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Naughty Characters in The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The moral compass of mankind has always piqued the interest of authors. The Middle Ages was a time of immoral behavior, corrupt religious officials, and disregard of marital vows. Geoffrey Chaucer used The Canterbury Tales to explore his personal views of this dark time. In particular, he crafted “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” “The Prioress’s Tale,” and “The Shipman’s Tale” to portray the tainted society, using women in all of them to bring forth his views. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer depicts women as immodest and conniving beings to suggest the moral corruption of the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages was a time when women were supposed to be models of virtue, yet they acted contrary to such beliefs. As young women, they were supposed to strive for perfection and protect their virginity (Bardsley 96-97). In reality, women were often free with their virtues, and according to Francis and Joseph Gies, “The chastity of women was eternally suspect in the eyes of canonists, who perceived them as ever eager for sexual gratification.” Women were presented with conflicting messages when told that they were sources of evil, but were also told they were to exemplify the model of Mary (Bardsley 172) By modeling Mary, women were to be virtuous and holy and not self-seeking. However, women were far from this model of Mary, and they received little respect from men. Men dominated women, and they never escaped male control. As girls, their fathers controlled them, and later in life they were subject to their husbands (McLean and Singman 24). Because of this, women were seen as scandalous if they attempted to obtain power, money, or land.

Chaucer exemplifies this in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale.” Living in a male-dominant society, the wife ...

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