Test Prep Material

Click Here




Canterbury Tales


Knights Tale
Millers Tale
Reeve's Tale
Cooks Tale
Man of Laws Tale
Wife of Baths Tale
The Friar's Tale
Summoners Tale
Clerk's Tale
Merchant's Tale
Squire's Tale
Franklin's Tale
Physician's Tale
Pardoner's Tale
Shipman's Tale
Prioress Tale
Tale of Sir Topas
Monks Tale
Nun's Priest's Tale
Second Nun's Tale
Canon Yeoman's Tale
Manciple's Tale
Parson's Sermon





This story is set in St. Denis, France, where there was once a rich Merchant whose wife was of unparalleled beauty. They lived in a sumptuous house which was always filled with guests.

On one occasion, they had as one of their guests a handsome young Monk who enjoyed the Merchant’s hospitality.  Through conversation the Merchant and the Monk discovered that they were born in the same town so they must be related and be cousins. The Merchant was thrilled at this prospect and they called one another brother. 

It was necessary for the Merchant to leave on business to Brussels, but before he left he locked himself up in his counting room in order to review his financial situation.

The Monk was taken with the Merchant’s wife’s beauty and took the opportunity, in the Merchant’s absence, to get to know her better.

The Monk noticed that she looked pale and wondered if perhaps her husband had kept her awake all night at play.  The wife protested and said that relations with her husband were not good, and she was close to taking her own life.  The Monk encouraged the wife to confide in him and she agreed to tell him concerning the marital neglect she suffered provided he kept it a secret.  The Monk takes the opportunity to tell the wife that he doesn’t regard himself as related to her husband.  The wife goes on to say that her husband does not give her any money and forces her to lead a frugal life. She begs the Monk to loan her some money so that she can buy some necessities for herself.  The Monk agrees to do this and then he kisses the wife passionately.

Before the Merchant departs to Brussels, the Monk asks for a loan from the Merchant of 100 francs.  The Merchant gladly agrees.

When the Merchant has gone, the Monk calls on the wife and gives her the money in exchange for a night in bed. 

On the Merchant’s return home, he stops at the Monk’s Abbey to see how he fares, not to collect the loan.  The Monk advises the Merchant that he repaid the money to his wife a few days after the Merchant had left for Brussels.

On returning home, the Merchant scolds his wife for not having told him that the loan had been repaid.  He notices that she has bought some fine clothes and forgives her the extravagance.


Chaucer launches another attack against the Ecclesiastical community by having the Shipman portray a Monk in a most unsavory light. The Monk breaks his vows with God and he shows himself as a manipulator by falsely claiming that he is related to the Merchant.  Not content with taking advantage of the wife’s desperate position regarding money, he betrays her confidence, and his actions risk her unfaithfulness being revealed.  He seems to profit from his liaison with the Merchant and his wife, and the joke is on them. 

There is a theory that Chaucer constructed the Tales first and then assigned them to the characters later.

If we look at lines 11 – 19, these relate to a woman’s point of view,

 “the unfortunate, husband at any rate, he must paye!

 he must us clothe and he must us arraye

 all for his owne worship, richly –

 in which array we dance jollily!”

In other words, husbands want their wives to be hardy, wise and good in bed.

Scholars suggest that this tale was originally allocated to the Wife of Bath, but then Chaucer changed his mind and decided that the Shipman (Pirate) should tell the tale, and forgot to eliminate these lines which are inconsistent.

The reader may wonder why the rich Merchant was quite happy to lend money to the Monk, but kept his wife short of money. The Monk actually holds a high position of power at this time, and is in fact Knighted, and called Sir John.  Therefore, the Merchant was clearly honored, firstly to be a relative, and then to be asked for a loan.

In contrast, the Merchant views his wife almost as a glorified servant, and sees no return in lavishing money on her to spend on frivolous behavior.


The Host calls upon the Prioress to tell a tale, and she starts by singing the praises of the Virgin Mary. 

 “O Lord, our Lord, thy name how marvelous

 is in this large world widespread,

 for not only thy praise precious

 performed is by men of dignitee,

 but by the mouth of children thy bountee

 performed is: for on the breast suckinge

 sometime shewn they thine heryinge (praise).”

Teacher Ratings: See what

others think

of your teachers

Copyright © 1996-
about us     privacy policy     terms of service     link to us     free stuff