Canterbury Tales Essay - Sexuality in The Wife of Bath and the Pardoner

Canterbury Tales Essay - Sexuality in The Wife of Bath and the Pardoner

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Sexuality in The Wife of Bath and the Pardoner

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, an eclectic mix of people gathers together at Tabard Inn to begin a pilgrimage to Canterbury. In the General Prologue, the readers are introduced to each of these characters. Among the pilgrims are the provocative Wife of Bath and the meek Pardoner. These two characters both demonstrate sexuality, in very different ways. Chaucer uses the Wife and the Pardoner to examine sexuality in the medieval period.

The Middle Ages were a time of expanding and experimenting sexually for the people. Religious figures who had taken vows of celibacy had children, sometimes with more than one woman. Even some popes of the time had illicit affairs. However, adultery was often condoned, especially in knights, because the Chivalry Code expected of them certain “actions”:

An act of infidelity was no disgrace, always provided that one preserved the form of polite society…Any knight who contented himself with wedding a virgin before himself having grown practiced in adultery and carried off several trophies of the chase was unworthy of his spurs. Adultery was a social diversion for the upper classes. A knight had to have a lady whom he worshiped…Church and state tolerated the adulterous relationship…It was the thing to choose a celestial patroness…(1)

At the same time, women were repressed in their sexual feelings and were subject to their husband’s demands. If an unmarried woman had sexual relations, she would be dishonored, thrown into exile or even killed. Horrible experiments sought often to find ways of getting rid of any pleasure women would experience during intercourse.

People in the Middle Ages had two distinct views on sexuality at that...

... middle of paper ...

...though he was condemned by his sexuality.

Chaucer used controversies to create character. He wanted his characters to teach the readers something new about life. The Wife of Bath and the Pardoner demonstrate Chaucer’s way of creating characters based on the sexuality of the medieval period.


(1)Life in the Middle Ages: Appearance vs. Reality. English Department: St. John’s College High School.

(2) Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales edited by M.H. Abrams. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001). All future references will come from this text.

(3) Taken from notes in lectures by Dr. Raymond Nighan.

(4) Monica E. McAlpine. The Pardoner’s Homosexuality and How It Matters.

(5) E. McAlpine.

(6) E. McAlpine.

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