Geoffrey Chaucer's The Shipman's Tale

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The structure and characters of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Shipman’s Tale warp the traditional in order to create a thriving network for exchange. Stylistically, this particular tale utilizes common conventions of the fabliau: sex, trickery, and poetic justice. That being said, The Shipman’s Tale is completely void of an overall moral message—a key element in the genre. Instead, there is a focus on the presence of male and female characters who work to fulfill an individual agenda, and on the “[exploration of] each other’s intentions in cloaked terms… [and the avoidance of] direct commitment” (Finlayson 342). Chaucer rejuvenates the fabliau’s structure, which allows the Merchant, his wife, and the Monk to each “assume the mercantile roles of borrower, lender, seller and purchaser of goods” without seriously harming their relationships (Finlayson 343). As a result, the meaning of the tale is not embedded in the fulfillment of norms of this genre, but in its displacement of these conventions by focus on the exchanges between the characters. John Finlayson points out that since “licit and illicit sex are paralleled with honest and dishonest trade… [The Shipman’s Tale] only recognizes the non-ideal world of suspended moral laws, lustful hedonism and deceit”, thus establishing the immoral series of events between the Monk, the Merchant, and his wife as an “acceptable reality” (349). This common ground between the three characters creates a community where the interchangeability of

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