The Shipman's Tale

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer


This is a story of a merchant, his wife, and a monk, who is a friend of the merchant and the wife's lover. The wife of the merchant confesses to the monk that she no longer loves her husband, and that she wishes to pay off her debts. The monk gets the idea to trick her by giving her the money she needs, but he would get the money from his friend the merchant. The merchant and the monk have been great friends for years, and the merchant gladly gives the loan to the monk.

The monk then pays the wife, in exchange for a night in bed with her; she accepts. The next morning, when the merchant returns, the monk informs him that he gave the loaned money to the merchant's wife. The monk promptly leaves town after this. When the merchant asks his wife for the money she 'received' from the monk, she says that she spent it on clothes, and that she would pay the money back to him, but in bed and not in cash.

Background Information

The Shipman is a very rough and intimidating person, who no person would want to get in a fight with. He is one of the few pilgrims who has traveled many places in his time. He is also very good at navigating and traveling the seas.

Moral of the Tale

This tale was possibly written originally for the Wife of Bath, due to the wording such as 'us' and 'we', but another story better suited the Wife of Bath, so this story was given to the Shipman. There are two morals of the story. This first is to never cheat on a spouse.

The second is to never be greedy, otherwise you could be punished.

This tale reveals that the Shipman is a very crude and not very chivalrous person. His crude sense of comedy is shown through the monk conning both the merchant and his wife without getting in trouble either way.

Researched Information

In the beginning paragraph of The Shipman's Tale, the pronouns used seemed to be pointing toward someone like a woman, which sounded weird coming from a Shipman, who is rough and tough. After doing some research, I found that this story was originally meant to be told by the Wife of Bath. After a better story was written for the Wife of Bath, the original story was given to the Shipman, but the beginning portion was not changed to match the Shipman's characteristics.

Vocabulary Words

1. Sumptuous: splendid and expensive looking

2. Abbot: a title given to the superior of a community of twelve or more monks

3. Monastic: of or relating to monks, nuns, or the buildings in which they live

4. Breviary: a liturgical book of the Latin liturgical rites of the Catholic Church

5. Wantonly: in a licentious and promiscuous manner

Essential Questions

1. How does the tale of the Shipman differ from the Miller's tale? What are the similarities?

2. How would the tale seem different if another pilgrim told the Shipman's tale?