Date of Graduation

Spring 2017


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

Jonathan Newman


Peasants' Revolt of 1381, Great Schism, John Wyclif, form, medieval wifehood, social commentary, livelihood, Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Breaking Expectations: Deviations from Genre, Gender, and Social Order in the Clerk's and Merchant's Tales seeks to reconcile deviations in traditional form and representations of marital authority in both tales by understanding Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as existing in and responding to a shifting social hierarchy. After establishing that the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 and John Wyclif's heretical tracts signified drastic challenges to received systems of social, political, and religious authority, I assert that the disruption of genre and medieval models of wifehood in the Clerk's Tale and the Merchant's Tale is a recognition-celebratory for the Clerk and bitter for the Merchant-that the social hierarchy and the medieval marriage are transforming. Both pilgrims choose a typical medieval genre-the exemplum in the Clerk's Tale and the fabliau in the Merchant's-yet both narrators manipulate the traditional conventions of the form. Like the drastic and ongoing fourteenth-century challenges to traditional power structures, both Tales overturn traditional conventions in form, therefore revealing their dramatic authors' expectations for household authority.


© Rachel Lea Combs

Open Access