One argument that reigns supreme when considering Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is whether or not there is an element of anti-feminism within the text. One thread that goes along with this is whether or not the women of The Canterbury Tales are passive within the tales told. This essay will explore the idea that the women found within the tales told by the pilgrims (The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale to name a few) are not passive at all, but rather influence the turn of events within the stories.
It is seen even in the first tale told – The Knight’s Tale – that the women portrayed within it are not passive at all, but, as previously stated, manage to persuade the males in charge to help them or do what they feel should be done. In the tale itself, the weeping of women is seen twice, and both times their weeping influences the men’s actions.
The second example of weeping within the tale, as shown here:
The queene anon, for verray wommanhede / Gan for to wepe, and so dide Emelye / And all the ladyes in the compaignye. / Greet pitee was it, as it thoughte hem alle / That evere swich a chaunce sholde falle… “Have mercy, Lord, upon us women alle!” And on hir bare knees adoun they falle / And wolde have kist his feet ther as he stood; / Til at the laste aslaked was his mood / For pitee renneth soon in gentil herte. (Benson p. 49.)
influences Theseus to agree to a battle to the death for the knights as opposed to simply beheading them as he was about to do. If these women were truly passive, then they would have not spoken up at all, or Theseus would have ignored them in favor of following through with his own wishes. Instead, he is ...
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...of the women presented within Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are passive and allow anything to happen. Indeed, quite the opposite is true and can be seen in just the few tales presented as well as many others. Though there are obvious signs of anti-feminism within the text, or anti-feminism that can be read within the text, there is also the opposite counterpoint of the activity of women within the text versus the passivity of women within the text.
Benson, Larry D. ed. The Riverside Chaucer.
Huppe, Bernard F. Rape and Woman’s Sovereignty in the Wife of Bath’s Tale. Modern Language Notes. Vol. 63, No. 6. June 1948. pp. 378-381.
Mann, Jill. Feminizing Chaucer. Patterson, Lee. “For the Wyves love of Bathe”: Feminine Rhetoric and Poetic Resolution in the Roman de la Rose and the Canterbury Tales. Speculum. Vol. 58, No. 3. July, 1983. pp 656-695.
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