The Merchant’s Tale & the Power of Vision

As per our usual 515 greeting – Hello my beautiful “Lords and Ladies, learned and lewed, and all those who reject or object to those stated binaries!”

I hope that everyone loved the CT’s as much as I did this week. I think they are three of Chaucer’s most entertaining, humorous tales (and I think we can all go for a little humour right about now), so I’m excited for class discussion on them tomorrow. I know this post is only supposed to be around 300 words, so I will stick to raising questions about the Merchant’s Tale, partly because it’s the freshest in my mind, but mostly because I think it has a lot we can work with.

Our main focus for this week is the notion of medieval perspective and vision/optics. The Merchant’s Tale of course plays heavily on vision, literally and metaphorically in the sense of a moral shortsightedness. I wonder what everyone thought of the morality within this play? Not only on Januarie and May’s parts, but on Pluto and Prosperina’s? They are gods, but they are behaving immorally by influencing nature in a way to favour either Januarie or May. Does this raise any questions about morality? What I think I’m getting at is how can May and Januarie be seen completely at fault for their moral short-sightedeness when the gods above are just as selfish and shortsighted?

Let’s also not forget the fact that Januarie chooses his wife based on her youthful looks, but this visual goodness doesn’t necessarily translate into moral goodness, as she sleeps with Damyan quite easily. And what do we make of her ability to completely dismiss his logical (rational) response (to seeing her have sex in a pear tree with another guy while standing on his back) by manipulating his vision with her words? What does this say about the hierarchy, or, relationship between speech and sight? Since this is all tied into producing a comedic effect, is Chaucer satirizing the senses and their abilities to be manipulated?

Likewise, can we tie this in to what Hector (and Mandeville) said last week about climates and how they influence people in certain geographical locations? Chaucer references astrology several times in the Tales & it seems to be that mythology, astrology, climates, and vision are all interconnected in Chaucer’s mind (or maybe just a medieval mind).

Ex: Why does Chaucer include the location of the astrological signs when describing their wedding day?

“The moone, that at noon was thilke day / That Januarie hath wedded fresshe May / In two of Tawr, was into Cancre glyden ” (Riverside, 1885-87).

Finally, did anyone else get the sense in The Miller’s Tale and The Merchant’s tale that the main female characters were being described in horse-like terms? I definitely sensed some zoomorphism there..