Medieval Literary Analysis

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The Feigned Power of Women

Courtly Love: A medieval European concept of nobly and chivalrously expressing love and admiration. To women, this was a life with a façade of power above men and men did all in their power to please. Perhaps there were positives, such as creating an overall respectable attitude toward women and providing a model for younger men on how to live, but it depicted some behaviors of men that are debatable. In medieval literature, courtly love allows women to be on a figurative pedestal above men, however, upon closer examination, the texts of The Miller’s Tale, The Great Silkie of Shul Skerrie, and Le Morte d’Arthur prove this ideology as completely fictitious.

The Miller’s Tale, the third story in William Chaucer’s, Canterbury Tales, portrays a glaring example falsifying this ideal. Alison, the main woman in the story, is portrayed as having “[a] body like a weasel, slim and small…and certainly she had a wanton eye.” She believes she had control of her relationships when she exclaims after a wishful Nicholas grabbed her by the waist and begged for her love, “Upon my faith, you’ll get no kiss from me! Why, let me go, stop, Nicholas…” Using her supposed supreme power over men as stated by courtly love, she believed that control of men and faithfulness to her husband was bolstered by refusing his advances. Nevertheless, Nicholas “spoke so fairly, offering so fast his all to her…” and somehow instantly won her love. He quickly devised a plan to oust her husband from the house, allowing Nicholas to sleep with Alison, therefore turning the tables of control back to Nicholas, the man. Although Alison’s intent was to retain control of Nicholas and have superiority over him, his yearnings for her reversed the structure of power commonly known in courtly love.

In the ballad, The Great Silkie of Shule Skerrie, the least control belongs to the woman. A woman laments, “Little ken I my bairn’s father, far less the land that he...
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