Pilgrim’s Prize (Pt.11): The Merchant’s Tale (Chaucer Journal)
Guess what? The Merchant tells an amazing tale of social diversity; more heterosexual people fooling around and being adulterous. What’s that, you say you’ve heard that before in these tales? Oh, well, that’s what you’re getting from the merchant, so buckle in and strap on!
Basically, we have January, a man with an odd name. He decides or rather is prodded into it by his brothers, that now is the time to find a wife. Because January is like all creepy men—but especially creepy men in Chaucer—he wants a young wife no older than twenty whom he can mold into the perfect servant, I mean, partner.
So, January finds May, a young woman with an equally off name. Trouble is, May has another suitor named Damian. Damian writes May a love note to which she returns his affection with another love note; I guess a dashing young squire it better for hanky-panky than an old creep (who would have thought?). So, the two keep up this pattern of cute notes until January goes blind and ties himself to May out of paranoia that another man is trying to woo her out of his arms and genitals.
Fast forward to January and May’s special garden, a place May has since given Damian access to, and we have May and Damian fooling around in a tree, as one often does. Enter a couple of Gods who intervene—one restores January’s site (the frickin’ MRA) while the other gives May the perfect excuse to get off the adulterous, fornication hook; needless to say, January is some upset that his barely legal wife is getting it on with another one of the Penis People. But, thanks to the God, May simply says that January’s vision is not yet fully restored and he does not know what he saw. She was in the tree to restore his vision, as that is what is prescribed. The two live happily ever after, if you have low standards of what “happy” constitutes. The end.
Dubious medical practices aside, the tale is simple and a bit hokey, but at least this time there is no deception and psychologically abusive husbands. Though I am getting rather thin with the “Straights Gone Wild” premise, who am I to judge?
Moving on to the modern iteration of this tale, Jon Harrison provides us with an entry none of the like which has been seen before on The Pilgrim. That is right—black and white films of the silent era!
Harrison’s production is a high-quality film featuring a small cast of expressional actors. The music is the quintessential upbeat score one expects when the phrase “silent film” is mentioned while the dialog—shown only through on-screen text cards just as it was in decades long ago— remains a company to the seemingly over-excited actors giving larger than life performances. The locales are kept down to the bare minimum to better focus on the inter-personal narrative of January, May, and Damian. Truly, as a piece responding to Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale, this entry is superb.
What I liked most about it was the way it honed-in on the essence of the tale—the interaction between the three characters—and made that the central focus. What better way to focus on sociality than through a silent film? Though it may seem absurd to chuck all the dialog and poetic allusions out the window, it is actually a smart move. Such a move enables the director to use minimalist theory to the fullest and accomplish more with less; here, the few actors and props are used concretely and with purpose. There are no extra details, Easter eggs, or forced and ill-fated attempts to cram in every detail from the tale. Harrison singled out what he wanted to depict and directed all his energies to make that idea into a reality. The end-product is a unique take on a tale which melds an obsolete but quaint art form—silent film—with an old book, The Canterbury Tales, into a whole which is hard not to love.
I have no qualm with giving this entry a 9/10. This will be hard to top conceptually.