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Role Of Women In Cantebury Tales

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The Role of Women in The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer serves as a moral manual for the 1300’s and years after. Through the faults of both men and woman, he shows in each story what is right and wrong and how one should live. Under the surface, however, lies a jaded look at woman and how they are the cause of the downfall of men.

The Knight’s Tale is one of chivalry and upstanding moral behavior. However, beneath the surface lies the theme of the evil nature of women. Emily plays the part of the beautiful woman who captivates the hearts of two unsuspecting men. Those two men are cousins Arcite and Palamon, both knights who duel for Emily’s hand in marriage. The two start out as the best of friends and then roommates in a jail cell that is to be shared for eternity. But with one look at Emily, the two start bickering instinctively and almost come to blows over something they will never be able to have, or so it seems.

Chaucer’s knack for irony revels itself as Arcite is released from his life sentence but disallowed from ever coming back to Athens. He would be killed if ever caught within the city again by King Theseus. Because Arcite is doomed to never again see Emily, his broken heart causes him sickness as he’s weakened by love. It is only after he comes up with the plan of returning to Athens under an assumed name that he starts to get better. Meanwhile, Palamon remains back in captivity, rendered helpless due to his lifelong punishment in prison. He knows that he will never be able to talk to Emily and certainly not marry her because of his plight. All he can do is watch her from a distance and admire her beauty. Arcite believes that this is a better punishment than his, though, as he says: “O dere cosin Palamon, quod he, Thyn is the victorie of this aventure Ful blisfully in prison maistow dure; In prison? Certes nay, but in paradys! Wel hath fortuen y-turned thee the dys, That hast the sighte of hir, and I th’adsence. … But I, that am exyled and bareyne Of alle grace, and in so greet despeir, That ther nis erthe, water, fyr, ne eir, Ne creature, that of hem maked is, That may me helpe or doon confort in this: Wel oughte I sterve in wanhope and distresse; Farwel my lyf, my lust, and my gladnesse!” (58 and 60) Emily has caused him such distress that he cries all the time and contemplates killing himself so he won’t have to feel this every day pain that appears to have no end. All of this because of a woman.

Emily is a sweet, innocent woman of her times. In a strange twist for a woman of The Canterbury Tales, she is perfectly happy alone and doesn’t ever want to be married. Yet, Palamon and Arcite duel twice for Emily’s love and Arcite ends up losing his life all because of her. Palamon, winning her by default, serves Emily faithfully for several years before she agrees to marry him, still not loving him, though. No one wins in “The Knight’s Tale,” but it is the two men who fight over the woman who lose the most.

The “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is perhaps the best representation of men’s downfall due to the influence of women. The story revolves around a rooster, Chauntercleer, the most beautiful cock in all of England with the sweetest voice an any ear has heard. He has seven wives but his favorite was Pertelote, an elegant hen in her own right. It is this woman, this female, that causes Chauntercleer great trouble. One night Chauntercleer wakes suddenly from a bad dream. Seemingly seeking comfort in her, he tells Pertelot about the dream which involves a wild, rampant dog with beady eyes coming after Chauntercleer. But instead of consoling her “husband”, she challenges his manhood and says that no man hers should be scared of a dream. This causes Chauntercleer to go off on a tangent about the many, many times in history dreams have predicted the future and how non-believers suffered the consciences of not taking the proper precautions. After he done, however, he says that



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