Thisessay analyzes and provides a comparison of the female characters inCanterbury Tales and aims to depict that the female narrators andcharacters are a representative of a typical society characterized bywomen and within a society ruled and controlled by men. The essayalso goes further to contrast women’s characteristics andattributes to the different male narrators in the Canterbury Tales,perspectives portrayed by the female characters and analyzing thetext that correlates to the male narrators in relation to theopinions or preferences attached to women. The essay generally aimsat pointing out women stereotypes in contrast to male behavior ascrafted from the Canterbury Tales (Hart 2013).
Obedienceis one of the most important virtue held in medieval periods and wasmainly held highly by the community. If a woman dared defy malepower, she would be termed as wicked and following in the footstepsof Eve. However, if women remained true to their husbands no matterthe situation they would be compared to Virgin Mary. However, inGeoffrey’s Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the opposite is depictedin this case women are accused of doing the opposite as it isrequired in the society (Hurst 2011). Chaucer illustrates the tusslethat exists between both sexes with both humor and iron it is thisaspect that has intrigued numerous readers through the ages.
Onesuch relationship is that which exists between Parson and the Wife ofBath. Parson tries to explain that women should be subject to thehusbands. These words not only illustrate the attitude of many othercharacters in the tales, but they also show that there is a directopposition to the words of the Wife of Bath, who apparently defiesmale authority. Wife of Bath is one of the major characters when itcomes to analyzing female voice, female life and subjectivity.
TheKnight’s Tale is a struggle that emanates for the favor of Emilybetween two cousins (Arcinta and Palamon). Their deep affection iswhat turns out to separate them even when in prison. However, Emilyis not aware of what transpires between the two cousins as she is notaware that both of them are in love with her. Emily is a sister tothe King’s wife, throughout the tale she remains pervasive. Martindepicts that “Afemale character is viewed exclusively from the outside for a longtime. Her thoughts, when we learn them, are very different from thethoughts projected on to her”(Hurst 2011).
Emilyremains silent throughout the period up to the date when a fight isinstituted to fight for her hand she is depicted as “YoungEmily that fairer was of mien / than lily is on its stalk of green”(CT, 47). Emily has portrayed as woman who has a lovely voice andsings like an Angel, “theradiant and serene”(CT, 49) this phrase actually depicts her voice. It is this aspectthat intrigues Palamon who compares her to Venus Arcita on the otherhand argues that he loves Emily as a woman and not a goddess.However, it is important to note that neither of them loves thewoman, in fact both love the icon (Jenkins 2011).
Emilysymbolizes freedom the garden where she is seen is a representationof love and fulfillment. Kolve depicts that Emily is actually lovedbecause of freedom and not anything much more than that:
…………..Fromwithin prison they fall in love with a creature that seems toincarnate a condition the exact opposite of their own. Indeed, we aremade to see this gratuitous (90).
Noneof the lovers stands in a position to speak to her until she is donepraying to Diana. However, she establishes that she is not in anyposition to marry (Jenkins 2011). This remark depicts that Emily is asymbolic attribute of value of women in a courtly society, Emily doesnot at any point have any individual will and any wish she portendsis quickly vanquished. Her courtly value is embedded on herpassivity.
Emily’sdepiction of individuality is quite understandable, however, justlike her heavenly patron she remains helpless in a world dominated bymen. At some point Emily is given a revelation from Diana that it isonly higher authorities who decide women’s fates in the society. Onthe other hand the lovers get revelations from both Venus and Marsthat their prayers were granted (Kimpel 2010). This is one aspectthat connotes the position of women in the society and the way theyare perceived.
Forthee the Gods on high have set their term,
Andby eternal word and writ confirm
Thatthou shalt be espoused to one of those
Thathas for thee endured so many woes (CT, 82).
Thesestatements depict that ones the gods make a decision, the decisioncannot be altered. This also means that there are also higherauthorities in Athens higher than women. No matter the position ofwomen in the society, their fate eventually lies in the hands of theruling men. In this case Theseus has the ultimate decision to make,he does not even bother to ask whether Emily wants to marry or not,this is because her opinion does not count. Typically Emily isillustrated to have only two roles in the society (courtly andpolitical). Emily is viewed as a good to maintain power and politicalstability if well ingrained into marriage. Muscatine depicts that theladyin the Knight’s tale is a symbol of the noble man’s desires.Since Emily is from a royal family is a representation of thefaithfulness and love. In this case we can clearly depict that womenhad no viable position and were not allowed to make their owndecisions at any given time. For instance, Emily is married off aftera funeral occasion whereby she is termed as the most sorrowful personin the funeral. This raises questions on the stereotypic aspects inthe society as illuminated by Canterbury Tales (Kimpel 2010).
TheClerk’s Tale of Griselda depicts humility and obedience of thegreatest magnitude which is completely immeasurable in the presentsociety. Unlike Emily who tries to take a different approach andspeak out her will, Griselda is totally submissive and abandons herwill to follow what the husband requires only. The audience wouldmost likely perceive Griselda as a perfectionist wife (Underwood2012). However Frank holds a different perception on her behavior, hedepicts that Griselda’s story was trustworthy to her originalaudience
“Humilityand subservience on one side, arrogance and outrageous demand on theother were often the order of the day in a society so hierarchical”(157)
Thistale is expounded on the authority of Petrach where the Clerk claimshe learned his story from. The only fault that is seen in him is thathe rather inclines to courtly leisure as compared to more seriousmarriage issues. Finally, the marquis Walter is persuaded to marry,however, he only agrees to do so from his personal choice on anobedient and complete servant.
Leaveme alone to choose myself a wife,
Thatis my burden, my prerogative.
ButI command you, charge you on your life………….
Griseldais the poorest girl in the region however, she encompassesphenomenon beauty, virtuous and nobility. It is on the premise ofthese virtues that Stone suggests that she qualifies as a Christinaheroine and by appearance of features. Walter’s subjects dare notdisobey their master, being one of the servants in the regionGriselda never question’s his intentions to marry her. OnesGriselda’s father agrees to the terms of the ruler, Griselda isleft without an option but accept the king as stipulated. Griseldapasses through hardships in the hands of Walter who subjects her toharsh rules and constraints that no other woman would prefer to dwellin. However, Griselda believes in the existence of a supreme beingwho always watches over her.
Griseldaholds onto her attributes of always serving Walter no matter thecircumstances, “lightestwhim and pleasure,” to “show/ A willing heart, ungrudging, nightor day”(CT, 348). This is despite Walter chasing her from the palace andtrying to marry one of their daughters. Essentially, this is atormenting stage for Griselda who remains calm and not even shading asingle tear. Generally, Clerk’s tale is an illustration of theposition of women in the society. Men endorse their hard rules onwomen without consideration of the emotional constraints subjected tothe women. Just like Emily, Griselda is tormented and does not have avoice on any matter she entirely lets the husband dictate her termsof living in the society (Lindahl 2004). This is an illustration ofthe stereotypic aspects among women addressed in the Canterbury Tale(women viewed as weak and inferior in the society).
TheReeve’s Tale and the Wife of Bath’s Tale
Thewife of Bath is the most controversial female character in theCanterbury tales. She tends to reflect on women’s position in thesociety as she actually follows her own path and convictions asopposed to Griselda and Emily. She adopts her own interpretations ofmale written texts and stands in no position to be influenced by theclergy which in her opinion is misogynist. Her motive and principlesin live tend to adopt a society where women oppression ought to beaddressed. In order to change the society she takes an initiative toturn her husband into a lower being in the house and gainingauthority over her husband. Her tale is an illustration of theconflict that exists between the different sexes that surroundauthority in the society by so doing rewarding men and infringing onwomen (Lumiansky 2005).
Thewife of Bath tale illustrates a totally different view of women inthe society. Emily and Griselda tend to adopt the society they foundit without asking questions why the society is embedded on thecurrent principles. However, unlike the two the Wife of Bath tries toensure that there is a balance and equal treatment of all people inthe society. She typically goes against all the stereotypes perceivedabout women. From the onset of the tale, it is evident that the Wifeof Bath uses sexual behavior to achieve her goals instead of tryingto prove her position in the society. This female trait is meant toembody a number of negative attributions which include arrogance,deceitfulness, stupidity and lewdness (Lumiansky 2005).
Althoughshe intends to gain revenge, it is entirely embalmed on personalgains rather than for the gains of the entire women in the society.One things that could have rally postulated the Wife of Bath as anintellectual agent of change in the society is the by establishing aroadmap of change. It is through this architecture that she would beable to adequately communicate to her members. Instead she clarifiesand stands by her position by saying that “Menmay divine and glosen up and down / But wel woot I express withoutenlie / God bad us for to wexe and multiplye / That gentil text can Iwel understone”by clinging to the bible the Wife of Bath asserts that she can aswell handle the same tasks men do in the society like clarifying thebible. However, this does not bring a unique approach of fightingpatriarchy in the society.
Theonly thing that can be proven from this is that just like men, theWife of Bath holds negative stereotypes about women in the society.This is better illustrated in the way she offers her explanations andinterpretation of the bible. At one point she contradicts herstatements and gives a wrong interpretation. “Wherecan ye saye in any manere age / That hye God defended marriage / Byexpres word? I praye you, telleth me / Or where he commandedvirginitee?”this statement connotes a negative stereotype about womenunderstanding the bible and other aspects in the society. It alsopoints out that if women were to be given education on bibleconcepts, they would tend to use the power to do what is sociallyunacceptable. This aspect and behaviours point a finger at the kindof approach the Wife of Bath adopts in trying to resolve the alreadycomplicated situation in the society (Lyons 2010).
Malynfrom The Reeve’s Tale is a daughter of corrupted Miller who iscaught in the middle of a conflict between males. Aleyn decides topunish the Millers for their act of stealing their grain. Accordingto the societal implications non-virgin girls were not supposed to bemarried. This means that Aleyn tries to attack the most sensitivepart of the Millers by planning to rape Malyn. However, the personwho ends up paying the highest price is Malyn as opposed to Miller.One interesting things crops up amidst all these, instead of Malynadopting animosity towards Alyn, she tends to portray that it wasfine to have sex with him. This may be due to the fact that Malynknew that she had lost her virginity and would never be marriedunless with the man who raped her (Tatlock 2011).
Malynshows the kind of society women are entangled in, for instance unlikemen women were required to maintain their virginity until marriage.This means that any woman who lost her virginity before marriage wasregarded as unclean and an outcast. It is this fate that Malyn wastrying to avoid since she had already lost her virginity. Unlike theWife of Bath, Malyn holds a deeper approach in the culture of thecommunity she is entangled. Negative stereotypic aspects manifestthemselves in the manner in which non-virgin women are viewed in thesociety. It is this values that tend to degrade women in the societyas opposed to men. Alyn essentially committed the crime, but thecommunity would view it otherwise, this means that the society viewswomen as the source of sin.
Itis such values that the Wife of Bath tries to counter she takes abold approach to go against a male dominated society where otherwomen in the tale could not do. Griselda is pushed to the limit, butshe does not dare to take a revolutionary approach. She holds ontothe notion that women are inferior in the society. Emily and Malynalso tend to accept their fates without questioning. This is becauseof holding onto the fear of rejection and being branded as outcastsin the community (Tatlock 2011).
Womennarrators in these tales relay information on the changing frameworksin the society. For instance the Wife of Bath characterizes change inthe society. She depicts that even women can be atonedresponsibilities just like men. Women during this period wereexpected to be submissive, however, the Wife of Bath portraysotherwise. Besides being disobedient to her husband she openlydepicts that she had been married five times in the past. Generallythe Wife of Bath demarcates change in the society from male dominatedto a neutral kind of society. However, at some point we see herdecipher wrong bible interpretation. This means that change is notjust a one minute approach rather change requires patience andgradual transition from one event to another (“2009).
Thesociety is not without those women who find it hard to stand upagainst the laid out rules and policies. Emily, Malyn and Griseldadepict those women shelled within stipulated guided situations.Griselda becomes tied to her husband who torments her each passingday. On the other hand Malyn is raped but never bothers to report thecase this is because she knows that she may not be able to changeanything about it. Additionally, Malyn does not exhibit regret, shetends take the rape positively. This indicates that women have beencompelled to undertake measures they would not want. Malyn is also anagent of change because she does not feel ashamed to have slept withAlyn, according to her perception she would have wanted to sleep withAlyn voluntarily if he would have sneaked into her bed. Hence, it canbe concluded that women exhibit a number of changes without men goingagainst their wish as stipulated above.
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