Studies of accounting and commerce in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale A review article

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Abstract:

Chaucer's Shipman's Tale is a satire of late medieval mercantile culture, and it is replete with commercial and accounting language. Literary critics have examined some of the relevant commercial elements such as the influence of double entry bookkeeping and the operations of late medieval foreign exchange markets. This paper introduces the tale to accounting historians by reviewing the literature that examines the business and accounting elements. A review of the critical studies helps us avoid misreading the tale and, thus, distorting inferences about the role of the merchant and his practices in medieval society. There are, however, a number of instances where critics may have misread the tale because of inadequate understanding of accounting and accounting history. Also, we find critics' descriptions of accounting and business practices to be less efficient and precise than the sources upon which they relied. We conclude that literary critics would benefit from collaboration with an accounting historian when making inferences about technical issues. Further, accounting historians will benefit as well from collaboration with the appropriate literature specialist when attempting to analyze a piece of literature as history.

Keywords: Accounting history; Literature

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/09513579910260021

Publication date: March 1, 1999

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