Women in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Women throughout the ages have had diverse personalities, and their various behaviors are significantly depicted in Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales. He tells of several women; two are among the travelers on the pilgrimage to Canterbury and the others are characters in numerous tales during the journey. The Wife of Bath, the old woman in the Wife of Baths Tale, and Griselda, a character in the Clerks Tale, each exemplify the divergent roles of women in the fourteenth century.

These women are suitable examples of woman of the past, and on the contrast can also be examples of women of present-day because although lifestyles may modify to some extent, however general behaviors remain the same. Forceful and vivacious, The Wife of Bath is an ideal illustration of an unrestrained and lewd woman of the fourteenth century (Moore 2000). She has been widowed five times and she is going on the pilgrimage to Canterbury to possibly find her next husband.

The Wife is opposed to the concept of chastity and plainly states her personal ideas concerning that subject within the prologue of her tale… Tell me to what conclusion or in aid of what were generative organs made? And for what profit were those creatures wrought? Trust me, they cannot have been made for naught. Her attire is pretentious; she wears vivid garments and ornate headdresses (Moore 2000. ) As a result of her flamboyant vanity, The Wife would have been censured by priests and parsons. The Wife of Bath can practically be considered a sex symbol of her generation.

The Wife of Bath has even been compared to Madonna by Susan K. Hagan. Hagan writes, What I find so amazing in these two self styled performances of confession and romance, separated as they are by 600 years and phenomenological existence is that both express their individuality in terms of sexual autonomy and control. Both The Wife of Bath and Madonna know how to play the game. The Wife of Bath wants the free dinner as much as anyone else. She postures, she pronounces, she plays out the challenge of Host, Pardoner, Friar, and Clerk alike.

Hagan adds to the comparison by stating, Her [The Wife of Bath] opening number might be “Express Yourself,” but her method is to vogue, to strike a pose, whether it be the reprobate feminine exegete, the insatiable Venusian, the shrewish wife, the jealous wife, or the loving wife (Hagan 2001). The Wife of Bath also tells a tale of a knight and an old woman with the moral that man and wife will be happiest if the woman is given the power in the relationship. These power struggles occurred in past eras and continue even now.

What woman today with a controlling husband would prefer to be in charge, and vice versa? Thus, lifestyles conceivably change over time, but the basic power struggles between man and wife virtually stay the same. The Clerk, who is traveling on the pilgrimage as well, tells the well-known tale of patient Griselda. This same tale was told four times in the mid-fourteenth century by Boccaccio, Chaucer, Petrarch, and Menagier. Griselda is a noble image of a woman full of loyalty and endurance for emotional pain.

Her husband Walter, the king, tests her several times by taking away her children and sending her back to be a peasant as she was prior to coming to the castle. In the end Walter brings back Griseldas children and reveals the truth. Griselda is joyous and they all live happily ever after. The Clerk states at the end of his tale, It isnt easy to find Griseldas round the town, you know (372). He basically says that it would not be easy to find women who exist possessing characteristics similar to Griselda, but they are there. It is the equivalent in the society of today.

There are few women who devote themselves entirely to their husbands, but they are out there; they do exist. Another aspect of The Clerks Tale, which can compare the fourteenth century and society of today, is the marriage of two people, one being of the lowest social class and one being of the highest social class. Griselda was a peasant and Walter was a king, yet he still chose her to be his bride. That would be fairly analogous to Bill Gates choosing an attractive woman who lives on the streets of New York City to be his bride.

This event is possible both then and now, yet it would be relatively odd for these events to actually occur in both time periods. Griselda is the precise example of a typical mother in that era. Some wonder why Griselda was more loyal to her husband than to her own children. The answer lies partly in the fact that some, if not most medieval women did not feel as close to their children or show as much emotion to their children as women in later times do.

According to Barbara W. Tuchman, Of all the characteristics in which medieval age differs from the modern, none is so striking as the comparative absence of interest in children (Tuchman 49). If Griselda was one of these woman, she surely loved her children but her loyalty remained with her husband, so it was not quite as difficult for her to adhere to his conduct. The tale also corresponds greatly with medieval literature of that time because In literature the chief role of children was to die, usually drowned, smothered, or abandoned in a forest in the orders of some king fearing prophecy or a mad husband testing a wifes endurance (Tuchman 49).

In the Clerks Tale that is exactly what takes place; a husband testing a wifes endurance. Finally, the beauty practices of women of the past and the women of modern day are similar as well. Women used cosmetics, dyed their hair, . . . and plucked their eyebrows too, although by these practices they committed the sin of vanity (Tuchman 54). Women of today practice these beauty habits as well, without fear of being condemned.

It was considered immoral to pluck eyebrows and the demons in purgatory were said to punish the practice by sticking hot burning awls and needles into every hole from which a hair had been plucked (Tuchman 208). Women of the fourteenth century had their unique qualities whether they were style, language, etc. , but those women had the same general behaviors as the women of today have. Even beauty practices have remained the similar over six hundred years. As John Dryden said, For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered.

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