Essay PreviewMore ↓
Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales demonstrate many different attitudes
toward and perceptions of marriage. Some of these ideas are very traditional,
such as that discussed in the Franklin's Tale, and others are more liberal such
as the marriages portrayed in the Miller's and the Wife of Bath's Tales. While
several of these tales are rather comical, they do indeed give us a
representation of the attitudes toward marriage at that time in history.
D.W. Robertson, Jr. calls marriage "the solution to the problem of love,
the force which directs the will which is in turn the source of moral action"
(Andrew, 88). Marriage in Chaucer's time meant a union between spirit and flesh
and was thus part of the marriage between Christ and the Church (88). The
Canterbury Tales show many abuses of this sacred bond, as will be discussed
For example, the Miller's Tale is a story of adultery in which a
lecherous clerk, a vain clerk and an old husband, whose outcome shows the
consequences of their abuses of marriage, including Nicholas' interest in
astrology and Absalon's refusal to accept offerings from the ladies, as well as
the behaviors of both with regards to Alison. Still, Alison does what she wants,
she takes Nicholas because she wants to, just as she ignores Absalon because she
wants to. Lines 3290-5 of the Miller's Tale show Alison's blatant disrespect for
her marriage to "Old John" and her planned deceit:
That she hir love hym graunted atte laste,
And swoor hir ooth, by seint Thomas of Kent
That she wol been at his comandement,
Whan that she may hir leyser wel espie.
"Myn housbonde is so ful of jalousie
That but ye wayte wel and been privee..."
On the contrary, Alison's husband loved her more than his own life,
although he felt foolish for marrying her since she was so young and skittish.
This led him to keep a close watch on her whenever possible. The Miller's main
point in his story is that if a man gets what he wants from God or from his wife,
he won't ask questions or become jealous; he is after his own sexual pleasure
How to Cite this Page
"Perceptions of Marriage in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales." 123HelpMe.com. 19 Aug 2018
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Geoffrey Chaucer uses sex as a manipulative instrument in The Canterbury Tales. Portraying sex as a power that women exert over men rather than the marital bond of “making love” makes evident Chaucer’s skewed views of love and marriage with underlying tones of misogyny. He expresses these views throughout the work, however, the theme of love and sex is most evident in the sub-stories of The Wife of Bath and The Miller’s Tale. Chaucer breaks the topic of sex into two basic parts: carnality and romanticism.... [tags: The Canterbury Tales Essays]
940 words (2.7 pages)
- Attitudes of Marriage in Chaucers the Canterbury Tales Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, demonstrate many different attitudes and perceptions towards marriage. Some of these ideas are very traditional, such as that illustrated in the Franklin’s Tale. On the other hand, other tales present a liberal view, such as the marriages portrayed in the Miller’s and The Wife of Bath’s tales. While several of these tales are rather comical, they do indeed depict the attitudes towards marriage at that time in history.... [tags: essays papers]
1523 words (4.4 pages)
- Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales demonstrate many different attitudes toward and perceptions of marriage. Some of these ideas are more liberal thought such as the marriages portrayed in the Wife of Bath, the Clerk’s and Merchant’s Tales. Then there are those tales that are very traditional, such as that discussed in the Franklin's and the Squire’s tales. And lastly there is a tales of that of the Friar and the Summoner which aren’t really involved with marriage but are in the middle of the marriage group to show the fighting between two men and to prove the Wife of bath right.... [tags: essays research papers]
2642 words (7.5 pages)
- Geoffrey Chaucer is renowned as one of the most prominent and innovative writers in the history of the English language. He was born in London to a thriving merchant family, gaining an opportunity for education in elite schools. Chaucer learned French, the language of wine trade, while working for his father; whom served him to explore and pursue his love of poetry from a young age (Bleiberg). Over the course of his maturity, he developed remarkable skills to write his own first poems in French.... [tags: Language, Poetry]
994 words (2.8 pages)
- Marriage and Sovereignty The Canterbury Tales was written during the Medieval Era when women were seen inferior to men. Women during this time were bound to loveless, arranged marriages as which was the Wife of Bath's case because she was married at the age of twelve. These marriages were arranged for the families to acquire social and political gain. Women during this era could not own property, and had no political rights. Their social standing solely depended on their husband or father's social status.... [tags: The Canterbury Tales Essays]
944 words (2.7 pages)
- Passive Women in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. One argument that reigns supreme when considering Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is whether or not there is an element of anti-feminism within the text. One thread that goes along with this is whether or not the women of The Canterbury Tales are passive within the tales told. This essay will explore the idea that the women found within the tales told by the pilgrims (The Knight’s Tale, The Miller’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale to name a few) are not passive at all, but rather influence the turn of events within the stories.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Women Essays]
1476 words (4.2 pages)
- Contradictions in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales There is no question that contradictory values make up a major component of The Canterbury Tales. Fate vs. Fortuna, knowledge vs. experience and love vs. hate all embody Chaucer's famous work. These contrasting themes are an integral part of the complexity and sophistication of the book, as they provide for an ironic dichotomy to the creative plot development and undermine the superficial assumptions that might be made. The combination of completely contradictory motifs leads to the unusual stories and outcomes that come to play out in the tales.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Essays]
3890 words (11.1 pages)
- Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales While the majority of literary classics today do well at engaging the reader and allowing them a vicarious understanding of a fictitious character’s life, Chaucer found a way to engage more than just the reader and the character. In his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer masterfully links together himself as the author, himself as a character in the story, the other characters, and then finally the readers. Chaucer’s “narrative flow” forms a type of giant sphere, where connections can be made from both characters and real people to characters connecting with other characters.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Essays]
628 words (1.8 pages)
- Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales In The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer comments on moral corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. He criticizes many high-ranking members of the Church and describes a lack of morality in medieval society; yet in the “Retraction,” Chaucer recants much of his work and pledges to be true to Christianity. Seemingly opposite views exist within the “Retraction” and The Canterbury Tales. However, this contradiction does not weaken Chaucer’s social commentary. Rather, the “Retraction” emphasizes Chaucer’s criticism of the Church and society in The Canterbury Tales by reinforcing the risk inherent in doing so.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Essays]
924 words (2.6 pages)
- Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales Critics interpreting Chaucerian depictions of drunkenness have traditionally focused on the state as an unalloyed vice, citing variously as justification the poet’s Christian conservatism, his intimate association with the disreputable London vintner community, and even possible firsthand familiarity with alcoholism. While we must always remain vigilant to the evils of excessive inebriation, to portray Chaucer’s images of drink and revelry in The Canterbury Tales as an unqualified denunciation is to oversimplify the poet’s work and to profane his art.... [tags: Chaucer Canterbury Tales Essays]
3290 words (9.4 pages)
and doesn't concern himself with how his wife uses her "privetee":
An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf
Of Goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf.
So he may fynde Goddes foyson there,
Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere.
Stories like the Miller's Tale are still popular today, those which claim that
jealousy and infidelity arise from marriages between old men and beautiful young
The Wife of Bath obviously has a rather carefree attitude toward
marriage. She knows that the woes of marriage are not inflicted upon women,
rather, women inflict these woes upon their husbands. In setting forth her
views of marriage, however, she actually proves that the opposite is true:
"Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynough for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage..."
The Wife of Bath, in her Prologue, proves to her own satisfaction that
the Miller's perception of marriage is correct, and then declares that it is
indeed acceptable for a woman to marry more than once. She claims that chastity
is not necessary for a successful marriage and that virginity is never even
mentioned in the Bible, as is seen in the lengthy passage of lines 59-72 of her
Wher can ye seye in any manere age
That hye God defended mariage
By expres word? I praye yow, telleth me.
Or where comanded he virginitee?
I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,
Th'apostl, whan he speketh of maydenhede,
He seyde that precept therof hadde he noon:
Men may conseille a womman to been oon,
But conseillyng is no comandement.
He putte it in oure owene juggement.
For hadde God comanded maydenhede
Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the dede;
And certes, if ther were no seed ysowe,
Virginitee, thanne whereof sholde it growe?
She later asks where virginity would come from if no one gave up their
virginity. Clearly, the Wife of Bath's Prologue is largely an argument in
defense of her multiple marriages than an attempt to prove her idea that "if
society was reorganized so that women's dominance was recognized. society would
be much improved (Huppe, 110)". Her Prologue depicts women as "a commodity to
be bought and used in marriage, one whose economic and religious task was to pay
the debt in a society where 'al is for to selle'" (Andrew, 209), although she
claims to have control over this process. For example, her first three husbands
gave her economic security in exchange for the sexual use of her body. This
"degradation of sexual life" in the culture is greatly evoked, and supported by
the Church's command to 'pay the debt' (210). The Wife of Bath clearly rebels
against male domination with regard to her first three husbands but still
accepts the ways in which she survives economically. Overall, marriage for the
Wife of Bath is much more than sexual pleasure; it provides her with a "vast
sense of power in the exercise of her sovereignty; it makes her feel the godlike
powers which the Serpent promised Eve would follow the eating of the apple..."
(Huppe, 117). Through obstinacy, the Wife of Bath declares that a wife will
achieve sovereignty in marriage, which is good for both wife and husband as a
woman's sovereignty provides for peace. She also sees women as objects and
commodities to be purchased, which is probably why she has such a great lack of
respect for marriage.
On the other hand, the Franklin's tale is one of courtly love and
gentillesse and the reader is asked after the tale to decide which of the three
male characters has proved the most generous. The Franklin suggests a marriage
of equality, a marriage where the laws of courtesy rule (Huppe, 167). The
knight in the Franklin's Tale promised his wife that he would never try to
dominate her or show any form of jealousy, and at the same time he would obey
any command she gave him (Lines 745-750):
Of his free wil he swoor hire as a knight
That nevere in al his lif he day ne night
Ne sholde upon hime take no maistrye
Again hir wil, ne kithe hire jalousye,
But hire obeye and folwe hir wil in al,
As any lovere to his lady shal--
Arveragus' and Dorigen's love and respect for each other is apparent at
many times throughout the course of the tale. Dorigen reciprocates his vow to
her in lines 753-760 of the Franklin's Tale:
She thanked hym, and with ful greet humblesse
She seyde, "Sire, sith of youre gentilesse
Ye profre me to have so large a reyne,
Ne wolde nevere God bitwixe us tweyne,
As in my gilt, were outher werre or strif.
Sire, I wol be your humble, trewe wyf,
Have heer my trouthe, til that myn herte breste."
Thus been they bothe in quiete and in reste.
The Franklin goes on to describe the blissful happiness between
Arveragus and Dorigen and goes as far as to say that married couples share a
happiness that someone who isn't married couldn't appreciate or measure. This
occurs in lines 803-5 of the Franklin's Tale:
Who koude telle, but he hadde wedded be,
The joye, the ese, and the prosperitee
That is bitwixe an housbonde and his wyf?
This couple's happiness takes a turn for the worse when Dorigen makes a
pledge of copulation to Aurelius in jest and Arveragus makes the noble decision
to make Dorigen stand by her word. While one might say the knight was foolish
not to fight for his beloved Dorigen, it can be argued that he knew the value of
a promise and would go to great lengths to keep his word and honor; both of
these views are appreciated by the Franklin.
From Alison's adultery and infidelity to Dorigen's faithful love to
Arveragus and the Wife of Bath's attitude toward chastity or lack thereof, we
have seen Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales portray the concept of marriages in
several different ways.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. "The Canterbury Tales". The Complete Works of Geoffrey
Chaucer. Ed. F.N. Robinson. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1933. 19-314.
Huppe, Bernard F. A Reading of the Canterbury Tales. Albany: State
University of New York, 1964.
Robertson, D.W. (1962). "Concepts of Pilgrimage and Marriage". Critical
Essays on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Ed. M. Andrew. 1st ed. Buckingham:
Open University Press, 1991. 87-90.