Sexual relations between men and woman have created issues of life and death from the beginning of time. In most classic Western beliefs it began when Eve with the help of the Devil seduced Adam thus leading the downfall of humanity into an abyss of sin and hopelessness. This issue arises in all literature from Genesis, Chaucer and into modern day. Authors, clerks and writers of all types have aided stereotyping women throughout history and Geoffrey Chaucer is not an exception in most cases. However, in Chaucer's Wife of Bath we can find the beginnings of a new type of woman arising from the dark ages of the post-Roman era. And of course at the center of his character's struggle is sex. As this topic develops, we shall take a brief look into sex, women, the Middle Ages and Chaucer's Wife of Bath as an example of Middle Ages reflections.
Women and sex in the Middle Ages
The woman of the Middle Ages tended to be pawns of men in religion, politics and economics (Gies). "Although a woman could
hold land, inherit it, sell it or give it away and plead for it in law courts, most of a woman's life was spent under the guardian ship of a man" (Gies 41). These set standards for the
dominance of men during and following much of the Middle Ages. As in the Wife of Bath's case women recovered some rights when they became widows. Sometimes a widow even successfully sued to recover land sold by her husband (Gies 44). "Medieval ideas were far from the Victorian notions that women did not enjoy sex. Physiologically, men and women were considered sexual equals -- in fact women were commonly credited with stronger sexual feelings than men" (Gies 48). Another misogynistic theory in the Middle Ages was that w...
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... fell in love, became married, became divorced and continued to cope with problems that have followed us into present day (Evans 3330).
The tale is that of power and who has or should have the control in a relationship is it political, economical, governmental or sexual. The Wife of Bath clearly believes that she, and all women, should have the control in relationships and especially over husbands.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. London: Penguin, 1977.
Evans, Joan. The Flowering Middle Ages. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1966.
Gies, Frances and Joseph. Daily Life in Medieval Times. New York:
Gregg, Joan Young. Devils, Women and Jews. New York; State University of New York Press, 1997.
Black Dog and Leventhal Press, 1990.
Williams, David. The Canterbury Tales: A Literary Pilgrimage. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
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