The Middle Ages was an interesting time to be a woman. For centuries the church generally disapproved of, with equal measure, women and sex. Women were not even thought of as human beings, and were seen as necessary only in what they could do for their men. When the men left for the Crusades women were given a larger role in the upkeep of their husbands’ houses and estates, and assumed a more public role in the community. This gave the women a greater feeling of independence, which they did not relinquish entirely when the men returned. As the men returned from the crusades they brought with them a new found openness to ideas, and a newfound respect for the worship of the Virgin Mary. These are two of the factors that resulted in an image change for women. Women went from being despised, into being respected and often admired. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, he uses the two women characters of the Prioress and the Wife of Bath as contrasts in order to satirize the church’s view of women. Women were admired for being pure, unattainable, and virtuous, and not for any other talents that they might have. They had moved from Eve to Mary. The 12th century also gave us the concept of “Courtly Love”, a form of which is still seen in today’s modern romance novels.
The stories of courtly love were at their peak at the same time that the church was at its most powerful. This makes Chaucer’s characterization of the Prioress all the more delightful. By admiring her perfection, in both manners and in looks, the narrator combines the church and English pop culture of that time. The overlap of the two can be most easily seen when the narrator describes in detail the Prioress’s appearance.
... middle of paper ...
...in any way, is the way the church should ideally be. Now isn’t that ironic?
Tannahill, Reay, “The Expanding World: AD 1100-1800,” Sex in History, (Scarborough House Publishers: USA, 1992) at p. 255
Tannahill, “Europe 1100-1500,” Ibid. at p. 256
Tannahill, Europe 1100-1500,” Ibid. at p. 259
Chaucer, Geoffrey, “The Prologue,” The Canterbury Tales, (Wordsworth Editions Ltd.: Hertfordshire, 1995) at p. 5
Chaucer, Ibid. at p. 4
Coles Editorial Board, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, (Coles Publishing Company: Toronto, 1991) at p. 67
Chaucer, Geoffrey, “The Canterbury Tales – The General Prologue,” Poetry in English: An Anthology, ed. M. L. Rosenthal (Oxford University Press: Toronto, 1987) lines 456-457, 470-471 at p. 62
Chaucer, Ibid. lines 453-454 at p. 62
Coles, “The General Prologue” Ibid. at p. 25
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