bath's Tale. It does not really matter. Both The Shipman's Tale and The Wife of Bath's Tale stand on itself. The reader may choose for himself which tale to read next.

The Shipman's Tale is about a wealthy merchant who lives in a place called St. Denis. He has a beautiful wife that constantly needs fine clothes and other things to make her appear even more beautiful. The foolish husband, always he must pay (line 11) or lend gold and that is dangerous (line 19). The merchant frequently has guests in his worthy house and one of the guests is a monk, who is about thirty years old (lines 25-26). The monk claims to be the merchant's cousin or kin (line 36) and his name is John (line 43). The merchant's name is Peter (line 214). His wife has no name.

Prior to a planned journey to the town of Bruges, the merchant invites Don John (or Dan John) to visit him and his wife for one or two days (lines 60-61). John comes and they eat and drink for two days. On the morning of the third day the merchant spends time doing his administration (lines 75-88). Meanwhile John goes to the garden to pray. The merchant's wife also comes to the garden accompanied by a little girl that she has to govern (lines 95-96). She asks why Jon has risen so early and he replies that five hours of sleep is sufficent for an unmarried man (lines 100-101). He asks her why she is looking pale. The merchant must have kept her awake by having sex all night, John supposes (lines 107-109). The merchant's wife answers "no" and explains that she has no lust for her husband. John promises to keep secret everything she tells him. He also reveals he is not the merchant's cousin (line 149). The merchant's wife tells John she has a debt of one hundred francs (her husband does not know), so she has financial trouble (lines 180-181). She asks John to lend her the money. He agrees and takes the opportunity to hug and kiss her (lines 202-203).

The merchant's wife goes to her husband who is accounting his business. She asks him to leave his cash books, but the merchant emphasizes the importance of a proper administration. Many merchants have gone bankrupt not attending their accounts properly. When evening comes the merchant, his wife and the monk dine together. After dinner the monk takes the merchant apart and asks him to lend him one hundred francs for one or two weeks (line 270-271) without telling anybody (line 277). The merchant agrees, fetches the money and gives it secretively to the monk (lines 293-294). That evening the monk leaves and next morning the merchant goes for his business trip to Bruges.

Next Sunday the monk returns freshly shaved to the house of the merchant (lines 308-309), who is still in Bruges. The narrating Shipman summarizes in a few lines (coming briefly to point, line 313) that the wife agrees with the monk that the monk could have sex with her all night in exchange for the sum of hundred francs. The merchant's wife consents and they have sex all night happily (lines 317-318). It appears that the merchant's wife enjoys sex with the monk as she has declared earlier that she has no lust for her husband. Maybe the merchant spends too much time doing his business and accounting his cash books. Next morning the monks goes to his abbey or wherever he wished to go (lines 323-324).

The merchant returns from his business trip and meets John who tells him that he has repaid the loan of one hundred francs to the merchant's wife (line 357). The merchant goes home and finds his wife at the gate. The two have a happy night in bed. Finally the merchant tells his wife that he is a little angry (line 383) because she has not told him that she has received money from a debtor, in this case the monk. The merchant explains that he wants to avoid asking a debtor for repayment if the repayment has already been done (line 395-399).

The merchant's wife admits that she has received money from the monk. She argues that she may keep the gold to do with it as she pleases. In return she will give her husband her body. "I will not pay you, except in bed" (line 424). The merchant concludes that he has to agree (line 427). He forgives his wife but also asks his wife to "conserve our wealth hereafter" (line 432). Thus ends the Shipman his tale.

The Host compliments the Shipman and curses the monk who has tricked both the merchant and his wife. "Invite no more monks to your house or inn" the Host advises (line 442). The Host asks the Prioress to tell the next tale. "Gladly," she says (line 452).

The Shipman has kept his promise to refrain from quoting ancient writers and philosphers. He appeals to logic and common sense. To put it in a nutshell, the interchangeability and exchangeability of sex and money are emphatically elaborated in The Shipman's Tale. Just like in The Wife of Bath's Tale, money, sex, women and wives are interconnected closely. A woman can exchange sex for money. So what? The merchant's wife has had enjoyable sex with both the monk and her husband and also gained one hundred francs. The Wife of Bath clearly states that a woman's "bele chose" is a great bargaining object (line 453 of The Wife Of Bath's Tale). In medieval times women themselves were trade objects, like Constance in The Man of Law's Tale. Why should a woman not voluntarily profit from her own body and meanwhile have enjoyable sex? Ask the Parson for his opinion and he would probably say something like "because she would be sent to hell". Ok, lets all go to hell because that is the place where women are that have sex for their own pleasure. But before you go to hell you have a life on earth. Please your wife, give her enjoyable sex, don't spend all your time on your business and accounting your cash books and chase away suspicious monks and other religious professionals. Amen.

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