The Role of Women in The Canterbery Tales

The Role of Women in The Canterbery Tales

Length: 2003 words (5.7 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓

The Role of Women in The Canterbery Tales


Chaucer, in his female pilgrimage thought of women as having an evil-like quality that they always tempt and take from men. They were depicted as untrustworthy, selfish and vain and often like caricatures not like real people at all. Through the faults of both men and women, Chaucer showed what is right and wrong and how one should live. Under the surface, however, lies a jaded look of women in the form that in his writings he seems to crate them as caricatures and show how they cause the downfall of men by sometimes appealing to their desires and other times their fears. Chaucer obviously had very opinionated views of the manners and behaviours of women and expressed it strongly in The Canterbury Tales. In his collection of tales, he portrayed two extremes in his prospect of women. The Wife of Bath represented the extravagant and lusty woman where as the Prioress represented the admirable and devoted followers of church. Chaucer delineated the two characters contrastingly in their appearances, general manners, education and most evidently in their behaviour towards men. Yet, in the midst of disparities, both tales left its readers with an unsolved enigma.


The Wife of Bath represents the "liberal" extreme in regards to female stereotypes of the Middle Ages. Unlike most women being anonymous during the Middle Ages, she has a mind of her own and voices herself. Furthermore, she thinks extremely highly of herself and enjoys showing off her Sunday clothes whenever the opportunity arises. She intimidates men and women alike due to the power she possesses. Because of her obnoxious attitude Chaucer makes her toothless, fat and large. Doubtlessly, she is very ugly, almost to the point of "not-presentable. This to me shows how Chaucer depicts what men don't want. The Prioress, on the other hand, serves as a foil to the Wife of Bath. Chaucer describes her as "tender-hearted" who cannot bear the sight of pain or physical suffering. She will cry at the thought of a dog dying. It could represent that she has a frail soul with low tolerance for pain and suffering. The latter description carries over into the modern stereotypes about women as skittish and afraid members of society who need to be cared for.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"The Role of Women in The Canterbery Tales." 28 Feb 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Canterbury Tales Essay - Marriage and the Role of Women in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue

- Marriage and the Role of Women in the Wife of Bath’s Prologue   The Canterbury Tales, begun in 1387 by Geoffrey Chaucer, are written in heroic couplets iambic pentameters, and consist of a series of twenty-four linked tales told by a group of superbly characterized pilgrims ranging from Knight to Plowman. The characters meet at an Inn, in London, before journeying to the shrine of St Thomas a Becket at Canterbury. The Wife of Bath is one of these characters. She bases both her tale and her prologue on marriage and brings humor and intrigue to the tales, as she is lively and very often crudely spoken....   [tags: Wife of Bath Essays]

Research Papers
1395 words (4 pages)

Chaucer's Portrayal Of Women in Canterbury Tales Essay

- All through Canterbury Tales, women are dealt with as objects in everyday life. In the “Miller’s Tale,” an old man marries a younger, attractive women for her looks. In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” a virgin woman has her virginity and innocence taken from her by what is suppose to be a noble and honorable knight and when his punishment is later to marry an older, less attractive women, all respect for his newly wife vanishes. A woman’s level of recognition in Canterbury Tales are through her class in society, whether she is young and beautiful, or old and disgusting, and her degree of experience in life....   [tags: Women, Canterbury Tales, gender, Geoffrey Chaucer,]

Research Papers
902 words (2.6 pages)

The Roles Of Women During The Canterbury Tales Essay

- The roles of women was an issue in medieval times and in The Canterbury Tales. In A Knight 's Tale, the women were portrayed as objects. To men they didn 't mean much. Women for them were there to help only when needed and didn 't hold an important role in society. Women were treated differently and had not much of importance. In the movie, A Knight 's Tale, women were treated very poorly. Men were held to higher standards. The men would do mostly everything that was important or popular. Women were held back behind men doing nothing but being support to the men....   [tags: Gender role, Woman, English-language films]

Research Papers
1031 words (2.9 pages)

Essay on The Portrayal Of Women From Fairy Tales

- The portrayal and role of characters in fairy tales is often something limited to gender; the adherence or deviation from those prescribed expectations is what labels a character 'good ' or 'bad ', particularly in the case of women. Female character were expected to be 'good ', which was described as following the rules and being submissive to embody the idea of femininity, and commonly described only by how beautiful and fair tempered they were. Women with outstanding characteristics outside the idea of femininity, such as ambition, vanity, greed, or want of authority, were handed the roles of the wicked witches, ogres, stepmothers, or were simply unimaginably ugly and made a point of de...   [tags: Woman, Gender role, Gender, Fairy tale]

Research Papers
1070 words (3.1 pages)

Women Of Women : The Tales Told By Geoffrey Chaucer Essay

- In a society, there are many different opinions on how a women figure is seen. These ideas have changed overtime with the progress of women bring consider equal to men. There are two ways a woman can be interpreted, one brings lower to the men and the other being equal to men. Women play an important role in shaping lives, directly or indirectly. The tales depicted in this book shows the reader the broader insight of how women were seen as in previous years. The different ideas of what women meant to men are seen in the tales told by the characters in the book, mostly the men....   [tags: Gender, Woman, The Canterbury Tales, Female]

Research Papers
1337 words (3.8 pages)

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer Essay

- Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury tales a collection of short tales in the 14th century. The compilation of stories are told by different characters within the narrative as part of a game proposed by the host. Each individual must tell two stories on their journey and two stories on their way back. Each story tells some aspects of English life during the time and often added satire like qualities to the English life. In particular Chaucer often tells stories with elements of the relationship between man and women....   [tags: The Canterbury Tales Essays]

Research Papers
1576 words (4.5 pages)

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer Essay example

- In the Middle Ages, gender stereotypes of both male and female exist. These stereotypes are especially examined by Chaucer in love stories. Chaucer’s attitudes toward stereotypes of men and women are different—generally, he confirms most of the stereotypes of male while challenging those of female. In the following passage, I would like to discuss how Chaucer interrogates the stereotypes in his tales from the aspects of these two genders. In gender stereotypes of male in the Middle Ages, what men are supposed to be like is mainly based on chivalric values....   [tags: The Canterbury Tales Essays]

Research Papers
2071 words (5.9 pages)

Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales Essay

- Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a collection of several tales that are all told by different characters and all convey different messages. The story presented in the general prologue is that a group of pilgrims is traveling to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket, and during their journey they take turns telling tales and talking about themselves. Chaucer uses the pilgrims to express his beliefs, about religion, marriage, social class, and many other topics. One of the pilgrims is the Manciple, who is a commoner and has the job of providing supplies for an institution and in this case, he is the caterer for a group of lawyers....   [tags: Literary Analysis, Tales, Characters]

Research Papers
1014 words (2.9 pages)

The Significance of Women in Chaucer's The Cantebury Tales Essay

- The Significance of Women in Chaucer's The Cantebury Tales        In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Cantebury Tales, many stories are told leading to a wide range of topics.  One particular and significant topic Chaucer touches on many times is the role of women.  In stories such as The Millers Tale, The Knight's Tale, and the Wife of Bath's Tale the women of each story are portrayed extremely different.  Alisoun, Emelye, and the wife of Bath, each exemplify three dissimilar ways in which women love.  The way Chaucer describes each of these characters is dependent on the out come of each particular story.  Chaucer is careful with his word choice and figurative language with each woman, enabling t...   [tags: Canterbury Tales Essays]

Research Papers
3352 words (9.6 pages)

The Role of Quiting in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales Essay

- The Role of "Quiting" in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales   In Chaucer’s, The Canterbury Tales, many characters express the desire to "pay back" some other pilgrim for their tale. The function of "quiting" gives us insights into the ways in which Chaucer painted the social fabric of his world. The characters of the Knight, the Miller, and the Reeve, all seem to take part in a tournament of speech. The role of "quiting" in The Canterbury Tales serves to "allow the characters themselves to transcend their own social class, and class-based moral expectations, in order to gain power over people of "higher" social strata."(Hallissy 41) Throughout each prologue of the first three tales, we can...   [tags: Canterbury Tales Essays]

Research Papers
2756 words (7.9 pages)

Related Searches

Chaucer paints a very delicate and elegant picture of the Prioress. Her manners of eating are far from the brutish festivals of the time. Chaucer describes her table manners as very graceful, not a drop of anything would fall from her mouth, and she was very polite when taking thing at the table. (Lines 131-4). Chaucer's last description of Prioress - the letter "A" around her neck that stood for "Amor vincit omnia" meaning "Love conquers all." The brooch symbolizes love with which her rosaries are adorned is a common accessory for religious devotion, which carries the courtly love anthem: love conquers all. The symbol that she wears shows that she is perfect and obviously a representation of what most men of the time want but of course they can't have her. Accordingly, the Wife of Bath is daunting, ostentatious and ultimately ugly. She is nothing in comparison to the Prioress who is elegant, well mannered and above all loving.


The Prioress's superiority over the Wife of Bath is shown again in the presence of education. The Wife of Bath has travelled a great deal and seems knowledgeable about things of the world. She brings up many a valid point throughout the prologue but Chaucer voids her opinion because of her social class and looks when in truth she is actually wise. The Wife of Bath has understanding for the world and knows very well what's going on. However, during the Middle Ages, only scholarly or academic knowledge is recognized. What the Wife of Bath understands and pursues may not be commendable. On the contrary, the Prioress is considered "scholastic" and high class due to her good manners. Her ability to speak the noble language of French puts her character in a higher class as well. Thus, once again the Prioress is considered intelligent. Basically, the Wife of Bath is kind of a foil to the women during the Middle Ages. Her actions and thinking not only differ from the Prioress but almost from everyone else!!!


The Wife of Bath is radical especially when it comes to relationship with men. She is characterized as knowing much about love, which is illustrated by her physical defect-being gap-toothed symbolizing "sexual accomplishment." The Wife of Bath cannot resist telling her companions about all of her sexual experiences. She also had five husbands and countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men's hearts. Her husbands fell into two categories. The first categories of husbands were rich but also old and unable to fulfil her "sexual" demands. The other husbands were sexually vigorous, but harder to control. None of her five marriages were successful because the Wife of Bath was constantly seeking to have power and control over them, Chaucer I think characterises the Wife of Bath in this way to show men's fears. For instance, her fifth but not the last (it was said that she is on her way of marrying the sixth before she told her tale) marriage was unhappy because her husband who is half of her age beats her. To anger him, she tore three pages from his book. After this he beats her again. She pretended to be dead and he felt so guilty that he threw his whole book in the fire. This gave her the upper hand for the rest of her life. This contrast between the Wife of Bath and the Prioress describes fully the difference between what men do and do not want in a woman. First, the violent and deceitful act of tearing books then the deceitful act of lying to her husband will never be done by the Prioress as the Prioress is well mannered, educated, "powerful" and above all, is loving. Second, is the issue of marriage and "sexual demand" which will never have its roots in the Prioress's life as she has taken the vow of chastity. This being the case appeals to both fear and desire, as all men would desire the Prioress, but fear they could not have her. The Prioress is pure in heart and thinks of men and women alike. It's interesting how the Wife of Bath was always striving to have sovereignty and the Prioress was granted sovereignty even though she didn't seek for it intentionally.


The Wife of Bath and the Prioress alike have power over men once again this characterisation would scare men. It is rare that women are given such high stature during the medieval period. The Prioress as her name suggests is "a superior being in a monastic community for women" is so important that three priests were in her company; as this shows her status as the boss, this dominance would be very fearful for men of the time. The hag, whom the Wife of Bath identifies with, initially was granted sovereignty and power over man. This is proven when the hag offers her husband the choice: he can have her old and ugly and faithful or young, beautiful, and possible unchaste. He tells her to choose; he grants her the sovereignty.


As mentioned above, the Wife of Bath desires what most women want and that is power over men, her being described as being ugly and wanting power to probably exploit that power as she did with husband number five definitely shows a representation of what men don't want. Early in the tale, there is a quotation said by the Wife of Bath supporting this idea. "I don't deny that I will have my husbands both my debtor and my slave, and as long as I am his wife he shall suffer in the flesh. I will have command over his body during all his life, not he." In other words, she is saying that she will have total control over herself, her husband, and their household and very specifically, not just the husband. However, there are also situations where she seems to submit to her husband. "Nevertheless, since I know your pleasure I will satisfy your physical pleasure." This was said by the Wife of Bath and supports the non-feministic view. It is considered non-feministic because the woman is giving in to the man's desire, which goes against feministic beliefs. The Wife of Bath has a choice of not giving in to the man, but she decides to let the man have pleasure for his desire not hers, because from her past experience she knew how much men enjoy it when women are submissive. This quotation obviously goes against feministic beliefs, leaving an unanswered contradiction about the Wife of Bath. However, Chaucer does show through this characterisation that the Wife of Bath is desirable in one way to men because she is willing to be submissive to their desires. This raises an unseen question of desire for her as I think most men of the time would desire a woman who would grant this. The character of the Prioress in the same light, certainly keeps one guessing. Is her tale the product of the simple mind, or of one poisoned by anti-Semitism? The Prioress is, well mannered, educated, powerful, and loving. Ironically, her prologue and tale contain strong elements of anti-Semitism. This is shown through her use of the Jew as the villain of her tale. However, there is no historical evidence of ritual murder of Christian children by Jews, but that would not have mattered to the pilgrims. Anti-Semitism, directed at a people thought to have both rejected and murdered Christ, was distressingly deep-seated. This bigotry unfortunately was rampant at the time, and both the sentiments and their being expressed in the context of a religious story would not have seemed strange to Chaucer's pilgrimage. Nevertheless, on a less depressing note, her tale can tell us something of the medieval attitude towards simple piety and miracles, which also was quite prevalent. I don't think it is about the Jews because; they were expelled from England in 1290. Yet, whether this tale is the product of the simple mind or anti-Semitism still remains an enigma. This story also reinforces her devotion to the church and this characterisation can be seen as a fear to some men as they are unable to obtain her. It is here we see the only time when the Wife of Bath and the Prioress relate to each other. In this we can see that Chaucer is telling us that the Prioress is not as perfect as she might of first seemed, and in this way we can see that both women have both got parts that men desire and men fear.


The Wife of Bath seems to be feministic yet there are also some situations in which she does as the men wish. The Prioress on the other hand keeps you wondering and seems to be a perfect lady however she is unobtainable and probably to well educated and out of reach for most men. Chaucer portrays the tale of Wife of Bath as hypocritical but between the lines there is some helpful advice for many women in the world today. In this way Chaucer is trying to educate women through her tale, and say that there are times one should be a feminist and times one should not. This characterisation of her strong head would have scared the men of the time. In his contrast with the two he shows in both women what men fear. In the Wife of Bath it's that men don't want to be controlled and in the Prioress it's the fact that she is unobtainable and maybe too clever for everyday man. These representations however when put together, create a women that seems to be perfect for what most men want and desire.

Return to