The Merchant's Tale

From The Canterbury Tales


The merchant's tale highlights how women can be deceitful and unfaithful in marriage. It began with an elderly knight named January, who greatly desires to marry a woman to fulfill gods will. After being advised by his friends about womens' unfaithfulness, January still decides to marry a woman that he has met named May. Suddenly, one of January's attendants becomes ill and he sends his newly wedded wife to aid him.

While providing care for Damian, January's ill attendant, he slips May a love note and she confesses to having the same desires as him. January is suddenly stricken by blindness, and insists that May stay by his side. To avoid being caught, Damian and May devise a plan to have an affair in a pear tree. However this angers the god Pluto who plans to ruin their plan by granting sight to January at the perfect moment. Proserpina, Pluto's wife is on Mays side and grants her the ability to come up with an excuse as needed. So as May leads January into her secret garden, she asks him for help into the pear tree so that she can pick a pear that she describes as a very desirable fruit. But in the middle of their affair, Pluto gives January sight and he is able to see them having an affair, he is very angered at first but May is granted the ability to come up with a great excuse. May calms him down by saying that his eyes have deceived him and since he couldn't see for so long, his vision was distorted and showed him a warped reality

Background of The Merchant:

The Merchant is a part of the middle class and has a cynical view on marriage, he feels as if women are deceiving and unfaithful. He displays himself as wealthy, but is actually just really good at borrowing money and making it seem as if he is wealthy.


The moral of this tale is to forewarn men about committing to a marriage that could end up hurting them in the end, it makes a point that marriage should only happen if the couple shares trust, loyalty, and love. The story that the merchant told can offer some valuable information about him as a character, it reveals that the merchant has a marital bond with a woman that he does not love. He wishes for an exit plan but also hopes that he does not end up in a similar situation told in the story. The merchants distrust for women and their morals is exposed through the telling of this story.


In the tale, the god Pluto and goddess Proserpina were mentioned, and after further research we can see that Pluto was the god of the underworld and Proserpina was his wife. Plutos wife did not fully love him, he had kidnapped her and forced her to be his wife, and because of this she is deceitful with him. Her lies lead pluto to believe all women are guilty of being dishonest, which influenced him to plot to reveal May's plan to have an affair.

"Pluto." Pluto. Encyclopedia Mythica™. Web. 16 Dec. 2014. <>.

Helpful Vocabulary:

vexation- to be in a state of frustration or annoyance

eschew- to purposefully stop using

meekest- to be the most quiet or gentle

solicitude- to care for someone

merriment- fun, enjoyment

Essential Question:

1. What aspect of society is the merchant commenting on in his tale, how has this part of society affected the merchant?

2. How can January be related to Pluto?

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