Love In The Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper
Henry Louis Mencken stated, “Love: The delusion that one woman
differs from another.” This motto rings true for the travellers
that Geoffrey Chaucer accompanied on the pilgrimage in The
Canterbury Tales. Each of the author’s characters fit in their own
archetype, each with their own story. As the tales are told one by
one, the pilgrims’ opinions and feelings are exposed for the host
and the reader to evaluate. This reveals important traits,
including how the caravan perceives love. These characteristics are
most vivid in terms of the gallant Knight, the crude Miller, and
the independent Wife of Bath.
The Knight is chosen as the first pilgrim to tell his tale and
lead the host’s contest into action. “He was prudent, he bore
himself as meekly as a maiden,” displays the Knight’s reluctance to
show emotion and only to do as much a necessary (”The General
Prologue”, ll. 68-69). As a “true, perfect, gentle knight,” he is
brought up by the code of honor (”The General Prologue”, ll. 72).
The Knight’s story is filled with a sense of valor, bravery, and
pride. The tale parallels mythology, dealing with aspects of the
perfect image of a woman, Emily. The maiden is represented as a
goddess, and as the Platonic idea of love. The Knight’s view on
love is very Christian – influenced by his religious crusades -
very pure, and simplistic.
“A chatterer and a teller of tavern tales,” the Miller bellows
his “definition” of love through his fabliau and interaction with
other travellers (”The General Prologue”, ll. 562). Pictured like
the devil, the Miller entices followers through temptation of sin
and his bagpipes. The love of the Miller is carnal and animalistic,
seen through his description of his beast-like self and the coltish
manner of Alison. It is more physical that anything else, since
shame is of no concern. Morals are loose everywhere concerning the
churlish Miller, and his whole story is a enormous farce.
The Wife of Bath’s view of love comes into conflict with the
opposite sex, and also most stereotypes. As a complex woman, her
story entails ribaldry, confession, and sermon. The largest facet
of the Wife’s character includes her desire of control. The Wife of
Bath has an assumed authority, coming first whether dealing with
her five husbands or offerings at church. The Wife parallels the
old woman who eventually gains control over the knight in her tale.
Yet she shows vulnerability when being struck down by her fourth
husband. The scarlet hose, “her ample hips,” and “gap-toothed
smile” are symbols of her infamous reputation (”The General
Prologue”, ll. 458, 470, 474). But the Wife of Bath’s ignorance
contradicts her experience. “One may counsel a woman to be a
virgin, but counseling is not a commandment,” shows the
misinterpretations and faulty reasoning of Biblical scripture that
makes the Wife’s points of views invalid (”The Wife of Bath”, ll.
66-67). As is the Wife’s personality enigmatic, so is her
philosophy on love. She is driven my her emotions and the
satisfaction that she gets. She takes her free will to the limits
as power for her personal gain.
Through every pilgrims’ personal story, love and the
relationship between man and woman is depicted in their own light.
In the Knight’s eyes, his courtly love shows the trophy as the
divine Emily. The Miller’s vulgarity and foulness leads to his
views of adultery and lust as love. For the Wife of Bath, her
hunger for life leads to love discerned as being in charge of
passion. As for Mr. Mencken, the Knight, the Miller, and the Wife
of Bath should make him very proud, since all of the pilgrims’
stories are set into conflict by their model of a woman and their
classified love for that woman.