Human or Husk: Female Agency in The Knight's Tale and The Miller's Tale Essay

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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales are filled with many entertaining tales from a variety of characters of different social classes and background. The first two tales told, by the knight and the miller, articulate very different perspectives of medieval life. Primarily, The tales of both the knight and the miller bring strikingly different views on the idea of female agency, and as we will discover, Chaucer himself leaves hints that he supports the more involved, independent Alison, over the paper-thin character of Emily.
There are many aspects of The Knight's Tale that strike the reader as unusual or disturbing. When Palomon first spots Emily, he “cries out” as if he were physically injured, the injury of course being located in his heart (32). The concept of a character being struck with “love-at-first-sight” pains (reminiscent of Ovid's signs of love sickness) is a fairly common convention for a romance to use; Anyone of Chaucer's time who had read a romance before would recognize this. Even Palomon's short monologue about claiming to be able to die from Emily's beauty, and his questioning of whether or not she is a human or a goddess, safely fit into one's expectations of a typical romance, however exaggerated they may sound (32). The knight, in telling the story, likewise shows no surprise at Palomon's sudden burst of emotion; to him this sort of reaction is expected. Because the knight is supposed to represent the typical status quo of high-ranking aristocracy, this is the sort of story he is used to himself- it's likely that he is simply repeating a story he knows by memory, without any thought of questioning it. One the things this does for Chaucer is demonstrate how well he “knows his stuff”; basically he is able to show off h...

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...nd Money In The Miller's Tale And The Reeve's Tale." Medieval Perspectives 3.1 (1988): 76-88. Web. 16 May 2013. [ILL]
Cornelius, Michael G. "Sex and Punishment in Geoffrey Chaucer's 'The Miller's Tale.'" Human Sexuality. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2009. 95-104. [ILL]
Forbes, Shannon. "'To Alisoun Now Wol I Tellen Al My Love-Longing': Chaucer's Treatment of the Courtly Love Discourse in the Miller's Tale." Women's Studies 36.1 (2007): 1-14. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 May 2013
Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender. Berkeley: U of California P. 1992. Print. (Kennedy Library PR1928.W64 H36 1992)
Masi, Michael. Chaucer and Gender. New York: P. Lang, 2005. Print. (Link+)
Parry, Joseph D. "Interpreting Female Agency and Responsibility in The Miller's Tale and The Merchant's Tale." 80.2 (2001): 133-67. Academic Onefile. Web. 16 May 2013.

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