The Canterbury Tales


The Shipman's Tale

The Shipman’s tale does not have the same rich introductory material as the other tales. Instead, it begins with an interesting passage referring to “us,” which makes it seem like it would be told by a woman. There is some speculation that Chaucer originally intended the Shipman’s tale to be told by one of the female members of the group, most likely the Wife of Bath, but this is only speculation. However, unlike tales told by some of the other pilgrims, there is nothing in the introductory material to explain why the Shipman would tell this particular story to the group of pilgrims.

The Shipman’s tale focuses on a merchant from St. Denys. The merchant has a beautiful young wife. The merchant loves to entertain, and one of his good friends is a monk named Sir John. Sir John comes to visit the merchant at his home and sees that the merchant’s wife does not look well. He inquires about her health, and she promises to tell him what is wrong if he will keep her secret. He promises to do so, and she complains that the merchant does not support her adequately and asks him to borrow money for clothing. St. John promises to bring her the money when the merchant travels next, then pulls the wife to him and kisses her. That night, Sir John asks the merchant to borrow one hundred francs so that he can purchase cattle. The merchant lends the money to Sir John. Then the merchant leaves on his business trip and gives that same money to the merchant’s wife, after securing her agreement that she will have sex with him in exchange for the money. After returning home, the merchant visits Sir John at the abbey. Sir John tells him that he repaid his debt to the merchant’s wife. The merchant then chastises his wife for failing to tell him that Sir John had given her money to repay his debt. The wife explains that she has spent the money, but promises to repay the debt with sexual favors.

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Essays About The Canterbury Tales