The Canterbury Tales: Gender, Female Agency And Masculinity In A Historically Patriarchal Society
Chaucer, through his literature, and looking specifically at The Canterbury Tales, has arguably provided a lens into the cross strata of Middle Age society. In doing so, it demonstrates that discussions surrounding gender, female agency and masculinity in a historically patriarchal society has been conveyed throughout literature dating back to the fourteenth century. So much so, that some of the most pioneering gender and social studies have been formulated based on his works. His literature was an innovation for fourteenth-century readers and has continued to be an academic resource.
The historical social turbulence of Chaucer’s society has been analysed in conjunction with selected tales from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to depict the way in which gender, courtship, marriage and protofeminism are presented. I have engaged closely with the topic of women and their representation in Middle Age society, identifying with Elaine Tuttle Hansen’s argument that.
‘women have been men’s problem, the question; and the historical reality of literature and theory over the last hundred and fifty years has been crucially bound up with that, a problematic of sexuality and sexual identity in which the pressure of women’s struggles against the given definitions produced men’s concern with that question’ (287 Hansen 1992)
Moreover, with the use of literary critics and sources to research the balance between male and female has been incorporated to illustrate the relationships and paradigms. This is evidenced by the ways in which Chaucer’s tales play with gender roles, the feminine and masculine condition and by analysing how the tales accommodate feminine identity. The ways in which the power structures of the tales allow gender hierarchy, in some form to be distributed, allowing flexibility to the fundamental conventions that patriarchal society had been premised.
Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales defends the traditionality of Middle Age society whilst simultaneously scrutinising the semantics of patriarchal society. These arguments have engaged closely with literary critics and close readings of individual tales to reach the conclusion that The Canterbury Tales and its characters ambiguously challenge the conventions of normative Middle Age society in which gender equality was a proposed anxiety.
While it is not possible to determine that Chaucer was directly challenging social normative conventions with The Canterbury Tales, the ambiguity of the texts I believe, interpret conflicting contemporary values surrounding the cross strata of Middle Age society. These arguments supported by literary critics still acknowledge that.
‘The whole point of such representations of the world is precisely that they do not capture historical reality accurately but rather systematically distort and invert it, offering imaginary resolutions to real problems, reducing structural social inequalities to matters of personal morality, and presenting historically specific social arrangements as eternally valid (171 Rigby 1996)
This essay identifies the confinements women may have experienced during a patriarchal culture, bringing to attention the fears and anxieties that endangered the masculine condition. I have suggested that female characters, such as, Griselda, Dorigen and Emelye embody extreme feminine characteristics that threaten the masculinity of their tales society and create an opening for female independent thought. While demonstrating how Alison’s character in The Wife of Bath challenges the foundations of patriarchal society and embodies the fundamental characteristics, we would associate in a modern world with feminism. These points work in conjunction with the argument that,
‘given that the male was taken as the norm and women as the ‘marked case’, medieval attitudes to gender tended to be most explicitly formulated in discussions of women’s nature’ (119-20 Rigby 1996)
Chaucer represents individual questions of morality within the tales highlighting aspects such as betrayal, infidelity, the mockery of marriage and the supposed inferiority of women with a believable backdrop of Middle Age England. This essay has used this to provide an argument that Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with its inclusion of relatable characters, suggest an alternative perspective of Middle Age society.
Literature’s ability to combine intense analysis alongside escapist humor is often a solid indicator of timeless literature; this principle holds true even for a poem written in the fourteenth century. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer provides a thought-provoking satire on Medieval life planted within a cast of lively and often laughable characters, all while presenting its readers with an interesting story structure to explore. The work opens with Chaucer, a witty narrator, musing about the tendency of people to...
The classic from Jeffry Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, is a collection of 24 stories written in the Middle Ages, where Chaucer appoints to all segments of the medieval social issues. Many people believe that, The Wife of Bath’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale are the best of all those 24 stories. However, The Miller’s Tale have certain details that make it stand out from the rest of Chaucer’s work. The Miller’s Tale is better, for it is easier to follow,...
‘The General Prologue’, more than anything else, offers the modern reader a window into medieval society. Discuss, from your reading of the prologue, what problems appear to affect English society in the late fourteenth century, using evidence from the text. Through the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer in The General Prologue we peer into the lives of the many figures of late fourteenth century England in this estate satire. Because of this, we also come to see the problems of the...
In the Canterbury tales Chaucer exposes the churches immortality and corruption. The church builds using expensive metal with material for instance gold while the clerfy lives the “ghetto” lifestyle. Although things like the lack of jobs, sickness and little abundances of food were relevant staples of the 19th century. The church was extremely wealthy while the nuns and others lived a boring lifestyle, the worse part was that it was all at the expense of the catholic faith. He figures...
Geoffrey Chaucer has been regarded as the predecessor or the pioneer of English novel and drama, because all the novels or dramas that we find in English literature have brought out their ideas from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales”. All the techniques used in novel and drama today have their foundation drawn from Geoffrey Chaucer’s work. He introduced many aspects and elements of novel and drama in his work which were entirely missing in literature and had...
Women in Beowulf Beowulf is the longest and one of the most eminent works of Old English Literature. It is an epic poem that values heroism, chivalry, and loyalty. It centers around the male hero and his bravery. The main plot revolves around men (the lord &his warriors). Although it can be argued that women hold a prominent role in Beowulf due to their subtle or sometimes bigger influence on the events, but men are still the most vital, and...
Satirizing Religious Figures in Canterbury Tales In the general prologue of Canterbury Tales, the narrator introduces the reader to characters from different walks of life in the course of their pilgrimage to Canterbury. The narrator addresses key themes while describing each pilgrim: their appearance, their vocation, and small details or anecdotes pertaining to their personalities. While Chaucer unifies the group through their common goal of making their pilgrimage, he also addresses the individual pilgrims and their intentions in life throughout...
During the 14th Century, when Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, knighthood was generally reserved for upper class members of society. Knights were an integral part of the feudal system and acquired land in exchange for protecting the King. They were bound by the chivalric code, which was a collection of moral standards, such as honor, courtesy, and bravery. However, as the feudal system declined, knighthood began to collapse as well. While chivalry was initially used to restrain knights from immoral...
Thesis: The Miller, Wife of Bath and Pardoner in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, are not mere reflections of England in the 1400s, but allegorical representations of modern society. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales has been celebrated as his most prolific work. The way he brought social commentary together with poetry; using rhyming couplets through iambic pentameter as he allowed the use of fabliaux throughout the tales to show his mastery over irony, allegory and humour has been cause for debate in academia....
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