|TITLE:||DOMESTIC OPPORTUNITIES: THE SOCIAL COMEDY OF THE "SHIPMAN'S TALE"|
|SOURCE:||The Chaucer Review 41 no2 138-62 2006|
The Shipman's Tale and its comic equation of sex and money have long been read as a commentary on the late medieval merchant. Gardiner Stillwell and Albert H. Silverman saw the Tale as "a satire upon the merchant's serious, sober, business-like manner of living."(FN1) V. J. Scattergood thought that it is pervaded by a mercantile ethos, which is being exposed as limited and worldly. Others have taken the view that it portrays the merchant's business practices as dubious and the impact of commerce on individual souls as damagingly sinful.(FN2) At the same time the Shipman Tales depiction of late medieval bourgeois life and mercantile practices has been praised for its realism and made the subject of detailed economic analysis.(FN3) Although such analyses often recognize the merchant's wife as the most interesting character in the tale, much less attention has been paid to her situation--either as it functions within the narrative or insofar as it reflects the Tales historical context.(FN4)
The closest analogues to the Shipman's Tale, Boccaccio's Decameron 8.1 and Sercambi's Novella 19, end with the adulterous wife tricked out of payment for sex by her lover's double-dealings, humiliated by him in her own home in front of her husband and servants, and morally condemned in the bargain.(FN5) Chaucer, by contrast, allows the wife to keep the money, avoid all exposure, and finish the tale happy and uncensured. Moreover, he transforms the story from one about a lover's plan to dupe the avaricious object of his desire (where the focus, and our sympathy, is with the male lover) into one about a housewife's endeavors to pay her dress bill without arousing her husband's annoyance.
This transformation means that the Shipman's Tale is distinctively focused on the wife's domestic situation and the opportunities it provides. The wife successfully uses her various roles as a bourgeois housewife to persuade the monk to lend her money, have sex with him without being found out, and finally keep the money for herself. Although these stratagems have been little noted by critics who see the main source of comedy in the Shipman's Taleas punning language, much of the tale's comedy is created by the wife's clever manipulation of her roles: as hostess, social networker, housekeeper, business assistant, and status symbol. These roles appear to reflect late medieval expectations of wives and wives' real behavioral practices, as evidenced by late medieval advice literature for wives and by letter collections. Moreover, the financial arrangements between the merchant and the wife, which are crucial to the comic denouement in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale, differ from those in the analogues but are apparently similar to those of historical married couples in late medieval England. I intend therefore to argue in this article that the Shipman's Tale is a social comedy about a bourgeois wife's roles, and that that comedy is generated from contemporary social practices and expectations. In the course of my argument, I hope also to shed some light on why the word cosyn is repeated so frequently in the Tale; why the lover is a monk, when monk-lovers do not appear in the analogues or in almost any other fabliau; and why there is a child in the garden scene.
The Wife's Roles: Hostess
The merchant's wife is introduced in the third and fourth lines of the Shipman's Tale as follows:
A wyf he hadde of excellent beautee; And compaignable and revelous was she.
The entertaining, sociable side of the wife's personality is central to her presentation, and from the very outset there is a suggestion that these qualities may tip over into the illicit: compaignable and revelous could mean mere conviviality, or, in this context, juxtaposed with her beauty, could be euphemisms for promiscuity.(FN7) In the Tale's opening lines this aspect of the wife is presented as an expensive inconvenience for her husband--"wo is hym that payen moot for all" (VII 10)--and it is followed by the suggestion that if the husband will not pay for her clothes, someone else will. However, in the course of the tale it becomes clear that, in fact, the wife's sociability amounts to a function that her husband relies on her to perform. When lecturing her on the business of merchants, he comments: "We may wel make chiere and good visage" (VII230), describing a front of hospitality and cheerfulness that must be put on no matter how badly business is going. By the time of this speech, he has already put this principle into practice by inviting the monk over to come and "pleye / With hym and with his wyf a day or tweye" (VII 59-60). After the two days he specifies are up, he turns the responsibility for the monk's entertainment over to his wife and returns to work.
The need for a wife to act as social hostess and provider of food and drink is described in detail in several late medieval advice books for women. In her Livre des trois vertus (ca. 1405), Christine de Pizan gives two relevant pieces of advice on this to the bourgeois wife: if her husband invites people to dine at their home, she must, if needs be, "aler en la cuisine et ordonner comment ilz seront servis" (go into the kitchen and supervise the serving of the food). She also advises on the importance of courteously welcoming her husband's friends and acquaintances.(FN8) LeMenagier de Paris, written in about 1394 by a Parisian man for his young wife, devotes the second of its three distinctions to household management, and it is concerned to give her training in composing appropriate dinner menus. This guidance ranges from dinners for more than thirty guests to suppers for when people turn up unexpectedly.(FN9) The author explains that one of the aims behind this distinction is that it will help her to "acquerir amis" (acquire friends), emphasizing the social function of this kind of hospitality. He goes on to devote the third distinction to entertainments such as parlor games, so that his wife can act in what Chaucer might have called a compaignable manner--"pour avoir contenance et maniere de parler et tenir compaignie aux gens" (in order to know how to behave and talk and keep company with people).(FN10) In both cases, the advice is addressed to a bourgeois audience, and Sylvia Thrupp suggests that a love of good food and drink, a reputation for hospitality, and the practice of entertaining important guests with long dinners and wine were characteristic of medieval merchants.(FN11) There is less detail on this wifely responsibility in English advice literature and letters, although the fifteenth-century Plumpton family letters include a request by Sir Robert to his wife Agnes to organize a homecoming dinner that will involve "vi muttons."(FN12)
The expectation of the Shipman's Tale merchant that his wife will look after their guest appears, then, to be conventional. But the wife takes advantage of this expectation to approach the monk for her personal gain. This action contrasts with the way the narrative unfolds in the analogues, where the male lover initiates contact, from a distance and through an intermediary. When the merchant's wife goes to greet the monk in the garden, she is described as a "goode wyf" (VII 92), which here must primarily mean 'the mistress of the household' (MED meaning (b)), and which helps to identify the role she is exploiting.(FN13) As the hostess, she has a certain right of initiative, and her hospitable inquiry after her guest's welfare is the starting point for an increasingly personal exchange. As Peter Nicholson has suggested, the way this exchange proceeds, from initial politeness to declarations of mutual love, derives some of its direction from guest and hostess feeling obliged to be elaborately flattering and friendly to one another in fulfilling those roles.(FN14)
Once this conversation ends, the wife immediately returns to her hostess role, arranging for a meal to be served before going to see her husband. She reminds him of their obligations to their guest:
"Ne be ye nat ashamed that daun John Shal fasting al this day alenge goon?"
This speech seems to be designed to justify the time the wife has spent with the monk, placing it in the context of the proper behavior of a hostess and reminding the merchant of the social honor and status vested in hospitality. She uses the same tactic at the end of the tale, when she professes to believe that the money the monk gave her was to repay the "bqele cheere" (VII 409) that he has enjoyed at their house. That is, the wife uses her role as hostess to provide a pretext for her interaction with the monk that her husband thoroughly approves and, indeed, requires of her. This differentiates her situation completely from that of her counterparts in Boccaccio and Sercambi (although it provides an interesting parallel with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight).(FN15) In the analogues there is no legitimate reason for wife and lover to be in touch from the outset. Only in the Shipman's Tale does the adultery occur within a context of social contact that the husband demands.
A second, linked expectation of the medieval wife is that she will befriend her husband's friends. In the Shipman's Tale, the monk is not just a guest; he is "famulier" (VII 31) in the merchant's house because the two men, who come from the same village, are sworn brothers "knyt with eterne alliaunce" (VII 40) and call each other cousins.(FN16) Although in Boccaccio's analogous narrative the husband and lover are "on the most friendly and familiar of terms," the friendship is by no means as central to the story there.(FN17) The lover's popularity with local moneylenders is mentioned before the relationship between husband and lover, giving their "friendly terms" a commercial coloring, and, when the lover does borrow from the merchant, it is done in a businesslike way, with the lover offering to pay "the same rate of interest as usual."(FN18) In Sercambi's version, there is no mention of friendship at all.(FN19) In contrast, in Chaucer's version, the friendly relationship between the three protagonists is central to the development of the narrative.
The expectation that a wife should befriend her husband's friends and family is mentioned in the Livre des trois vertus, Le Menagier de Paris, and The Book of the Knight of the Tower. Christine de Pizan says that the woman advised by Prudence
aimera et honnourera les parens de son seigneur . . . leur fera honneur et tres bonne chiere de toutes pars que ilz venront. . . mettra peine en toutes mainieres raisonables et licites de les complaire et faire leur gré, et les attraira amiablement.
will love and honor the relatives of her husband ... honor them and make them all very welcome when they come to visit... will try in all reasonable and lawful ways to please them and be obliging to them, and will win them over amiably.
This advice should apply, Christine says, not only to her husband's relatives, but to all those he loves.(FN20) The Book of the Knight of the Tower (Caxton's 1484 translation of the ca. 1371 Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry) cites the example of Ruth in support of the view that "alle good wymmen ought to serue and bere worship to the frendes and parentes of theyre lordes," partly so that their husband's friends will help them in times of need.(FN21) Le Menagier de Paris takes a slightly harder line: the wife should be "extremely loving and intimate towards your husband above all other living creatures, moderately loving and intimate towards your good and close blood relatives and the blood relatives of your husband, and extremely distant towards all other men."(FN22) In the view of this text, the wife's initial friendliness to the monk would only be justified if he were an actual relative of her husband.
This advice surely sheds some light on why the wife initially addresses the monk as "deere cosyn myn" (VII 98), and he reciprocates by calling her "[n]ece" (VII 100). Their familial relationship gives them an additional pretext for a conversation. The wife uses "cosynage" (VII 409) as part of her explanation, to her husband, of why she thought the monk's money was intended for her. However, during their conversation, the monk disavows any actual blood relationship. Yet they continue to speak as if there is a respectable basis for their relationship, and the wife continues to call the monk "cosyn." What is going on here?
An explanation seems to be provided by the evidence of historical relationships between monks and their contacts in the merchant and gentry worlds. From the point of view of the Shipman's Tale merchant, the two men are lifelong friends. At the same time, the monk is an important social contact who needs to be cultivated for more practical reasons. The fact that he brings gifts of money, food, and drink into the household (VII 43-51, 70-72) is, perhaps, one reason why the wife should help to cultivate him, but, as William F Woods and George R. Keiser argue, it may be more important that he is a socially satisfying, high-status connection.(FN23) As Thrupp explains, there was a social cachet for merchants in associations with monks, since "monastic society was exclusive [and] its benefactors for the most part belonged to the world of aristocratic wealth."(FN24) (That the monk is generally referred to as "daun John," daun being a term that can be used either of a lord or of a religious dignitary, perhaps suggests that it is the high status he has, rather than his religious order specifically, that matters to the characters of the tale.) Having the monk as friend and houseguest enhances the merchant's status and is presumably one reason why the lover in this tale is a monk and not a simple parish priest, as the lover figure so often is in the French fabliaux.(FN25)
Thrupp finds that monastic/mercantile connections were common in late medieval London: there were many business dealings between the two groups, including moneylending by the merchant (often written off as a donation if unpaid at the merchant's death); merchants appear to have encouraged monks in leading a comfortable life through gifts such as feather beds; and, in at least one fourteenth-century letter-writing manual (London, British Library MS Harley 3988, fol. 53r), there is an expectation that such relationships will be expressed as friendship--the model letter has a prior address a merchant as his "tres chier & graunt amy."(FN26) There is also considerable evidence of social and practical connections with monks in the Paston letters. For example, in Paston letter 93, William Paston II writes to Margaret that the Prior of Bromholm is asking for a loan of £20 and suggests that it should be made because he is a relative of William's nephew, because he "hath and may doo for you" (i.e., the prior may provide practical assistance) and because "it were a gode frendely dede."(FN27) Elsewhere in the letters, as H. S. Bennett shows, John Paston dines with the abbot of St. Benet's (who describes himself as "youre good frend") in order to arrange a successor to the living of Stokesby to their mutual satisfaction.(FN28) In return, John Paston helps with financial gifts.
Philippa Maddern argues that this kind of friendship, which combined real affection with an expectation of practical mutual help, was typical of the late medieval gentry, and it is no great leap to extend this to the grander merchant families.(FN29) The letter collections are full of requests for financial or other practical help coupled with reminders of either friendship or kinship, or both. For example, in Stonor letter 92, John Croocker writes to Thomas Stonor, beginning as follows:
Ryght worshipful cosyn and frende, I commawnde me unto you. The cause that y write unto you at this tyme ys to pray you for to do for me in Pat I woll desire you as ever ye will that y shall do for you.(FN30)
In Paston letter 457, Sir John Fastolf writes to John Paston I and others, greeting them as "ryght trusty and welbelovyd cosyn and frendys" and asking them to "spare for no reasonable cost to ley owt" so that he may win his court case.(FN31) An interesting variation on this is Paston letter 44. Here, John Paston I drafts a letter about a grievance he has suffered to the Sheriff of Norfolk, addressing him as "ryth worchepfull ser and cosyn." This address helps to couch his letter in less formal and deferential terms than his earlier drafts, numbers 42 and 43, which he begins in turn "Reuerent and right wurchepfull ser" (the first two words inserted as an afterthought) and "Reuerent and ryth worsepfull ser and my god master."(FN32) In his final version, rather than relying on the obligations of a lord to his servants, he is trying to suggest another kind of obligation to the Sheriff.
Although the merchant in the Shipman's Tale is worried that he has offended the monk by seeming to drop hints about his unpaid debt, it is evident that it would not normally have seemed insensitive (contra Keiser) to discuss finances with a friend;(FN33) nor is it inappropriate for the wife to ask her friend and cousin the monk for a loan. The characters in the Shipman's Tale are seemingly typical in maintaining social networks partly for the practical benefits these might bring--which is not to deny that Chaucer may be satirizing such friendships and the extent to which they may have strayed into mutual exploitation.(FN34)
This brings us back to the repeated use of the word cosyn in the Shipman's Tale. Before the wife asks the monk to lend her money, she calls him cosyn three times. David H. Abraham notes that cousin and related words occur sixteen times in the tale but only eight times in all the rest of the Canterbury Tales, and it has been argued that this strong emphasis on the word demands that we read it as a pun on the word cozen, meaning 'cheat' or 'prostitute' or both.(FN35) However, the evidence that this pun would have worked is at best shaky and has been discredited by Richard Firth Green.(FN36) An alternative explanation is called for, and the most convincing is that briefly mentioned by Scattergood: that the cousin relationship entails a mutual obligation of the kind I outlined above.(FN37) The wife's use of the word cosyn seems to be a way of encouraging the monk to recall their bond and their mutual obligations, and, indeed, when it is later echoed by her husband at VII 257-64, it opens the door for the monk to ask him in turn for a loan.
Maddern has shown that in this period no clear distinction was made between kinship and friendship.(FN38) The MED states that fifteenth-century use of the word cousin need not be restricted to a relationship through parents who are siblings, but may be applied to 'any relative by blood or by marriage.' The letter-collection evidence shows that in practice it is an even more versatile term than that. In the Stonor letters, for example, the word cousin is used by relatives by marriage: a man uses it in writing to his brother-in-law (letter 123), and husbands and wives (letters 91, 196, 168-170, etc.) and fiancés (letters 166, 216, 217) use it to one another. But it is also used by male friends (letters 102, 141, 144) and by women writing to men who do not appear to be relatives (letters 125, 127, 186). Letter 116, from Richard Quatermayns to Thomas Stonor, repeats the word cousin with even more notable frequency than the Shipman's Tale. It is possible that in some of these cases there were real blood relationships that have not been discovered, but it seems more likely that the term is intended to convey a vague sense of an affectionate, familial, and interdependent bond.(FN39) Although the speeches of the wife in the Shipman's Tale predate these fifteenth-century letters, she seems to be trying to achieve the same effect.
Ultimately, however, the wife finds these claims insufficient. The monk is determined to deny their cousinly bond (presumably partly because if interpreted literally it would create an extra impediment to the sexual part of their arrangement). And it is hard for the wife to depend on mere friendship if she cannot claim any familial context. As Maddern further argues, friendship without kinship appears to be essentially a male/male concept in the late medieval period, and the only women to claim friendship with men in the Paston letters, for example, are the enormously socially elevated duchesses of Norfolk and Suffolk.(FN40) The wife therefore ends up in the awkward situation of pleading with the monk to help her, trying to invoke his pity and promising her service to him, which, as has been noted, is a rather odd inversion of the usual courtly love relationship.(FN41) Nonetheless, the cousinly friendship role that the wife is expected to play has done its work in providing a useful secondary reason for the wife and monk's conversation, and the monk appears to rely on it as a front for his contact with the wife in his final conversation with the merchant: "Grete wel oure dame, myn owene nece sweete" (VII 363), he says, before disappearing from the tale.
The wife and monk's duping of the household servants--"noon of hem . . . / Hath of daun John right no suspecioun" (VII 321-22)--is partly possible because they are all so pleased to see Daun John, who is a convivial presence in the house and brings money. However, another factor must be the wife's obvious authority over the household. In the analogues the wife is undone by her lover's companion, who witnesses the handover of money and testifies (in Sercambi's version) or is ready to testify (in Boccaccio's) to her husband that she has received it. In Chaucer's version the wife is an altogether more authoritative figure within her own house, and the idea of anyone undermining her there seems most unlikely.
This impression is created from the time when she first enters the poem:
A mayde child cam in hire compaignye, Which as hir list she may governe and gye, For yet under the yerde was the mayde.
Various explanations have been offered for the child's presence. Peter G. Beidler has argued that she is the merchant and his wife's daughter, whereas Scattergood and Derek Pearsall suggest that she is someone else's daughter, a junior servant in their household.(FN42) The latter seems more likely, however, because it offers a better demonstration of the wife's ability to "governe" and "gye." Supervising the servants and other members of the household is, as the advice literature reminds us, a key part of the wife's role. The mid-fourteenth-century Middle English advice poem The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter expresses it as follows:
Wisliche loke Pou pin hous and Pin meine: To bitere no to bonere with hem ne schalt Pou be. Loke what note is most nede to done, And sete hem Perto bope rathe and sone.
Le Menagier de Paris devotes the third article of its second distinction to hiring and giving orders to servants, and Christine de Pizan also sees it as part of the role of a bourgeois wife to "estre dessus et s'en prendre souvent garde" (be in charge and keeping watch) over the household, reprimanding her servants and threatening to dismiss them if they go astray.(FN44)
The child's second function is to act as a chaperone, preserving an unwarranted air of propriety during the encounter (and, artistically, creating the comedy of adultery being arranged politely and euphemistically).(FN45) That a servant could be deployed as pretend chaperone by her mistress is clear from Christine de Pizan's warning to ladies' maids that it is wrong to assist their mistresses' adultery, and her later warning to all women against attending
assemblees faictes en jardins ne en aultres lieux par prelaz ou par seigneurs ou aultres, faictes soubs quelque ombre ou couverture de festier gens, et que ce soit pour autre machinacion de quelque broillerie.
gatherings made in gardens or in other places by prelates or lords or other people, on the pretext of entertaining a group of people, when it may be for a scheme for some assignation.(FN46)
Even more directly, it is clear from The Thewis off Cud Women's recommendation that a woman should "Ga nocht alane in hir errand: / Tak child ore maidinge in hir hand" (131-32), that, if a housewife has charge of children, she can use them to serve the function of chaperone that the merchant's wife succeeds in exploiting.(FN47)
Our impression of the wife as someone with power is bolstered by her next demonstration of domestic authority. On leaving the monk, she first
bad the cookes that they sholde hem hye,
So that men myghte dyne, and that anon.
Her rather peremptory tone helps to show that she is in charge. Having given her order, she bustles off:
Up to hir housbonde is this wyf ygon,
And knokketh at his contour boldely.
"Quy la?" quod he. "Peter! it am I,"
Quod she; "What, sire, howe longe wol ye faste?
What, lat us here a messe, and go we dyne."
(VII 212-15, 223)
There is nothing at all similar in the analogues, but here the wife impresses as someone who is in command of those around her and is not afraid to confront her husband (whom she successfully bends to her will) in her role as housewife. In doing so, she appears to reflect the behavior of real housewives such as Margaret Paston, whose son John III describes her apparently unironically as master in Paston letter 324 and who uses her letters to give orders about the deployment of servants and the making of accounts (for example, in letter 187).(FN48) Within the household, the wife is in control, and some historians argue that this would have been even more true for a city-dwelling merchant's wife.(FN49) Moreover, Christine de Pizan recommends that women should aim to be
tant craintte et redoubtee par le sage gouvernement que on lui verra tenir, que nul ne nulle n'osera aucunement desobeir a ses commandemens ne lever l'ueil senestrement ne mal a ce point,
so feared and respected because of the wise management that she will be seen to practice that no man or woman will be so foolhardy as to disobey her commands in any respect or to question her will,
and that if any servants speak out of turn about improper behavior, she should find some excuse to dismiss them.(FN50) Chaucer's merchant's wife surely has the recommended authority over her servants, and this probably goes hand in hand with instilling in them fear of the consequences of disobedience.
The wife's authority extends to general management of the household and its properties, as her husband reminds her before he departs for Flanders. In his absence, he wants her to:
"be to every wight buxom and meke,
And for to kepe oure good be curious,
And honestly governe wel oure hous."
This idea that a wife should manage the household property is referred to in Le Menagier de Paris: part of the aim of the second distinction is to help her to "le prouffit du mesnaige acroistre."(FN51) It is also discussed by Christine de Pizan, who sees it as the wife's duty to manage resources, "ordonner et dispenser par bonne discrecion et ordre convenable."(FN52)
But the wife exploits yet another contemporary expectation when she receives Daun John in her husband's absence. It seems to have been a late medieval commonplace that a wife left in charge of affairs on her own would need some assistance from a male friend. So, Cely letter 6 has Thomas Kesten asking George Cely to help his wife with a lawsuit over debt, and John Paston I relies on men of his household and acquaintance to help his wife Margaret.(FN53) In letter 72 he writes (expressing Margaret's responsibilities in terms reminiscent of the merchant):
I praye yow see to the god gouernaunce of my housold and guyd-yng of other thynges touching my profite, and oat ye, with Daubeney and Richard Calle and with other such of my frendes and seruauntes as can avise yow aftir the mater requirith, wekely take a sad communicacion of such thynges as be for to do ... takyng avise of the master and of the viker and Ser Jamis.(FN54)
"Ser Jamis" is Sir James Gloys, the household chaplain. While John Paston was alive, he relied on him not simply in religious matters but for practical tasks like letting lands, and, as this letter shows, to advise Margaret in his absence. After John's death, Sir James became, as Bennett puts it, Margaret's "chief friend" in her widowhood and stirred up a great deal of trouble between her and the rest of the family.(FN55) The tone of Margaret's letters to Sir James is very familiar--for example, in letter 220, she comments "ye haue lyghtyd myne hert... by a pound"--a phrase that, as Colin Richmond notes, she never uses to her husband or son--and she ends by asking him to come to her "thowe ye schuld com opon one day and goo ayane on þe next day."(FN56) As Richmond comments, the implication seems to be that she is missing him.(FN57) Of course, there is a difference between a household chaplain and a monk. But perhaps Margaret's apparently respectable reliance on and intimacy with Gloys offers a broad context for the apparent respectability of the merchant's wife's reliance on and intimacy with a monk who visits her household at her husband's instigation.
The merchant's wife seems to be expected to enhance his status in two ways: by displaying his wealth and by creating an atmosphere of respectable, thrifty propriety. Unlike her counterparts in the analogues, who involve other people in arranging their adultery--the wife in Sercambi's novella is even, we are told, known around town for her infidelity to her husband(FN58)--the merchant's wife takes pains to meet social expectations. This means that she gets what she wants without being found out or dishonored.
Above I quoted the passage where the merchant asks his wife to look after the household "honestly" in his absence. As William Empson showed in The Structure of Complex Words, for Chaucer honest means 'deserving and receiving social honor,' and also carries a sense of chastity.(FN59) So, although the primary sense here must be the broad one of a household that is worthy of social honor, there is probably a secondary, punning, sense that the merchant wants his wife to behave chastely in his absence.(FN60) He goes on to remind her:
"Thou hast ynough, in every maner wise, That to a thrifty houshold may suffise."
The "thrifty houshold" that he wants her to run has, as Peggy A. Knapp has shown, a complex range of related meanings. Thrifty can mean 'thriving' or prosperous, but is also at Chaucer's period coming to have a sense of frugality with resources: thus, the merchant probably means that the household should seem both financially successful and not unduly extravagant.(FN61) Both Thrupp's research and the testimony of The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter--which argues that extravagant spending is shameful and contrary to "þrift" (lines 107-12)--suggest that an appearance of frugality was a widespread mercantile/bourgeois aspiration.(FN62) At the same time, Knapp shows that thrifty has a more general sense of propriety--for example, in the Book of the Knight of the Tower, unthrifty usually means 'unchaste.'(FN63) Thus the connotations of honestly and thrifty together remind us that the merchant presumably wants his wife to keep as tight a hold on her chastity as on the purse strings.
Whether this is what he intends to convey or a meaning that only the audience picks up is left ambiguous.(FN64) We are left, in any event, with a double dramatic irony: the audience knows that the wife is both in debt, and thus not thrifty, and planning adultery, and thus unchaste. Nevertheless, although the wife's behavior, if recognized, would destroy her social reputation, she goes out of her way to ensure that she preserves the honor of the house.
She tells the monk that she has incurred a debt of one hundred franks from her spending on clothes, which must be repaid:
"Yet me were levere that I were unborn Than me were doon a sclaundre or vileynye; And if myn housbonde eek it myghte espye, I nere but lost."
She is determined that her inability to settle her account should not get out, and this respectable determination leads to her deal with the monk, who swears complete discretion (VII 129-33) before she reveals anything.(FN65)
I have already noted that the wife uses the child to ensure a degree of propriety when she approaches the monk. Another sign that she is concerned to create an aura of respectability is her choice of venue and lover/moneylender. She approaches the monk in her own garden (itself a status symbol), rather than gadding about town and speaking to men she meets there, which is something that the Livre des trois vertus, The Good Wyfe Wold a Pylgremage, The Thewis off Gud Women, and The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter all variously warn against. She does not accost him in a private chamber of the house--a practice that Christine de Pizan deplores. Indeed, Christine particularly recommends conducting business with people in the garden, presumably because that environment allows a degree of privacy without attracting scandal.(FN66) Moreover, the monk's clerical status makes him a confidant whom she can respectably speak to alone and whom she can rely on not to betray her. While the monk may not strictly function as confessor, his oath on his "portehors" (VII 131) provides an equivalent guarantee of secrecy. Christine de Pizan recommends cultivating the friendship of "gent de belle et eslue vie en devocion" (people of good and upright lives who are devoted to God) and speaking to them confidentially. Likewise, chapter 94 of the Book of the Knight of the Tower is dedicated to teaching the Knight's daughters "how it is good to aquentye hym self with holy men," with the example of a good woman who invited the prophet Helyseus to stay with her and her husband, and complained to him about her childlessness. However, against this type of advice it is worth noting that The Thewis off Gud Women considers being too much alone with any men inadvisable, "all be thai neuirmar sa worthi."(FN67)
If the cultivation of an air of propriety is what allows the wife to get away with her infidelity, she avoids paying back the money by presenting her spending as necessary for her husband's status. A wife's desire to array herself "richely" is glossed throughout as something that honors her husband: "[a]l for his owene worshipe" (VII 13) is how the narrator puts it at the tale's opening.(FN68) The wife tells the monk she is arraying herself "[f] or his [the merchant's] honour" (VII 179) and finally, when explaining where the monk's money has gone, tells her husband:
"I have on myn array,
And nat on wast, bestowed every deel
For youre honour."
(VII 418-19, 421)
Whether anyone finds her protestations of honoring him rather than pleasing herself convincing is beside the point. The wife's excuse for her expenditure--that she is showing off her husband's wealth as a walking advertisement, making him seem successful and, furthermore, credit-worthy--makes it acceptable for the monk to lend her money in the first place and creates more of a pressure on the merchant to forgive her expenditure.(FN69) It is perhaps difficult to imagine that this monk would have had any moral qualms about lending the wife money whatever she needed it for, but the advice literature is clear that dressing to reflect one's husband's rank is acceptable, while immoderate love of dress for its own sake is not. The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter advises that bourgeois women should not dress to "cuntrefete no leuedi, as Pi lord were a king" (100), bringing out the idea that dress should reflect one's husband's status. The Booh of the Knight of the Tower harps on about the sin of women who wear nice clothes out of vanity and worldliness and to attract men's praise (chapters 20, 25-7, 30, etc.) but in chapter 103 a virtuous niece is rewarded for her devotion to her uncle with two furred gowns, and she tells her uncle: "I haue arrayed and coynted me for to serue yow more honestly."(FN70) And, in the Livre des trois vertus, Christine advises that merchants' wives may wear clothes in accordance with their station that are "beaulx, riches et honnestes."(FN71) When appropriately related to the status of the men of her household, a woman's elaborate clothing is perfectly acceptable.(FN72) This gives the wife's expenditure a respectable context.
More importantly, whereas her counterparts in the analogues are censured for their avarice and have to return the money, Chaucer's wife never seems avaricious and cannot return the money: the fact that she has already spent the money on a material signifier of her husband's status ensures this.
The merchant's wife leaves him in no doubt of her view of his business, interrupting his accounting with: "The devel have part on alle swiche rekenynges!" (VII 218). Although this has struck some readers as her moral outrage at his avarice, Jill Mann's reading of it as consciously feminine impatience with a business that, as the merchant tells her, she little understands (VII 224-25) seems more convincing.(FN73) Nonetheless, he expects her to have some involvement with it, at least to the extent of taking payment of debts in his absence and keeping track of these for him (VII 396-99). The wife's apparent inability to do this properly is, of course, really the result of the monk duping her and her husband, lending her the merchant's money, then claiming to have repaid the loan via his wife. But her alibi is her business incompetence: she claims not to have properly understood what was going on when the monk gave her the money, and her outrage at having been duped is disguised as outrage that the monk could have been involving her in business when she had thought to have received a courteous tribute (VII 404-10). This works well because it is plausible. None of the advice literature recommends that merchants' wives should involve themselves in their husband's business--not even the Livre des trois vertus. Indeed, the evidence of the letter collections suggests that although merchant and gentry wives did become involved in their husbands' business affairs, they were reluctant to do so, and worried about going wrong.
Both Cely and Paston wives received payment of debts and rents in their husbands' absence. The Celys do not discuss this in their surviving letters, but, by examining their accounts, Alison Hanham has shown that on November 1486 Margery Cely received a payment of £10 on behalf of George, who was away in Calais.(FN74) In Paston letter 146, Margaret writes to John that she has received partial repayment of a debt (36s. 7d.) from a man who will pay the rest of the money at Whitsun; in letter 149, she reports that Brackley (a friar) has repaid his debt to John to her; but as far as the rents are concerned, she is bound to tell him, in letter 144, that "as for mony, it cometh slauly jn."(FN75)
However, Margaret's involvement with her husband's business is only partial and not always successful. Brackley may have been happy to give her money for John, but when she reports another visit of his in an earlier letter, 145, it is to say that although he called round and she spoke with him he would not tell her his business in John's absence. In letter 56, John tells her: "I requer yow be of god cumffoort and be not heuy if ye wil do owth for me" after instructing her to make inquiries about various business-related matters. The strong implication is that he fears she will be resistant to carrying out such tasks. And, in letter 148, her apology for having displeased him through her "symplenesse" perhaps implies ignorance of business matters she has not been trained in.(FN76) Similarly, in Stonor letter 70, Jane Stonor tells her husband Thomas that she has received a privy seal on his behalf "sore akeyn my wyll"--she had wanted to delay its delivery until he returned; and in letter 295, Robert Bardesey writes to Sir William Stonor on behalf of William Abell's wife, who wants to recover a debt William owes to her sick husband but has asked Robert to intervene.(FN77) In each case, the wives are both involved in their husband's affairs and somewhat uneasy about the involvement. This reluctant involvement appears to be the position the merchant's wife is trying to emulate, and it puts her in a different position from the wives in the analogues. Boccaccio and Sercambi's women appear to have less to do with the business: there, when the lover spells out to the wife what the money he is giving her is for, this seems a perfectly normal thing for him to have to do.(FN78) These wives' only defence, then, is to claim not to have got round to mentioning the money to their husbands, whereas Chaucer's wife is entangled enough in the merchant's business to claim confusion and win the day.
Finally, the plot of Chaucer's Shipman's Tale depends on a particular kind of financial arrangement between husband and wife. In the analogues the arrangement with the lover is that he will pay her in exchange for sex. There is nothing remotely ambiguous about this arrangement, and when the husband discovers that the lover has given his wife the money he lent him, she has no option but to return it. It does not occur to the wife in these texts that there would be any justification for claiming the money as her own. However, in the Slipman's Tale, the transaction is expressed differently. The wife borrows money from the monk to pay a debt she has incurred previously: something that suggests she has a degree of financial autonomy that allows her to obtain loans and spend money according to her own discretion.(FN79) The fact that she has some control over her own finances is recognized by the merchant, who (in the reading adopted in The Riverside Chaucer) tells her to "[k]eep bet thy good" (VII 432; my emphasis).(FN80) However, it seems that their finances are also partly joint: before he leaves for Bruges, the merchant asks her to "kepe oure good" (VII 243; my emphasis), and implies that he has provided her with some kind of household allowance: "Of silver in thy purs shaltow nat faille" (VII 248). The fact that he gives her an allowance does not necessitate the view that the wife has no way of securing any control over money except by prostituting herself, as Martha Howell has claimed.(FN81) Rather, it may reflect an arrangement like that expressed by Christine de Pizan, discussed above: that, whether it is acquired by labor, business, or income, it is "l'office de l'omme d'acquerre et faire venir ens les provisions," and "la femme les doit ordonner et dispenser par bonne discrecion et ordre convenable."(FN82) The man's role is to bring the money in, and the wife's to organize it subsequently---at least as far as the household is concerned.
This model of joint finances is to some extent corroborated by the letter collections. Joel T. Rosenthal sees Margaret Paston's letters as offering evidence that she and her husband John ran their finances jointly. Although Margaret offers to reimburse her sons for any costs they incur, she never does this for John.(FN83) At least once, in letter 71, John writes asking for her to send him £120, showing that he certainly did not hold the purse strings: Margaret presumably collected money from rents at home (as discussed in the section above) and was thus able to send him money when he needed it. Richmond examines John's accounts and shows that, of the £133 he spent in 1457-58, £58 was spent on the household, much presumably managed by Margaret.(FN84) Such joint management of money reflects wider trends: for example, in the late medieval period the practice of jointure--property held jointly by a couple during marriage and retained by whoever survived until the end of their life--was superseding dowers, whereby a husband controlled all property in marriage and a fixed proportion was given to his widow if he died first.(FN85)
However, in the Shipman's Tale it is important that things are not as clear-cut as this, and that there is room for misunderstanding about what money belongs to them jointly and what is the wife's alone--room that the wife exploits to her own advantage. And there are signs in the letters that financial arrangements between late medieval married couples could become confusingly complex. For example, in Paston letter 121, Elizabeth Poynings writes to her mother Agnes Paston asking Agnes to give her husband the dowry he was promised at the time of their marriage. She makes the request because "I have promytted faithfully to a gentilman called Bain, that was oon of my bestbeloved suertees and was bounde for hym in cc li."(FN86) In other words, Elizabeth borrowed money on her own account, but the couple's joint finances will be used to repay the debt. Stonor letter 226 seems to suggest a similar situation: another Elizabeth writes to her husband Sir William that she is hoping a debtor will repay her (she says "me" rather than "us"), but then asks him for his view about "the mater . . . for the Lumbarde," which appears to be a question of borrowing money that she wants them to agree jointly.(FN87) Perhaps this complexity is symptomatic of a transitional period when couples were adjusting to new norms of managing money. The difficulty of disentangling what is going on seems to affect both the medieval householder and the modern historian. Colin Richmond, examining John Paston I's accounts, notes that John has written an M in the margin beside the salary of the stabler at Mautby: "presumably to remind himself to collect it from her, unless he had omitted to record in the entry that Margaret had paid it (from household expenses?) and therefore he owed it to her."(FN88)
But, however confusing some of the evidence may be, it is clear that the fifteenth-century Cely merchants' wives, at least, did have control over their own finances. When George Cely invests £15 11s in wine, Hanham finds that his wife Margery separately invests £5 of her own for her children.(FN89) The Cely women also repeatedly lend money to their husbands: George notes in February 1487 that he owes his wife £4, and later in the month borrows almost the same amount again. Anne also lends her husband small sums from time to time.(FN90) Whether the source of this money was a personal income or an allowance that their husbands gave them is unknown, but they clearly manage their finances somewhat separately, or the concept of making loans to their husbands or investing separately in joint ventures would be meaningless.
So, while wives in earlier periods--and perhaps the wives in the analogues--may have had no control or authority over money, the Shipman's Talewife, who borrows and spends on her own account, seems to reflect a new era of marital finances. At the same time, the tale seems to play on the tendency shown by Elizabeth Poynings and Elizabeth Stonor to confuse the wife's own money with the couple's joint finances.
At the end of the Shipman's Tale the merchant's wife is allowed to get away with paying him back in bed, and his slight annoyance with her abates. The wife succeeds in spending the money as she wanted and does no more than her marital duty to pacify her husband. Nevertheless, she comes very near to exposure--and, as in the analogues, it is the lover who comes off best of all, having "purchased sex merely by moving other people's money around."(FN91) We have seen how this wife exploits the possibilities of her domestic situation as hostess, networker, housekeeper, business assistant, and status symbol, and makes the most of the potential for confusion that partly, joint, partly separate finances could create. But those possibilities take her only so far. A medieval wife's influence over, and contact with, the outside world is far more limited than her husband's--something that Rosenthal has shown to be true of Margaret Paston and the Stonor and Plumpton women and that the advice literature's injunction to women to stay at home (discussed above) reinforces.(FN92) When the action moves outside the house, and the merchant travels to Paris and calls on the monk, the wife loses control. It is then that the monk betrays her by claiming to the merchant that he has repaid his loan to the merchant's wife, a claim that the merchant later confronts her with in bed. The wife's quick wit saves her from scandal and punishment. But her near-downfall brings home to us the limits of her power.
There is no final exposure of the wife in the Shipman' Tale, no poetic justice or moral censure. This has seemed unsatisfactory to some readers, and it has been argued that a closing moral is absent because the moral critique runs through the narrative, with the characters, merchant, monk, and wife, all exposing themselves as sinful through the course of the tale.(FN93) But such a moral condemnation is not apparent to me. Chaucer seems, rather, to award the wife this minor victory--an addition to her wardrobe--partly because he has shown us the tremendous effort it has taken her, pushing at the limits of her social boundaries, to secure even this. The wife's capacity for corruption and acquisition is severely restricted, especially since she can never again trust the monk as her accomplice. Knowing this, we can surely afford to feel indulgent of her domestic opportunism.
University of Bristol
I would like to thank John Burrow and Ad Putter for their many helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.
1. Albert H. Silverman, "Sex and Money in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale," Philological Quarterly 32 (1953): 329-36, at 335, drawing on Gardiner Stillwell's earlier article "Chaucer's 'Sad' Merchant," Review of English Studies 20 (1944), 1-18.
2. See V. J. Scattergood, "The Originality of the Shipman's Tale," Chaucer Review 11 (1977), 210-31, esp. 213, 222-27; Robert Adams, "The Concept of Debt in The Shipman's Tale," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 6 (1984): 85-102; Janette Richardson, 'Blameth Nat Me': A Study of Imagery in Chaucer's Fabliaux (The Hague, 1970), esp. 115-22 and C. David Benson, Chaucer's Drama of Style: Poetic Variety and Contrast in the Canterbury Tales (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986), 115-16. Lee Patterson provides an interesting challenge to this critical view of mercantile ideology in his Chaucer and the Subject of History (London, 1991), 345-66.
3. For the former, see, for example, Scattergood, "Originality," 213, and Derek Pearsall, The Canterbury Tales (London, 1993), 211; for the latter, see Kenneth S. Cahn, "Chaucer's Merchants and the Foreign Exchange: An Introduction to Medieval Finance," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 2 (1980): 81-119.
4. On the interest of the wife, see, for example, Peter G. Beidler, "Contrasting Masculinities in the Shipman's Tale: Monk, Merchant, and Wife," in Masculinities in Chaucer: Approaches to Maleness in the Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde, ed. Peter G. Beidler (Cambridge, U.K., 1998), 131-42, esp. 141-42; and George R. Keiser, "Language and Meaning in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale," Chaucer Review 12 (1978): 147-61, at 149. Theresa Coletti's "The Mulier Fortis and Chaucer's Shipman's Tale," Chaucer Review 15 (1981): 236-49, is exceptional in its focus on ShipT's connections with the ideal wife of Proverbs.
5. At one time the idea that Chaucer's source for ShipT was a lost French fabliau prevailed (see, for example, T. W. Craik, The Comic Tales of Chaucer [London, 1964], 49, 70). Richard Guerin thought that Chaucer might have known Sercambi's novella and Boccaccio's versions of the narrative (Decameron 8.2 is another version, less similar to Chaucer); see his "The Shipman's Tale: The Italian Analogues," English Studies 52 (1971): 412-19. However, more recently Peter G. Beidler has argued that Sercambi's version was too late for Chaucer to have known it, that the idea that he translated a lost French fabliau is discredited, and that we should acknowledge that Chaucer was familiar with Boccaccio's 8.1--though he used it as a "hard analogue" rather than working with Boccaccio's text in front of him. See "Just Say Yes, Chaucer Knew the Decameron: Or, Bringing the Shipman's Tale Out of Limbo," in The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales: New Essays on an Old Question, ed. Leonard Michael Koff and Brenda Deen Schildgen (London, 2000), 25-A6. I will compare Sercambi's and Boccaccio's narratives to Chaucer's principally to show the distinctive-ness of Chaucer's treatment and without assuming that he knew either.
6. I refer throughout to The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn. (Boston, 1987).
7. I owe this point to C. D. Benson, Chaucer's Drama of Style, 111-12.
8. Charity Cannon Willard and Eric Hicks, eds., Le Livre des trois vertus (Paris, 1989), Book III, Chapter 1, 174 and 176. English translations are taken from Sarah Lawton, trans., The Treasure of the City of Ladies (London, 1985), occasionally slightly adapted.
9. Georgine E. Brereton and Janet M. Ferrier, eds., Le Menagier de Paris (Oxford, 1981), Book II, v, 221. Translations of this text are my own.
10. Brereton and Ferrier, eds., Le Menagier de Paris, Prologue, 3.
11. Sylvia L. Thrupp, The Merrhant Class of Medieval London (1300-1500) (Chicago, 1948), 150-51.
12. Joan Kirby, ed., The Plumpton Letters and Papers (London, 1996), letter 162, 152.
13. Clearly, the irony of using good to describe this amoral wife is another reason for describing her in this way.
14. Peter Nicholson, "The 'Shipman's Tale' and the Fabliaux," English Literary History 45 (1978): 583-96, at 587-89.
15. The Lady in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight similarly takes advantage of the ambiguity inherent in hospitable behavior to press an amorous suit--though, of course, her husband is fully aware of what she is doing. Ad Putter discusses the tendency of hospitality to slide into seduction, including the practice of women embracing guests and clerics exemplified in Erec and Urbanus Magnus, in his Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and French Arthurian Romance (Oxford, 1995), 68-69, 92-93. He also discusses, at 74-84, the difficulty of making out characters' true motivations when they are putting on a required show of politeness that is intrinsically insincere, which provides a context for the notoriously mysterious motivations of monk and wife in ShipT.
16. Peter Fleming, Family and Household in Medieval England (Basingstoke, 2001), 77, asserts that most villagers had strong links with their birthplace even after moving away, and that most such communities were highly interrelated before the Black Death.
17. Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. and trans. G. H. McWilliam, 2nd edn. (London, 1995), 552.
18. Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. McWilliam, 553. This is pointed out by Michael W. McClintock, in "Games and the Players of Games: Old French Fabliaux and the Shipman's Tale," Chaucer Review 5 (1971): 112-36, at 131-32. Beidleralso notes the importance of the friendship in "Contrasting Masculinities," 134-35.
19. Sercambi's novella is reproduced in Larry D. Benson and Theodore M. Andersson, eds. and trans., The Literary Context of Chaucer's Fabliaux: Texts and Translations (Indianapolis, 1971), 312-19.
20. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book I, Ch. 14, 57-58.
21. William Caxton, trans., The Book of the Knight of the Tower, ed. M. Y. Offord, EETS s.s. 2 (London, 1971), Ch. 90, 123.
22. Brereton and Ferrier, eds., Le Menagier de Paris, Book I, v, 57.
23. William E. Woods argues that the monk is welcomed because he helps to create a celebratory atmosphere and because his presence testifies both to the merchant's wealth and to his wisdom ("A Professional Thyng: The Wife as Merchant's Apprentice in the Shipman's Tale," Chaucèr Review 24 : 139-49, at 141); Keiser argues that alliances between monks and merchants were frequent in the late Middle Ages and would have provided "social satisfaction" for both ("Language and Meaning," 152).
24. Thrupp, The Merchant Class, 190.
25. See Per Nykrog, Les Fabliaux (Copenhagen, 1957), 110, 119, 134-35, where he shows that priests are the lovers in about half the fabliau love triangles, but that monks appear surprisingly rarely, whether because they were feared in the period or because the fabliau tradition had simply settled on the priest as the stock lover figure. However, an abbot-lover does appear in Antoine de la Sale's fifteenth-century romance Jehan de Saintré (ed. Jean Misrahi and Charles A. Knudson [Geneva, 1967]), winning the lady away from the hero with his hunting, good looks, and merry hospitality.
26. Thrupp, The Merchant Class, 176, 188-90.
27. Discussed by Philippa Maddern, "'Best Trusted Friends': Concepts and Practices of Friendship among Fifteenth-Century Norfolk Gentry," in England in the Fifteenth Century: Proceedings of the 1992 Harlaxton Symposium, ed. Nicholas Rogers (Stamford, 1994), 100-117, at 103-4. See Norman Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers of the Fifteenth Century, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1971, 1976), letter 517, 2:111-12.
28. H. S. Bennett, The Pastons and Their England: Studies in an Age of Transition (Cambridge, U.K., 1922), 240, 244. See Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, letter 93, 1:170.
29. See Maddern, "Best Trusted Friends," 100, 113. Rosemary E. Horrox argues that the distinction between the gentry and the merchant class became blurred in the late medieval period ("The Urban Gentry in the Fifteenth Century," in Towns and Townspeople in the Fifeenth Century, ed. John A. E Thomson [Gloucester, 1988], 22-44, at 25, 33-34).
30. Christine Carpenter, ed., Kingsford's Stonor Letters and Papers 1290-1483 (Cambridge, U.K., 1996), 186.
31. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 2:44.
32. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 1:64-68.
33. Keiser, "Language and Meaning," 154.
34. However, this evidence appears to bear out Helen Fulton's view that any satire of this kind cannot be aimed at a merchant class that is entirely distinct from Chaucer's audience ("Mercantile Ideology in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale," Chaucer Review 36 [20021: 311-28, at 312).
35. See David H. Abraham, "Cosyn and Cosynage: Pun and Structure in the Shipman's Tale," Chaucer Review 11 (1977): 319-27, at 320; and Ruth M. Fisher, "'Cosyn' and 'Cosynage': Complicated Punning in Chaucer's 'Shipman's Tale,'" Notes and Queries 210 (1965): 168-70. Karla Taylor, "Social Aesthetics and the Emergence of Civic Discourse from the Shipman's Tale to Melibee," Chaucer Review 39 (2005): 298-322, at 301-9, argues that the trilingual context of late medieval England would have made a pun on a French meaning accessible to the French-literate, and that the restriction of linguistic understanding to specific social groups is highlighted by the Tale. However, she offers no new evidence to counter Richard Firth Green, "Chaucer's Shipman's Tale, lines 138-41," Chaucer Review 26 (1991): 95-98.
36. See Green, "Chaucer's Shipman's Tale," 98n5.
37. Scattergood, "Originality," 216. Scattergood supports his suggestion with reference to Palamon and Arcite's relationship in KnT.
38. Maddern, "Best Trusted Friends," 105.
39. Alison Hanham, The Celys and Their World. An English Merchant Family of the Fifteenth Century (Cambridge, U.K., 1985), 7, 12, argues that the term was "used loosely in a society where relationships within a wide network were carefully nurtured," and discusses the relationship between the Cely family and a prior who addressed them as cousin presumably out of politeness rather than real blood relation. Christine Carpenter suggests cousin was the normal mode of address for a complex relationship and discusses the use of references to kinship to create obligations ("The Stonor Circle in the Fifteenth Century," in Rulers and the Ruled in Late Medieval England: Essays Presented to Gerald Harriss, ed. Rowena E. Archer and Simon Walker [London, 1995], 175-200, esp. 184-85).
40. Maddern, "Best Trusted Friends," 114.
41. See C. D. Benson, Chaucer's Drama of Style, 113; and Keiser, "Language and Meaning," 151.
42. See, respectively, Beidler, "Contrasting Masculinities," 140; Scattergood, "Originality," 213; and Pearsall, Canterbury Tales, 211.
43. All references are to Tauno F. Mustanoja, ed., The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter (Helsinki, 1948).
44. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book III, Ch. 1, 174-77.
45. This is noted by C. D. Benson, Chaucer's Drama of Style, 108.
46. Willard and Hicks., eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book II, Ch. 2, 127, and Book III, Ch. 2, 181-82.
47. The Thewis off Gud Women is included in Mustanoja, ed., The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter, 184. I have amended the punctuation.
48. Diane Watt notes John Paston's non-ironic description of his mother in "'No Writing for Writing's Sake': The Language of Service and Household Rhetoric in the Letters of the Paston Women," in Dear Sister: Medieval Women and the Epistolary Genre, ed. Karen Cherewatuk and Ulrike Wiethaus (Philadelphia, 1993), 122-38, at 134; Ann S. Haskell also notes Margaret Paston's authority over her household ("The Paston Women on Marriage in Fifteenth-Century England," Viator 4 : 459-71, at 464).
49. For example, see Claudia Opitz, "Life in the Late Middle Ages," trans. Deborah Lucas Schneider, in Silences of the Middle Ages, ed. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, vol. 2 of A History of Women in the West, ed. Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, 5 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1992-94), 2:267-317, at 282.
50. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book I, Ch. 18, 74, and Book III, Ch. 2, 181.
51. Brereton and Ferriers, eds., Le Menagier de Paris, Prologue, 3. Patterson notes the connection between the Tale on the one hand and the Menagier and the English conduct poems on the other in their expectation of a "sharp division between the male sphere of commerce and the female sphere of domesticity," which the wife was expected to manage prudendy in order to complement her husband's commercial work (Chaucer and the Subject of History, 345).
52. Willard and Hicks., eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book Ill, Ch. 1, 173.
53. All references to the Cely letters are to Alison Hanham, ed., Cely Letters 1472-1488, EETS o.s. 273 (London, 1975).
54. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 1:127.
55. Bennett, The Pastons and Their England, 66, 227-31.
56. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 1:369-71.
57. Colin Richmond, The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century: Endings (Manchester, 2000), 96-97. The addressee of this letter is not absolutely certain, but Davis considers Gloys the most likely recipient (Paston Letters and Papers, 369).
58. Benson and Andersson, eds., The Literary Context, 313.
59. William Empson, The Structure of Complex Words (London, 1951), 185-86.
60. Taylor comments on the use of honest as an example of the failure of social ties in ShipT, as the characters pretend to act in the common interest and use a common language, but in fact pursue their own agendas ("Social Aesthetics," 310). This fits well with my argument that the wife is manipulating social expectations to suit her own interests.
61. Peggy A. Knapp, Time-Bound Words: Semantic and Social Economies from Chaucer's England to Shakespeare's (Basingstoke, 2000), 158-59.
62. Thrupp, The Merchant Class, 142.
63. The MED places both these senses--'prosperous' and 'respectable'--together as the first meaning of thrifti and cites this instance from ShipTas an example.
64. Knapp, Time-Bound Words, 159-63.
65. Nicholson notes the comedy of her being more concerned to keep her debt than her adultery secret ("The 'Shipman's Tale,'" 590), but the monk's promise is broad enough to cover both areas.
66. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book 1, Ch. 23, 89, and Ch. 12, 51.
67. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book I, Ch. 11, 46; Caxton, trans., Book of the Knight of the Tower, 126-27; and Mustanoja, ed., The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter, 184.
68. This passage, where the narrator appears to speak as a wife, has led to the suggestion that ShipT may originally have been intended for the Wife of Bath; see William Lawrence, "Chaucer's Shipman's Tale," Speculum 33 (1958): 56-68. Murray Copland argued, however, that the Shipman was mimicking a female speaker ("The Shipman's Tale. Chaucer and Boccaccio," Medium AEvum 35 : 11-28, at 24-26). The argument I am pursuing here is unaffected by whether or not the Wife of Bath was the original narrator. However, the Wife's interest in being well arrayed, and her connection of this concern with infidelity, would certainly make her an apt narrator of ShipT. See WBProl 11 235-38, 337-56.
69. Hanham argues that some display of wealth and conspicuous enjoyment of one's achievement was perfectly acceptable among medieval merchants (The Celys and Their World, 18-20); Thrupp finds that a merchant's aim of demonstrating the success of his business to the community at large was well served through the status symbol of dress (The Merchant Class, 144-47).
70. Caxton, trans., Book of the Knight of the Tower, 139.
71. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book III, Ch. 3, 187.
72. Keiser argues that the wife's claim that her clothes honor her husband would have been censured by contemporary preachers ("Language and Meaning," 149-50), but the evidence seems to suggest that a more complex position on clothing was the norm. That the advice literature's position was shared by the church is suggested by Carla Casagrande, who quotes Francesco of Barberino's assertion that women should "dress suitably for the power and wealth of the family they represented" and Giles of Rome's view that it was acceptable for women to dress to please their husband or emphasize their social condition ("The Protected Woman," in Silences of the Middle Ages, ed. Klapisch-Zuber, 70-104, at 94); see also Diane Owen Hughes on "Regulating Women's Fashion" in the same volume, 136-58, esp. 140, 152. Colin Richmond, writing on the Paston letters, provides an interesting parallel to the wife's expenditure: Isobel, the dowager Marquess Montague, ran up a bill of £1,000 with her London dressmaker, and had to sell land to repay the debt (The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century: The First Phase [Cambridge, U.K., 1990], 192).
73. For the former view, see, for example, Adams, "The Concept of Debt," 99. For Jill Mann's reading, see her Feminizing Chaucer (Cambridge, U.K., 2002), 145.
74. Hanham, The Celys and Their World, 405.
75. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 1:246.
76. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 1:93, 1:251.
77. Carpenter, ed., Kingsford's Stonor Letters and Papers, 150.
78. Boccaccio, Decameron, 553, and Benson and Andersson, eds., The Literary Context, 315.
79. Woods alleges that "this merchant's wife is not authorized to spend on her own initiative" and that her expenditure is therefore "not a 'forgivable debt'" ("Professional Thyng," 148), but neither part of his assertion seems to me to be borne out by the text.
80. J. A. Burrow and V. J. Scattergood argue in their note in The Riverside Chaucer (912) that "variant readings my and our miss a subtle point. The merchant.., accepts the wife's claim that she thought the money was given to her personally." However, the existence of the variant readings perhaps suggests that the copyists themselves had conflicting senses of how property was held between married couples, supporting the idea of contemporary confusion in this area discussed below.
81. Martha Howell, "The Properties of Marriage in Late Medieval Europe: Commercial Wealth and the Creation of Modern Marriage," in Love, Marriage, and Family Ties in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Isabel Davis, Miriam Müller, and Sarah Rees Jones (Turnhout, 2003), 17-61, at 29n20.
82. Willard and Hicks, eds., Livre des trois vertus, Book III, Ch. 1, 173.
83. Joel T. Rosenthal, Telling Tales: Sources and Narration in Late Medieval England (Philadelphia, 2003), 140-41.
84. Colin Richmond, The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century: Fastolf's Will (Cambridge, U.K., 1996), 13-15.
85. See Ralph A. Houlbrooke, The English Family 1450-1700 (Harlow, 1984), 83, 209-10.
86. Davis, ed., Paston Letters and Papers, 1:206-7.
87. Carpenter, ed., Kingsford's Stonor Letters and Papers, 322.
88. Richmond, The Paston Family in the Fifteenth Century: Fastolf's Will, 15.
89. Hanham, The Celys and their World, 375.
90. Hanham, The Celys and their World, 405.
91. Priscilla Martin, Chaucer's Women: Nuns, Wives, and Amazons (Basingstoke, 1990), 89.
92. Rosenthal, Telling Tales, 135.
93. This view is expressed by Adams, "The Concept of Debt," 85-102, and C. D. Benson, Chaucer's Drama of Style, 115-16.