The Changing Face of Love in English Literature

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Love is a common theme in most literature, as either an underlying theme or as the stimulus for the story, as it is an emotion that has great power and is also universally understood. The writers we have studied have written about love in its many forms, from the cerebral to the visceral and they have used this complex emotion to propel their stories and their sonnets. As we progress forward in time we see a distinct change in the freedom writers had as they addressed this theme and a change in the way men perceived love. Chaucer explores love as a motivating theme in “The Knight’s Tale” within his “Canterbury Tales”. Arcita and Palamon are the main characters within this tale and their actions are driven solely by their love for the fair Emily. This old English/Early Medieval view of love which Chaucer relates in “The Knight’s Tale” is indicative of the role of women in society at the time and how men related to women in loving relationships. Arcita and Palamon’s actions throughout the tale are based on a lustful obsession. The two see Emily through their window while they are imprisoned and fall in love with her, despite never having met her. They value what men of their time would have valued in a woman, which was grace and beauty. They vow their love for her based solely on her appearance, as they would most likely not expect more than a superficial relationship upon marriage, as a woman’s companionship was not as valued as her beauty. Toward the end of the tale, Palamon prays to Venus for the grace to win Emily’s hand in marriage. Palamon asks Venus to make Emily his “sole possession”, which mirrors the beliefs of Chaucer’s day, that women were not equals, but possessions, which could be won, owned and traded at a man’s will. The actions of Theseus illustrate this as well when he offers Emily’s hand in marriage, without her consent, to Arcita or Palamon upon their completion of a duel the following year. This tale’s driving force is a love theme. Arcita...
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