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Sex in The Canterbury Tales Essays

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Geoffrey Chaucer uses sex as a manipulative instrument in The Canterbury Tales.
Portraying sex as a power that women exert over men rather than the marital bond of “making
love” makes evident Chaucer’s skewed views of love and marriage with underlying tones of misogyny. He expresses these views throughout the work, however, the theme of love and sex is most evident in the sub-stories of The Wife of Bath and The Miller’s Tale.
Chaucer breaks the topic of sex into two basic parts: carnality and romanticism. Although carnal love is a controversial topic, Chaucer dives into the subject by creating characters with ferocious appetites for sex and the means to accommodate their desires. Whereas, to address romanticism, he relies heavily on courtship and the introduction of relationships that are means of satisfying ones carnal desires or simply to accommodate one’s natural desire for power over others.
The Wife of Bath introduces sex as nothing but a carnal need and as a constant struggle to gain the “upper hand” as well as material items. Most of this tale’s roots are located in the prologue where the wife discusses her personal sexual exploits with her previous five husbands. Chaucer presents an internal conflict when the wife momentarily questions the moral implications that being married five times casts on her. Her conflict ends with the comparison of herself to men of the Bible, “A holy man was Abraham, I know, And Jacob, too, as far as they may go”, then telling of their circumstances as presented by the Bible, “Yet each with more than two wives come to dwell” (Chaucer). The wife presents her view on the roll of sex in relationships subtly at first in ways such as referring to male genitals as a “hanging purse”, indicating her u...


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...both a material object and a comedy, decreasing its seriousness and ultimately decreasing the repercussions for degrading the unspoken rules of it as an institution.



Works Cited

Aers, David. "Chaucer: Sex, Love and Marriage." Chaucer, Langland, and the Creative Imagination. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. 144-73. Print.
Bloom, Harold, and Blake Hobby, eds. Human Sexuality. New York: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2009. Print.
Brewer, Derek B. "The Miller's Tale." N.d. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Web. 15 Dec. 2013. .
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. N.p.: n.p., n.d. About.com: Classiclit. Web. 16 Dec. 2013. .
Miller, Mark. Philosophical Chaucer: Sex, Love, and Agency in the Canterbury Tales. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. Print.



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