Women and Love in Chaucer

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Chaucer's opinion of women and his views on love are very prominently featured in his poetry. Focusing on women, one must first examine the popular views concerning women during Chaucer's time. Arlyn Diamond writes of Chaucer that, ". . . he accepts uneasily the medieval view of women as either better or worse than men, but never quite the same." (Green 3) This is evident in Chaucer's portrayal of women in such poems as "The Wife of Bath" and "The Clerk's Tale" which assault the reader with antithetical views of women. The Wife of Bath is one of the most memorable characters Chaucer ever created. She is considered, in view of Diamond's statement, to be better than the men in her life. Patient Griselda in "The Clerk's Tale" is a peasant woman, married to a nobleman, who tests her loyalty through a series of ordeals in which she is lead to believe her children to be murdered. In this tale Chaucer is exposing his reader to a woman who is beneath her husband, and is treated horribly by him. Chaucer frequently treats the women he writes about as objects, some prize to be won by the heroic man. This is evident in "The Knight's Tale," in which the two protagonists, Palamon and Arcite, war over the hand of Emily, who they have never met, but only gazed upon from a distance. Their devotion to her branches not from love, but the want of men to contain and control the women surrounding them. Now on to the subject of love. Chaucer writes in "The Knight's Tale" of a love based on physical beauty, where the two protagonists fall in love at first sight. This is a common device used in medieval literature to create conflict between characters. "The Book of the Duchess" focuses on the real love between the Black Knight, and the White Woman. This allows Chaucer to explore the nature of love in context.

Chaucer's Wife of Bath is a domineering woman who demands the men in her life to be subservient. The reader gains from her prologue that she is concerned with sovereignty, which she views as the control or mastery in the relationship. She does not appear to truly love any of her husbands. The first three are older men whom she seems to marry for their money. They pass on quickly leaving her with wealth, standing, and the chance to find herself a more suitable man. Her fourth husband was a profligate, a man of loose morals, who keeps a mistress. His death does not cause her any grief. Alison's fifth and current husband is a clerk who reads a great deal of anti-feminist literature. This is offensive to her ideals of how a woman should act and be treated, which is reflected in her tale. Her tale is considered by Marion Wynne-Davies to be ". . . a conventional Arthurian romance with an inserted homily on the importance of individual ‘gentilesse' or nobility of character." (6) This is an accurate description of the nature of her tale. The tale involves a young knight who dishonours himself by raping a woman whom he caught alone in the woods. He is brought before the king, who happens to be Arthur, who allows the queen to devise the knight's punishment. She sends the knight on a quest to discover ". . . What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren." (905) He searches for a long time before happening upon an old hag who gives him the answer upon his promise he will marry her. She tells him that what every woman wants is sovereignty over her husband. Upon their wedding night she shows that she can change form into a beautiful young woman. With this she allows the knight to choose whether:

To han me foul and old til that I deye,
And be to yow a trewe, humble wyf,
And nevere yow displese in al my lyf,
Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
And take youre aventure of the repair
Thatshal be to youre hous by cause of me,
Or in som oother place, may wel be.
This is a test for the knight to prove if he has learned what women want. He gives the choice back to her affirming...
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