Women: Powerful Figures in Early Literature

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Mary K.
Women: Powerful Figures in Early Literature
Throughout history females have been regarded as the weaker and lesser of the sexes. In most early literature, women were rarely integrated into the story as important roles; rather they were simply present as wives or daughters. In certain highly esteemed medieval works, such as the Pearl Poet’s Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” the role of women becomes more prominent and crucial to story development. Upon reviewing these works, it is obvious how this specific literature was able to promote the impact and authority of women during a time in which they were generally regarded as insignificant.

In these two particular works, it seems that women held a great deal of influence over men. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Bertalik’s wife sneaks into Gawain’s bedroom and refuses to let him leave until she has received a kiss from him, saying, “You’re tricked and trapped!...I’ll bind you in your bed, and you’d better believe me” (211). The wife controls Gawain during this time through an expression of her superior intellect and wit. Despite the time period the story occurs in, Bertalik’s wife, a woman, is a more powerful character than Gawain, a man, and is able to persuade him into partaking in acts he would usually avoid, such as kissing a married woman. In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” women also appear as dominate figures over men. The queen of King Arthur in the story, Guinevere, has the power to influence her husband to lighten the sentence for the knight. Despite the authority of the king, he bows to his queen’s demand and shows mercy to the night. The Wife of Bath herself is also a prime example of a woman’s control over her husband. The Wife had three old husbands and as she says, “Me needed nat do lenger diligence, To winne hir love or doon hem reverence, They loved me so wel, by God above, That I ne tolde no daintee of hir love” (287). Once again, a woman...
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