Women In The Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper
Women In The Canterbury TalesThe Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer serves as a moral manual for the1300 s and years after. Through the faults of both men and woman, he shows ineach persons story what is right and wrong and how one should live. Under thesurface, however, lies a jaded look and woman and how they cause for thedownfall of men. The Knight s Tale is one of chivalry and upstanding moral behavior.However, beneath the surface lies the theme of the evil nature of women. Emilyplays the part of the beautiful woman who captivates the hearts of twounsuspecting men. Those two men are cousins Arcite and Palamon, both knightswho duel for Emily s hand in marriage. The two start out as the best of friends andthen roommates in a jail cell that is to be shared for eternity. But with one look atEmily, the two start bickering instinctively and almost come to blows oversomething they will never be able to have, or so it seems. Chaucer s knack for irony revels itself as Arcite is released from his lifesentence but disallowed from ever coming back to Athens. He would be killedever caught within the city again by King Theseus. Because Arcite is doomed tonever again see Emily, his broken heart causes him sickness as he s weakened bylove. It is only after he comes up with the plan of returning to Athens under anassumed name that he starts to get better. Meanwhile, Palamon remains back in captivity, rendered helpless due to hislifelong punishment in prison. He knows that he will never be able to talk to Emilyand certainly not marry her because of his plight. All he can do is watch her froma distance and admire her beauty. Arcite believes that this is a better punishmentthan his, though, as he says: O dere cosin Palamon, quod he,Thyn is the victorie of this aventureFul blisfully in prison maistow dure;In prison? Certes nay, but in paradys!Wel hath fortuen y-turned thee the dys,That hast the sighte of hir, and I th adsence. But I, that am exyled and bareyneOf alle grace, and in so greet despeir,That ther nis erthe, water, fyr, ne eir,Ne creature, that of hem maked is,That may me helpe or doon confort in this:Wel oughte I sterve in wanhope and distresse;Farwel my lyf, my lust, and my gladnesse! (58 and 60)Emily has caused him such distress that he cries all the time and contemplateskilling himself so he won t have to feel this every day pain that appears to have noend. All of this because of a woman. Emily is a sweet, innocent woman of her times. In a strange twist for awoman of The Canterbury Tales, she is perfectly happy alone and doesn t everwant to be married. Yet, Palamon and Arcite duel twice for Emily s love andArcite ends up losing his life all because of her. Palamon, winning her by default,serves Emily faithfully for several years before she agrees to marry him, still notloving him, though. No one wins in The Knight s Tale, but it is the two menwho fight over the woman who lose the most. The Nun s Priest s Tale is perhaps the best representation of men sdownfall due to the influence of women. The story revolves around a rooster,Chauntercleer, the most beautiful cock in all of England with the sweetest voice anany ear has heard. He has seven wives but his favorite was Pertelote, an elegant
hen in her own right. It is this woman, this female, that causes Chauntercleer greattrouble. One night Chauntercleer wakes suddenly from a bad dream. Seeminglyseeking comfort in her, he tells Pertelot about the dream which involves a wild,rampant dog with beady eyes coming after Chauntercleer. But instead ofconsoling her husband , she challenges his manhood and says that no man hersshould be scared of a dream. This causes Chauntercleer to go off on a tangentabout the many, many times in history dreams have predicted the future and hownon-believers suffered the consciences of not taking the proper precautions. Afterhe done, however, he says that Pertelot is probably right and goes off about his daynot giving it another thought. This causes the narrator to take an aside from thestory to tell us his own opinion on women but says that it is the belief of many menand not his own in an attempt to perhaps cover himself. In this he says: Wommennes counseils been ful ofte colde;Wommannes counseil broughte us first to wo,And made Adam fro paradys to go,Theras he was ful mery, and wel at ese. But for I noot to whom it mighte displeseIf I counseil of wommen wolde blame,Passe over, for I seyde it in my game. Rede auctours, wher they trete of swich matere,And what they seyn of wommen ye may here. Thise been the cokkes wordes, and nat myne;I can noon harm of no womman divyne. (404)Chauntecleer later is indeed attacked by a wolf and carried away to thewoods to his certain doom before slipping away, proving the point that women arethe downfall of men. If he had listened to himself and his dreams instead ofPertelote, Chauntecleer would have been more cautious of not of had thenear-death encounter he did. Finally, the prologue to the Wife Of Bath s Tale shows the reader anothertype of woman of the time, this time in the effect of the story teller. The Wife OfBath is a tough woman with a mind of her own and she s not afraid to speak it.She intimidates men and woman alike due to the strength she possesses. Butinstead of showing this as a good characteristic, Chaucer makes her toothless andugly. She has also had five different husbands and countless affairs, thus breakinginnocent men s hearts. In one part of the prologue, the Wife Of Bath speaks of marriage andwomen from a man s point of view: Thou lykenest wommanes love to helle,To bareyne lond, ther water may not dwelle. Thou lyknest is also to wilde fyr:The more it brenneth, the more it hath desyrTo consume every thing that brent wol be. Thous seyst right as wormes shende a tree,Right so a wyf destroyeth hir housebonde;This knowe they that been to wyves bonde. (198)The Wife Of Bath brings up many a valid point throughout the prologue butChaucer voids her opinion because of her social class and looks, when in truth sheis very wise. It is as if her intelligence is overshadowed by the fact that has hadfive husbands and considered something of a whore. It is not only in three narration s that women are thought of as having anevil-like quality, that they always tempt and take from men, but in almost every oneof the stories. They are depicted of untrustworthy, selfish and very vainthroughout the collection of tales. Chaucer obviously has very opinionated viewsof the marriage and the opposite sex and expresses it very strongly in TheCanterbury Tales.