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Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales

4. Places and Spaces in the Merchant's Tale

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About this Lecture


In this module, we discuss the idea of places and spaces in the Merchant's Tale. At its heart, this is a tale about the difficulty of finding a place to have sex in the 14th Century, and much of tale focuses on the Garden, which is symbolised in a number of competing (and contradictory) ways: it is at various points (a) a Garden of Eden (b) an enclosed space associated with the Virgin Mary and virginity more generally, and (c) the garden from the Romance of the Rose, a contemporary Medieval Romance in which features a woman as "a rose to be plucked". These competing (and contradictory) symbolisms demonstrate that Januarie is a bad reader, someone who doesn't understand that Eden must have a tempter (which in this case takes the form of Damyan) and must also come to an end, and who doesn't see the contradiction between the Garden as a space of virgnity (associated with the Virgin Mary), but also a space of sex (associated with the Romance of the Rose).


In this course, Dr Marion Turner (University of Oxford) provides an introduction to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. The course begins with a discussion of the opening lines of the General Prologue, before going on to discuss Chaucer himself, the so-called 'Father of English Poetry'. In the third module, we look at the Miller's Tale and its status as a "literary Peasants' Revolt", before going to discuss the idea of places and spaces in the Merchant's Tale. The fifth and sixth modules focus on The Wife of Bath's Tale; in the first, we consider the concept of gender and authority in the Tale, while in the second, we look at how Chaucer adapts the popular "Loathly Lady" story pattern in the Tale.


Marion Turner is Associate Professor of English at Jesus College, University of Oxford. She is the author of a ground-breaking biography of Chaucer: Chaucer: A European Life (Princeton, 2019). This biography focuses on Chaucer as an international figure, exploring his travels, his multicultural influences, his multilingual identity, and the global aspects of medieval London.

Her other books include Chaucerian Conflict (Oxford, 2007) and, as editor, A Handbook of Middle English Studies (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), and she has published many articles on Chaucer and other aspects of late medieval literature. Marion has received research funding from the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and the Wellcome Trust. She often speaks in the media, including Radio 4, BBC1, Channel 4, and ITV. She has a particular interest in outreach, taking part in Chaucer Days at the Ashmolean Museum and the Weston Library, aimed at sixth form students of Chaucer, and often speaking at schools and colleges.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Turner, M. (2018, August 15). Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales - Places and Spaces in the Merchant's Tale [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Turner, M. "Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales – Places and Spaces in the Merchant's Tale." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,