Canterbury Tales Essay
Gender, and the respective roles of men and women, is a pervasive theme in the Canterbury Tales. Female characters throughout the stories are depicted in complex, ambiguous ways even though they are assigned to traditional medieval positions of nuns, wives, or mothers. Chaucer gives a voice to the repressed hopes and desires of these women, and allows them to be assertive, intelligent, and liberal, in direct contradiction of the social expectations of the Middle Ages. Chaucer specifically employs the female characters in The Wife of Bath’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale to assert a feminist perspective in opposition to medieval social convention.
The Wife of Bath’s Tale is a story about women, told by a woman. It reveals the very feminist desire of women to be free to choose and decide for themselves, as opposed to living under the direction and authority of men. Chaucer uses the queen of King Arthur as the woman in power. She is not aggressive and assertive in the modern sense of feminism, but rather, is merciful and wise. She obviously has power over the knight, and could easily have him put to death for his crime of rape, but decides to give him a one-year reprieve to find the truth about women’s desires. Indeed it is a woman who saves the knight by providing him with the answer. But before finding the answer, the knight is given other possible answers, presumably from men, that support men’s stereotypical perspective of what women want. The wife explained that, “Some said that women wanted wealth and treasure, … some “Jollity and pleasure,’… ‘Gorgeous clothes’…’Fun in bed.’…that we should be cosseted and flattered.” (Chaucer 283). Here Chaucer pays homage to the male perspective, but allows the female perspective to win out.
The answers given the knight by the women he questions are more meaningful and stereotypical of the role of men in medieval society. Here, the women answered the knight by stating, “Some say the things...