The General Prologue - The Merchant

There was a merchant with forked beard, and girt
In motley gown, and high on horse he sat,
Upon his head a Flemish beaver hat;
His boots were fastened rather elegantly.
His spoke his notions out right pompously,(5)
Stressing the times when he had won, not lost.
He would the sea were held at any cost
Across from Middleburgh to Orwell town.
At money-changing he could make a crown.
This worthy man kept all his wits well set;(10)
There was no one could say he was in debt,
So well he governed all his trade affairs
With bargains and with borrowings and with shares.
Indeed, he was a worthy man withal,
But, sooth to say, his name I can’t recall.(15)

Footnotes

  1. Even though the narrator demonstrates that this merchant is great at being a merchant, almost king-like in his skills with money, his conclusion that he cannot remember the man's name signifies the insignificance of the merchant in society. While he has done an excellent job in his vocation, his actions are still not noteworthy enough, or noble enough, to be remembered as a king or powerful man would be. In this way, Chaucer is able to use the Merchant's description to deliver a picture of the hierarchical society in which he lives.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. In other words, he was so good with money that he could have been a king of it. Chaucer uses this metaphor to compare the Merchant's activities with those of a king. The Merchant is one of the first characters who seems to fit his vocation as well as the [Knight] (http://www.owleyes.org/read/canterbury-tales/the-knight).

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. A Flemish beaver hat was a fashionable item of clothing for this time period. It signifies far off exotic lands as the beaver pelt would probably have come from the New World. The Merchant's clothes reveal that he is not only fashionable and wealthy, but that he is involved in trade.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. This means he wants the sea to be protected from pirates at any cost, since they negatively affect his profits. Middleburgh is a trading port in Holland that traded often with Orwell, its counterpoint in England. Chaucer uses this description to show that the Merchant is most concerned with trade and profits.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor