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Antigone vs. Canterbury Tales Comparative Analysis - Women's Roles in Society

By leftwibe Jan 13, 2008 654 Words
The Atypical Role of Women in Society

The traditional roles of women in society today have improved drastically when in comparison to those of historical periods of time. Although the way that women are currently viewed in society is a great deal more equal than the past, there will always be a tiny view in the back of our minds, whether we are aware of it or not, that classifies women as inferior to men, as well as authoritative figures in society. In Sophocles' play, Antigone, as well as in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, there is a common factor linking the two works; the idea of women's dominance over men.

In Sophocles' Antigone, the first instance of women defying men was very early on in the play. Antigone informs her sister,named Ismene, that the king is denying their brother a proper burial and anyone who refuses to comply with this order will be sentenced to death. Antigone tells her sister that she is determined to give their brother a proper burial despite the order against it. Ismene argues back with her reasoning that they cannot commit this act because they are only women and women are unable to stand up to men (A3). However, Antigone refuses to conform to the stereotype that women are in fact inferior, and continues to stand by her decision (A4).

Another example of Antigone's failure to conform to typical feminine attributes, is when Creon questions her about the burial and contrary to Creon's prediction, she confesses willingly (A7). Then Antigone courageously accepts her punishment of being put to death, failing to adhere to the king's expectation that she will submissively attempt to escape her sentence (A21). Chaucer's Canterbury Tales exemplifies the common element between the two works of women's attempts at attaining dominance over male figures. The first example of The Wife of Bath portraying this characteristic is in her Prologue. She confesses to the fact that she has had 5 husbands and that she uses various techniques in which she can control them (CT 103, 108). First of all, during the Middle Ages, being a virgin was highly prized and on the contrary, marriage was seen as inferior (CT 105-106). Also, her actions in her attempts to gain some type of control over her husbands refute the common stereotype of that time period that women should be meek and submissive to their husbands and men in general.

During the Middle Ages, performing sexual acts even within marriage was thought to be an act of dishonor. Despite this belief held by those living during this time period, the Wife of Bath makes several arguments which convey her belief that the sexual organs were made for not only procreation, but also for pleasure(CT 106). Contrary to the pattern of the Wife's Prologue, the conclusion reveals that she was able to gain dominance over her fifth husband, and upon this attainment of control, she becomes faithful and loving to him, which was in fact the way that wives were "supposed to be (CT 123)."

Aside from the obvious subject and time differences between the two works, Antigone and Canterbury Tales, the common theme is that women desire dominance or some sense of control over men. The Wife of Bath's Prologue provides support and reinforcement of Antigone's actions. Antigone's decision to go against the king's order could in fact be interpreted as her attempt to gain dominance over him and shatter the way that women were viewed as being honorable and obedient to male figures. Aside from the fact that during the time period these works were written, these characters would have been highly frowned upon; I think it is safe to say that these works provided some of the earliest feministic characters, which can be partly accredited for the advancement of women in today's society.

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