The Canterbury Tales

Wykked Wyves Redux: Sex, Money and Marriage in Chaucer's 'The Shipman's Tale'

There is no doubt that immoral people can spring from all walks of life, Tall, short, rich, poor and everything in between – any of these can fall victim to the vices of the human spirit. When sex and money mix, a potentially dangerous (but exciting, at least for an outside observer) spectacle can occur. But what happens when that bomb just fizzles? Geoffrey Chaucer is certainly a master of depicting the profane and seedy side of human nature, but as he demonstrates through The Shipman’s Tale of The Canterbury Tales, sometimes a quiet murmur can pack just as hard of a punch as a big explosion. The Shipman’s Tale does not need a large confrontation or a public burning to make statements about the morality of human desires and the quest for them. Instead, a discussion between a married couple in bed as well as an interesting twist on a marriage vow culminates a story that has a lot to say about the nature of debt – monetary and otherwise – and the marriage of sex and money.

The Shipman’s Tale is a tale that is scant in plot but rife with details. The story of an unfaithful wife and her clueless husband both being duped by her lover is not new; in fact, speculation on Chaucer’s source material will be discussed later. However, it...

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