Credulity and Vision: ‘The Miller's Tale’, ‘The Merchant's Tale’, ‘The Wife of Bath's Tale’
The chapter examines Chaucer’s fascination with the ethical antithesis between credulity and visionary prudence, together with complex attendant genderings. In the Miller’s Tale, the human power to match the sweep of providence is queried through the problem of escaping from unpredictable floods. The tale mischievously mocks a peasant’s credulousness, his wife’s instinctuality, and a student’s pretension to prudential foresight. In the Merchant’s Tale credulity, arrogant imperviousness, and lust are more tartly explored as impediments to human vision. That the scales eventually drop from January’s physical sight correlates wittily with a Stoic idea that the cataract of ethical ignorance has to be removed to acquire mental vision. But it is in the Wife of Bath’s Tale that male vision is more productively improved, when an old woman becomes an instrument of moral enlightenment, bidding her knight-husband to ‘cast up the curtain’ and see ‘how it is’.
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