Women and Love In Chaucer Essay

Women and Love In Chaucer Essay

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Women and Love In Chaucer

     Chaucer's opinion of women and his views on love are very prominently featured in his poetry. Focusing on women, one must first examine the popular views concerning women during Chaucer's time. Arlyn Diamond writes of Chaucer that, ". . . he accepts uneasily the medieval view of women as either better or worse than men, but never quite the same." (Green 3) This is evident in Chaucer's portrayal of women in such poems as "The Wife of Bath" and "The Clerk's Tale" which assault the reader with antithetical views of women. The Wife of Bath is one of the most memorable characters Chaucer ever created. She is considered, in view of Diamond's statement, to be better than the men in her life. Patient Griselda in "The Clerk's Tale" is a peasant woman, married to a nobleman, who tests her loyalty through a series of ordeals in which she is lead to believe her children to be murdered. In this tale Chaucer is exposing his reader to a woman who is beneath her husband, and is treated horribly by him. Chaucer frequently treats the women he writes about as objects, some prize to be won by the heroic man. This is evident in "The Knight's Tale," in which the two protagonists, Palamon and Arcite, war over the hand of Emily, who they have never met, but only gazed upon from a distance. Their devotion to her branches not from love, but the want of men to contain and control the women surrounding them. Now on to the subject of love. Chaucer writes in "The Knight's Tale" of a love based on physical beauty, where the two protagonists fall in love at first sight. This is a common device used in medieval literature to create conflict between characters. "The Book of the Duchess" focuses on the real love between the Black Knight, and the White Woman. This allows Chaucer to explore the nature of love in context.

     Chaucer's Wife of Bath is a domineering woman who demands the men in her life to be subservient. The reader gains from her prologue that she is concerned with sovereignty, which she views as the control or mastery in the relationship. She does not appear to truly love any of her husbands. The first three are older men whom she seems to marry for their money. They pass on quickly leaving her with wealth, standing, and the chance to find herself a more suitable man. Her fourth husband was a profligate, a man of loose morals, who keeps ...

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...t sight. The pointless death of Arcite only emphasizes the hollow nature of this love. Love in "The Book of the Duchess" is treated differently. When Arcite dies there is no real pain felt for his loss. This is not the case with the death of the Black Knight's lady. Chaucer spends about eight hundred lines allowing the knight to lament his lost love. In his poetry Chaucer tries to be sympathetic to the plight of women. He endeavors to discuss love honestly, accepting the contradictory types of love and giving them all equal opportunity to prove themselves. The problem, however, lies in the subjects, for no matter how long or intently you look at them, they will always be as complex and incomprehensible as they always were.

Works Cited

     Green, Richard Firth. "Chaucer's Victimized Women." Studies in the Age of Chaucer. Ed. Thomas J. Heffernan. Vol. 10. 1988. 3-21.

     Wynne-Davis, Marion., ed. The Tales of the Clerk and the Wife of Bath. By Geoffrey Chaucer. Routledge: New York, 1992.

     Edwards, Robert R. Stephen Spector. Ed. The Olde Daunce: Love, Friendship, Sex, and Marriage in the Medieval World. Albany: State University of New York Press. 1991 154-176.

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