The Representation of Medieval Women In The Canterbury Tales

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The Representation of Medieval Women In The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer, and English writer and civil servant, began writing his most famous work The Canterbury Tales in 1386 (Chaucer iii). The story is about a group of pilgrims who journey together to Canterbury to seek the shrines of St. Thomas á Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was killed by order of Henry II in 1170 (1). During this pilgrimage, each character is introduced and is given a chance to tell a story to pass the time. In “The Knight’s Tale,” and “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” Chaucer represents two very different type of medieval women by representing women who differ in power over men and virtues. In “The Knight’s Tale,” Chaucer describes a woman’s power over men as residing in her beauty. The story is told by a courageous and chivalrous knight who lives by a code of “truth, honour, freedom, and all courtesy,” (Chaucer 2), therefore, he represents women in a respectable way. He does through the description of his main female character. He describing her as, “[S]he is sweeter than any flower that blows,” (31) and, “Like a heavenly angel’s was her song,” (32). Emily is young and beautiful and her beauty makes men immediately fall in love with her. In the tale, two Theban cousins were imprisoned by Emily's brother in law, Thesëus, after a battle in Thebes, and locked away in a tower. In this tower, both cousins catch a glimpse of Emily and fall madly in love with her. They ultimately fight a battle over her. Through this, Chaucer shows the power of beauty and the influence that it may have on men. Also in “The Knight’s Tale,” the knight helps represents medieval women through Emily’s virginity and purity. The knight proceeds with his story and tells how both cousins fought for Emily as their bride, but Emily did not want to be anyone’s bride. She prayed in the temple to the goddess Diana,before the two cousins battled for her hand in marriage, and pleaded to Diana, “Chaste goddess, well indeed thou knowest that I/ Desire to be a virgin all my life/ Nor ever wish to be man’s love or wife,” (Chaucer 63). Emily wishes to be a maiden to better serve her deity and her religion. For Emily, virginity is virtuous, and for that reason she wishes to remain a virgin.

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