Marriage: The presentation of Januarie, Placebo and Justinus
Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in the late 14th Century, featuring several tales loosely linked together that revolve around typical medieval lifestyles with its many modern day parallels. Marriage was a popular theme for debate during this time, with particular concerns to reasons for and consequences of marriage. Chaucer presents a variation of views, initially through the Merchant’s Prologue where the Merchant forcefully stresses his perspective that passionately opposes marriage. Chaucer structures the Prologue in the form of a confessional complaint which parallels Justinus’ anecdotal account of his experience of marriage. The powerful opening of the Merchant’s Prologue is intended by Chaucer to echo the prior epilogue of the Clerk’s Tale that concludes with the comment “and let him care, and wepe and wringe and waille”, followed by the Merchant’s miserable descriptions of marriage having him “wepyng and waylyng”. The repeated use of the word “wepe” emphasizes their mutual distaste for married life. As the tale progresses, the Merchant’s bitter tone converts and becomes extremely more accepting of marriage in light of Januarie’s upcoming decision to be “wedded hastily”, which suggests his rash and unthoughtful consideration for the true value of marriage.
Chaucer makes evident Januarie’s main reason for marriage being to live a spiritual, sanctified life that will enable him a place in heaven, but implicitly contrasts this throughout, for instance; the specifications Januarie makes for his wife are intended to fulfill his sexual desires. January’s glamorization of a younger wife implicitly presents the view that perfection and happiness in marriage is not possible with an elder woman, which links to ideas portrayed in the Clerk’s Tale through Grisilida who is depicted as a young and beautiful wife who remains subservient, somehow due to her youthfulness. The impression is made onto the reader that Januarie is self-delusional since he is old himself, and he may also come across as judgmental and offensive. It can be interpreted that his intentions are solely for himself. This contradicts the traditional religious conditions of marriage as being beneficial for both husband and wife. Marriage was deemed a unison, and a reflection, of the love of Christ for his people. However, many medieval readers would relate to Januarie’s ambitions in marriage, considering the conventional attitudes to the nature of marriage were regarded as a mercantile transaction and the consolidation of title, so marriage was rarely undertaken for love. This significantly contrasts the views of a modern reader, who would be more inclined to disagree with Januarie’s real purpose for marriage. It seems pointless, however, that Januarie enters into a debate with his brothers as it seems like he has already made his decision, and he absorbs himself in Placebo’s flattery.
Placebo’s sycophantic nature imposes his belief that Januarie need not acquire advice from anyone, and believes Januarie should ignore “the word of Salomon” who says it is best to act upon advice that one has sought. University philosophers in the Middle Ages favoured dialectic, yet Placebo’s use of exegesis does not give forth a productive and informed argument – it seems to only allow for Januarie to collude in his fantasies further without even considering an alternative, in the way that Justinus does. Chaucer’s depiction of Placebo lends the tale verisimilitude as Placebo is demonstrated as a typical pleasing courtier, therefore rather than debating against Januarie’s unrealistic expectations of marriage for the purpose of Januarie’s own good, Placebo entertains his imaginations. It can be interpreted that Januarie does not want to be damned of his right to have a youthful, obedient wife who will satisfy his needs, since the wife, when married, had the same legal status as her husband’s domestic animals. Conventional attitudes to the institution of marriage were very similar to Januarie’s, which Chaucer implements purposefully to represent an actuality.
Justinus’ view aids towards a nature of debate more than Placebo since his views are opposing, as he suggests that Januarie must “be pacient” since marriage is “no childes play / to take a wyf withouten avisement”. He says choosing a wife involves that “men moost enquere”. Making reference to the Christian vows, Justinus highlights the permanent nature of marriage – which Placebo fails to mention, which is ironic since he is so experienced in his courtly life. The sacrament of marriage involves the exchange of vows of care and fidelity, sanctifying the partnership in the eyes of God. Where those vows are kept, as they eventually are in The Franklin’s Tale, the marriage may be said to be good, despite the inequality of the partners. The bitter narration in the Merchant’s Tale, by the Merchant, however, draws no distinction between good and bad marriage and belittles the sacrament itself; initial images of married life in the Prologue, being a form of “cursedness”, is juxtaposed with the Merchant’s view in the Tale, describing Januarie’s desire for “marriage hony-sweete”.
In conclusion, Chaucer’s use of personification allegory with Placebo and Justinus express the conflicting views of marriage, represented by the definition of their names – Placebo meaning “I shall please”, symbolizing pretense, and Justinus, “the just one” symbolising justice and honesty. Chaucer implies that his brothers are types rather than individually realized characters in order to detach any emotion from the attempted debate displayed between the two. It can be interpreted that this emotional detachment is a reflection of Januarie’s real sense of lack of emotion for his wife, also conveyed through the objectification of woman in his use of his wax imagery (“a yong thing may men gye/ right as men may warm wex with handes plye”) and through use of his animal imagery (making a preference to “a pyk than a pickerel”) This approach to marriage was common amongst contemporary audiences; the idea of an elder man marrying a girl as young as twelve was traditional and more accepted than those of the modern audience. However, enjoyment of sex, even between married couples, was deemed a mortal sin as the only purpose of sex was believed to be for procreation and to avoid lechery, so Januarie’s early desire for marriage as an entrance to heaven may be prevented with Placebo’s encouraging words and lack of debate against the reality of Januarie’s future.
Representation Of The Role Of Women In Medieval Society In The Wife Of Bath
The roles of women in medieval society were deemed insignificant and held no rank of respect due to the depictions in biblical stories and texts that shaped the medieval society. During the Medieval period, women were not a symbol of strength or power. They were often blamed for the temptation of men and the reason behind their sins. They were not held to the same societal morals or values as men. Why did medieval society viewed women as temptations rather than upstanding citizens who deserve power and respect?
In the 11th book of Etymologies, it describes the anatomical functions of a man and woman. It focuses the function of a woman to only be for procreation and sexual desires rather than the man who is meant to be a symbol of power and work. “A man (vir) is so called, because in him resides greater power (vis) than in a woman – hence also ‘strength’ (virtus) received its name – or else because he deals with a woman by force (vis).” Isidore of Seville (560 AD), who was a highly respected scholar of the middle ages, regarded women as lesser than man and praised the power of a man; “But strength is greater in a man, lesser in a woman, so that she will submit to the power of the man; evidently this is so lest, if women were to resist, lust should drive men to seek out something else or throw themselves upon the male sex.” They followed the respected teaches of their scholars like Isidore of Seville which led to the conclusions that a women’s role was inferior and only intended for sexual desire.
Throughout the Middle Ages all morals, values and lessons were received and taught by Biblical stories and the consciousness of Jesus was an important aspect of Medieval culture. In the story of Adam and Eve, Eve contributed to the expulsion of man from heaven and women were given that responsibility of the sin of Adam and Eve. They viewed this ‘original sin’ as their responsibility because they deemed women the epitome of sin and temptation based off of these scholarly texts and biblical stories. There was little innovation in the thought process of Medieval thinking and it became increasingly misogynistic as the years went by.
In the Wife of Bath prologue, it is meant to be an exemplary tale and she wanted to express it in a formal way to establish authority. She begins her prologue by stating that she is a connoisseur on the subject of marriage based off of her experience. The text is considered an allegorical confession of the Middle ages. The Wife of Bath mocks the work and churchmen and scholars who belittle the place of a women. She was seen as evil and immoral because she used the satire publications that were directed to women as an advancement in her prologue to direct towards men. In the prologue, she used passages from St. Paul (“the apostle”) to draw attention to celibacy versus marriage and used the passages to defend marriage and marital sexuality. “Or where commanded He virginity?” “He left the thing to our own judgment so. For had Lord God commanded maidenhood, He’d have condemned all marriage as not good, and certainly, if there were no seed sown, Virginity- where then should it be grown? Paul dared not to forbid us…” This is an argument against the refutation of marriage and the uses of St. Paul are evidence that supports marriage. The Wife of Bath celebrates the sovereignty she acquired over her husbands but why doesn’t she stop the prologue here? Her sovereignty was a boast against the conventional status of husband over wife. This document was a creative approach that challenged the conventional ideals and misogynistic behavior that shaped Medieval society. This document shows that Middle Age culture was a centered around the presence of God but also the status of women in terms of celibacy and marriage. As the Wife of bath tries to refute the allegations of St. Thomas who saw women as anyone’s object to not be allowed to marry but to only have sex with and it creates an understanding that Medieval society disregarded the respect of women and it also entails that the roles of women were only for sexual status and this added to their inferiority.
In the Wife of Bath’s tale it talks about the transformation from an old women to a beautiful one. It seeks to challenge the knight about the true nature of beauty. The Wife of Bath is believed to be depicting herself as the old woman, after her lively and youthful marriage with Jankyn. It is a tale about the prosperous and opportunistic age of King Arthur. “Now in the olden days of King Arthur, Of whom the Britons speak with great honor, All this wide land was land of faery. The elf-queen, with her jolly company…” But the age of King Arthur lacked honor for women after the friars moved in everywhere. “Women may now go safely up and down, in every copse or under every tree; There is no other incubus, than he, And would do them nothing but dishonor.” So what was the reason for this tale and what did it contribute to medieval society?
The wife of Bath tale was a conquest that sought to educate the knight. She wanted him to understand that although a woman may look old, he should look past her external beauty and focus on her inner beauty because old and young women all deserve love. Medieval society focused its attention on the beauty and prosperity of woman because she would bear the children and raise the families of the household but never serve as head of the household. If she didn’t seem fit to bear children, she wasn’t deserving of the love of a man. This was a poor trait and rich character comes from the heart. “But he that has not, nor desires to have, Is rich, although you hold him but a knave.” The wife of believed that even a bad man could change. “ “Now since you say that I am foul and old, Then fear you not to be made a cuckold; For dirt and age, as prosperous I may be, Are mighty wardens over chastity. Nevertheless, since I know your delight, I’ll satisfy your worldly appetite.” By the end of the story she becomes a woman who is both loyal and beautiful and curses those who only see women as only beautiful with nothing to offer on the outside.
During the Medieval period, there was little to no improvement of innovation in their way of thinking. Although some woman who reigned as queens or served in churches, they still had barriers that didn’t allow for them to have the mobility they desired. The Wife of Bath brought a humoristic, contradictive, and humoristic approach to the conventional medieval standards to shed light upon their inferior roles and the judgements that branded them.
Literature’s First Feminist in “The Wife of Bath’s” Tale
The Wife of Bath’s Tale: Literature’s first feminist.The Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale is clearly longer than any of the other twenty-three Canterbury Tales. It is, in fact, as long as Chaucer’s General Prologue to the entire collection, in which he gives us portraits of most of the pilgrims. Some of these portraits are more detailed than others, and in links between some of the Tales Chaucer adds his initial characterizations here and there (Cigman).
Nevertheless the Wife of Bath emerges as the pilgrim who is most thoroughly illustrated, through the autobiographical form of her Prologue , which has a directness and intimacy that make her the most rounded character by far. This paper will show that the Wife of Bath’s attitudes about women’s freedom, and relationships with men and marriage are more modern in spirit than traditional. Chaucer’s reasons for overloading the Wife’s Prologue in this way have to be understood within the creative layout of The Canterbury Tales. This combined work is not a simple collection of stories matched up with their individual tellers, but a poem whose interests are divided between story-telling and mocking generalizations of human personalities (Winny).
The Wife of Bath fits into Chaucer’s general “scheme” by expressing opposing views on marriage. The Wife is placed in the midst of a group of lively characters, but is, by far, the most defined pilgrim of The Canterbury Tales. She, quite simply, portrays medieval woman at her most powerful and rudimentary (Cigman). The Wife of Bath, although with an amazing marriage record, is no more than a conformist. The needs of the Wife are rather quite ordinary: she likes men, and she hates to sleep alone (Cigman). She is assertive and devious in satisfying these needs but, as far as we are able to tell, she seems to have remained faithful to each husband while he was alive. She flirts and enjoys an easy understanding with men but, whatever she may have done in her youth or later, she nowhere actually advocates sex outside of marriage.
Her Prologue is a passionate and persuasive defense of her point of view. Her indiscretions and character flaws do not stand for types of moral weaknesses, but as details of a complicated personality (Winny). She seems to have what today could be considered a severe psychological, self-realization problem. “Like all great characters of literature, she retains something of that essential mysteriousness of the human personality that is found in a more than superficial analysis and can be reproduced in art only by a comparably intense act of imagining (Burlin).” The Church was the head moral and spiritual authority in medieval England. It is therefore of extreme importance that, before the Wife launches into the drawn out account of her marriage experiences, she establishes her opposition to most of the attitudes of the Church on the subjects of sex and marriage.
The first part of the Wife’s Prologue is an attack on these attitudes, it is also a defense of powerful sexual appetite. Her main course of justification is reference to Scriptural authority. But, the Wife of Bath moves quickly from theory and influence to experience, and constantly repeats her delight in sensuality in extremely personal terms (Cigman). ‘And please don’t be offended at my views; They’re really only offered to amuse.’ With these words, the Wife ends her opening dialogue on marriage, chastity, and sex, and prepares to set out on the lengthy recollections which form the rest of her Prologue. She begins to offer her friends the kind of personal endeavors that, today, might be considered “frank and fearless” things to say (Elbow).
However, the Wife’s account of her five marriages is not intended as mere gossip or babble; it is a method of passing on what she regards as serious truths about marriage. Most of the Wife’s Prologue is a story of her marriages, with examples from many authorities to support her conclusions and observations. One ambition that is clear in each relationship is also the dominant theme of her Tale: the desire (which she shows true of all women) for mastery over their husbands. ‘I’ll have a husband yet who shall be both my debtor and my slave’ Ultimately, her Prologue and Tale are to reveal a surprisingly idealistic view of marriage. The Wife begins comparing sex to that of the world of commerce (Stone).
A man must pay his debt to his wife; the sexual bond in marriage is an obligation involving sustained labor. ‘They were scarcely able to fulfil the terms of their commitment to me–you know very well what I mean by that, by God!–Good gracious me, I laugh now when I think how I made them toil pathetically at night!’ She announces the most intimate details of her married life with the same cheerful enthusiasm, acknowledging the sexual frustration which directed her to abuse her old and half-impotent husbands, as though it were only an amusing sideshow on feminine psychology (Elbow). Her point-blank references to the body and to sexual activity are part of the Wife’s refusal to be polite about the matter of which she is speaking. The Wife’s first three husbands seem as easy instruments for her way of life, but the Wife’s fourth husband presents a more serious challenge to her moral dominance.
Choosing to find his satisfaction outside marriage, perhaps with a more submissive woman, he impairs the sexual attraction which gives the Wife her supreme hold over men. Her long-held record of controlling her marriages was slightly tainted by this venture (Cigman). Her fifth marriage, the outcome of a love-match with a young man only half her age, begins with an hasty abandoning of authority and possessions to the husband; a mistake discovered only after an instance which leaves the Wife deaf in one ear (Burlin). This proves to be yet another one of the lapses in judgement on the Wife’s part. By regaining the upper hand after her last two mistakes, the Wife reinstates the principle upon which she bases her understanding of marriage. In the endless “war of the sexes”, in the teasing games of flirtation as in the more harsh struggles of married life, the Wife has no intent of accepting the dependent position. She will only be satisfied with ‘maistrie’, and the absolute surrender of her partner (Stone).
The Wife of Bath has been recognized as one of literature’s first feminists. Her actions and attitudes toward her husbands, and the pending laws of the church, do no more than support this recognition. She turns the tables completely around on the stereotypical marriage terms, where men are the dominant counterparts of the relationship and women seem to solely do work for them. She becomes the leading authority in the household, commanding her husband to, both, make the money, and satisfy her sexually. To regard the Wife simply as the ‘exponent’ of an arch-feminist view of womanly reign in marriage is to accept a bland reading on an extremely imaginative work (Winny). The control which the Wife has attained is more than an ability to obtain a series of demoralized husbands, she opened a gateway for the independence and esteem of all women. The Wife of Bath truly is, and will continue without dispute, to be, literature’s first feminist.
The function of authority in Chaucer’s “Troilus and Cresseid” and Henryson’s “Testament for Cresseid”
‘Qhua wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew?/Nor I wait nocht gif this narratioun/Be authoreist’.
In his Testament for Cresseid, inspired by Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, Henryson’s narrator presents an almost immediate challenge to the truth of his literary predecessor, consequently plunging the authority of his own narrative into doubt and humbling himself before his readers. This display of the narrator humbling himself is present elsewhere, in both Troilus and Testament ,with the plain citing of literary sources; ‘worthie Chauceir’, in Henryson’s work and ‘myn auctor Lollius’ (amongst others) in Chaucer’s. Aside from giving us a fair licence to conflate the authors with the narrators, (as the narrators refer to works both authors had read) presenting the sources from which their work has derived seems to detract from their own authority and originality. However, what may seem humbling in fact has ulterior literary functions. Nicholas Watson argues, for instance, that Western literature has a tradition of ‘homage and displacement’, meaning Chaucer and Henryson acknowledge their sources in order to make literary space (and thus authority) for their own work, covering themselves with the artifice of ‘homage’. While this is true, I would take Watson’s argument further to suggest that both writers additionally cement the truth and authority of their narratives in the repeated suggestion that the tragic events in their narratives are in the hands of either fate or the gods themselves, and thus located outside of the narrator’s control. Instead the narrators act deictically, guiding the readers through the action and intensifying the tragic elements of each respective poem by lamenting at things out of his control. Under the blanket of being ‘humble’, both authors thus establish their work as authoritative and true by the ‘homage and displacement’ of their literary predecessors and the infallibility of gods and predetermined events from outside the narrator’s realm.
One interesting feature of Chaucer’s poem is the narrator’s language of obligation; an insistence that he must convey his narrative no matter how painful or trying it may be. Such language is present to an extent in Henryson’s narrative too, (though he briefly attempts to separate himself from the narrator with ‘sum poeit’ ) and serves to hyperbolize both the importance and urgency of their work. For example, Henryson’s narrator describes the telling of the story as being ‘Maid to report the lamentation’,  ‘Maid’ being particularly forceful language as well as a word suggestive of a higher authority in control doing the forcing. This suggestion can similarly be seen in Chaucer’s poem where the narrator describes himself as ‘the sorwful instrument/That helpeth loueres’. Again, ‘instrument’ is unavoidably suggestive of someone above the narrator ‘playing’ him, painting him as a transmitter or mediator. What is interesting about this mediating effect is also the pretense it creates of neutrality in the narrator from the outset. Henryson’s use of ‘report’ in particular insinuates lack of bias, whilst Chaucer repeatedly refers to his attempts at being faithful to his sources: ‘as myn auctour seyde, so sey I’, with even the syntax of ‘I’ following on from ‘auctour’ again creating the impression that Chaucer is merely a kind of scribe. Creating this impression of neutral obligation, I would argue, works by making the readers believe that the narrators are doing them a service, and have endeavoured to make sure everything they write is true. Acting as mediators of their narratives, the narrators are thus protected from criticism, ‘Disblameth me if any word be lame’,[17, Troilus] whilst simultaneously lending importance to their work.
Control of narrative is something made very clear and tangible in both Troilus and Testament, with both authors painting those of higher authority (namely fate or the gods) as the dictators of the most important or tragic events in their narratives, whilst the narrators act deictically, guiding the readers through the action. Chaucer’s narrator, for instance, asks in the opening lines of the poem: ‘Thesiphone, thow help me for tendite’, whilst Henryson describes how ‘Saturne’ ‘tuik on hand’  Cresseid’s punishment’, ‘hand’ depicting physically Saturne’s control over Cresseid’s fate. In places, both Henryson and Chaucer’s narrators speak in the present tense whilst depicting the fate of their characters as having already been decided in the past. Chaucer’s narrator states, ‘on hire whiel she sette vp Diomede;/ffor which right now myn herte gynneth blede’,[13-14] whilst Henryson’s narrator similarly begs to Saturne: ‘Withdraw thy sentence and be gracious’, where ‘gynneth blede’ and ‘withdraw’ locate the narrators in the present. By creating a clash of this kind between the present narrator and events that have already supposedly happened or been decided, Chaucer and Henryson locate their narratives outside of their own work, presenting them as established stories. This also places the men on a level with their readers, all being at the mercy of fate and the gods like Troilus and Cresseid. By pretending to surrender narrative control, both narrators react to the tragedy as it happens and heighten the emotional impact of the most important moments in both poems. In a similar way to Henryson’s questioning of narrative truth and authority, this ‘surrendering’ appears to be a performance of the narrators humbling themselves before more important forces or figures, and though this is true, the emotional reactions of the narrators against the pre-established events in both poems also serves to affirm their unequivocal truth.
As Marilyn Corrie points out in her essay on ‘fate, destiny, and fortune’, ‘the idea that what happens to people, and what people do, are determined by forces external to themselves was current in the Middle ages[.]’ As previously discussed then, fate and pagan gods in both Troilus and Testament lend an ultimate authority to both poems. However, as features, they also ensure that any ill tidings or punishments that befall Troilus or Cresseid cannot, to any serious degree, be contended with as unjust by the readers, something more visible in Henryson’s work which imagines a punishment for Cresseid’s infidelity that Chaucer did not. Derek Pearsall suggests of the gods in Testament that they ‘operate in a manner brutally similar to what goes under the name of divine justice’, a comment which encapsulates Henryson’s treatment of Cresseid; his punishment of her is brutal, but the god, rather than himself are painted of the instigators of it. As a result, the readers can only see what befalls her as just and deserved, thus heightening Henryson’s moral didacticism at the close of his poem, ‘Ming not your lufe with fals deceptioun’, as Cresseid is shown to be an unmistakable example of ‘deceptioun’ and falsity.
Fate and the gods are not the only figures that Henryson and Chaucer exploit as means for narrative authority; both also use their respective literary sources to do the same. Once again, under the guise of being humble, Chaucer credits ‘Lollius’,[1.394] ‘Omer’,[1.146] and ‘Dares’,[1.146] as the authorities over his work, whilst Henryson states ‘Chauceir’ is the origin of his work. However, what is interesting about both writer’s deployment of sources is, as Thomas C Stillinger points out: ‘when the shape of the story makes it seem digressive to narrate […] [various events] at length, he [Chaucer] tells his reader where that material may be found[.]’ And indeed, Chaucer avoids launching into lengthy descriptions of how Troy fell: ‘Ne falleth naught to purpos me to telle;/ffor it were here a long digression/ffro my matere and 3ow long to dwelle.’[1.142-144] Here, ‘long digression’ and ‘3ow long’ suggest a narrative urgency, and contain a subtle, yet visible, suggestion that Chaucer’s narrative is more important than those of ‘Omer’ or ‘Dares’, which ‘digressed’ and strayed away from what was important. Whilst Chaucer suggests this in a fairly indirect way, Henryson makes space for himself much more clearly. In a similar manner, Henryson states on Troilus: ‘Of his distress me neidis not reheirs,/For worthie Cahuceir, in the samin buik,/In guidelie termis and in joly veirs,/Compylit he his cairis’,[57-60] using comparatively positive language like ‘joly veirs’ and ‘guidlie termis’ in reference to his source. However, Henryson’s sweeping aside of Chaucer is made clear by the line that follows this ‘homage’, which we will return to: ‘Quha wait gif all that Chauceir wrait was trew.’ In this line, any previous praise of Chaucer is diminished, and by deploying a rhetorical question, Henryson sows doubt about Chaucer’s literary authority without making any direct statement. By proposing the possibility that Chaucer’s work was untrue, he creates his own space to write in, as does Chaucer with his own sources, insinuating that their work will be better than what has come before.
Neither Chaucer nor Henryson claim outright that their work is the most authoritative, true or valid, but when examined, it becomes clear that both poets manipulate their narrator, sources, and language in order to claim authority under the guise of being humble servants to their readers. It is the narrators in particular who allow the authors inside the narrative of the poem to persistently guide their readers and gain their trust, rendering the poems leak-proof to contentions as to whether they are ‘trew’ or ‘authoreist’.
Analyzing the Husbands’ Behavior in the Canterbury Tales
To love, honor and obey is a common part of the modern marriage vow. It is taken for granted that both partners will strive toward an equal union, in which neither is completely dominant or completely submissive to the other. While this may make sense to modern married couples, medieval couples had a very different idea of whether it was necessary, or even desirable for them to obey each other. Obedience to ones spouse is examined in several tales, but the conclusions drawn about this concept vary, especially when gender is considered. While several wives verbally demonstrate a desire for obedient husbands in The Canterbury Tales, obedient husbands are not always rewarded for their compliance.
While subservient wives are a staple in several tales, such as Griselda in The Clerks Tale and Constance in The Man of Laws Tale, a wish for acquiescent husbands is overt in only two tales. The first tale that male submissiveness is mentioned is The Wife of Baths Tale. The protagonist, a knight who has raped a woman, is sent out to discover, what thing is it that women moost desiren (III 905) and report back in a year. The knight asks many women what they desire from men, and he tells the woman that has spared his life, women desiren to have sovereynetee over hir housbond (III1038-1039). Not only does the woman who has spared the knights life agree with this assessment, but, ne wydwe that contraried that he sayde (III 1044). She believes that women should be able to exert power over their husbands in marriage, and that this desire was not an anomaly. This woman, who eventually becomes the wife of the knight, illustrates the first female in The Canterbury Tales who values an obedient husband.
The second instance of a woman expounding on the value of an obedient husband is the wife in The Shipmans Tale. In complaining about the stinginess of her husband, the wife claims that housbondes shoulde be hardy and wise, and riche, and therto free, and buxom until his wyf and fresh abedde (VII 175-177). According to the wife, these six elements are the simple equation for the perfect husband. While all of these elements are worth examining, the concept of male obedience is particularly conspicuous because it was a prominent theme in a previous tale (The Wife of Bath’s Tale), which was dominated by the female point of view. Once again, the theme of obedience arises as a desirable trait in a husband. Because there are so few instances of insight into the female mind in the various tales, the fact that a want for submissive husbands arises in both is particularly notable.
A compliant husband appears in both of the aforementioned tales, but the results of their obedience vary. In The Wife of Bath’s Tale, obedience to a wife has exceptionally good outcome for the husband. After first learning to be a submissive male to the queen in order to be spared punishment for the rape he committed, the knight is forced to marry an old woman and is presented with the choice to have a young and beautiful wife who is independent, or an old wife who is true and humble. Rather than make the decision himself, he grants sovereignty to his wife, agreeing to abide by what she feels is best. The knight asserts:
I put me in youre wise governance; cheseth yourself which may be moost plesance And moost honour to yow and me also?? For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me. (III1231-12-35)
His words illustrate that he will be an obedient husband and accept that his wife can and should have the power to make a decision that will affect both of them. Because he gives up the role of being a dominant male, he is rewarded by his old and haggard wife giving him the best of both worlds, becoming, bothe fair and good (III 1241). Not only does the knight go unpunished for the monstrous rape he commits at the beginning of the tale, but he ends up with a beautiful wife who is humble and true to him. In this example, obeying his wife yields enormously pleasing results, supporting the idea that such behavior should be a model for all husbands.
The husband in The Tale of Melibee, however, does not receive such extraordinary rewards for his acquiescence to his wife. In the beginning of the tale, Melibee lists off several reasons why the counsel of his wife is suspect, ranging from every wight wolde holde [him] a fool (VII 1055), to the fact that he wants his solution to remain a secret, til it were tyme that it moste be knowe, and his ne may nought be (VII 1060) if he submits to her recommendations. However, at the end of the tale, Melibee’s attitude towards heeding his wife’s guidance undergoes a change. Melibee has heard of, the grete skiles and rsouns of dame Prudence, and hire wise informacion and techynges (VII 1869) and wisely, enclyne[s] to the wil of his wife assent[ing] fully to werken after hir conseil (VII 1870-1871). He subordinates himself to her, realizing that she is a wise woman with so greet discrecioun (VII 1871) and who is very prudent, as per her symbolic name, Prudence.
Despite his admission of the advantageousness of acquiescing to his wife, the consequences of acting on this discovery are much more abstract than the knight received. The story simply ends with Melibee telling his enemies that because they are repentant, he will be merciful. The dynamics of the marriage between Melibee and Prudence do not change. Melibee does not make a speech vindicating his wife, or even thanking her for her counsel. Instead, his submission to his wife’s counsel is overshadowed by the moral of forgiveness in the end of the tale. Rather than tangibly illustrating that Melibee benefited from his wise acceptance of his wife’s intelligent advice, the story neither rewards nor punishes him for his actions. This lack of concrete consequences for his actions causes ambivalence in what ideas the reader should take away from the story about male obedience.
The outcome of The Shipman’s Tale is equally problematic in regard to an obedient husband. The tale begins from the point of view of a woman, and this feminine point of view tells that her husband, the merchant, moot us clothe, and he moot us arraye as well as, payen for[her] cost, [and] lene [her] gold (VII 12, 19). The woman likes to go out on the town, but must be properly outfitted for such adventures, and her husband dutifully pays these costs. Not only does he pay for her clothes, but if she needs any money at all, he pays the cost and gives her more money. Dispensing money so freely and frivolously to his wife demonstrates obedience to the wishes and desires of his spouse. He does not seem to restrict or monitor how his wife spends his money, which illustrates the implicit compliance to his wife’s spending. This trust in his wife is rewarded by being cuckolded by a monk whom he has let stay in his home. This wife is the particular wife who named the six elements that every woman wants in a husband, and even she does not respect a submissive husband.
Not only is obedience to one’s wife punished in The Canterbury Tales, but the opposite behavior is lavishly rewarded. The outcome of The Clerk’s Tale is diametrically opposed to the idea of a submissive husband being desirable. Walter, the husband of the tale, refuses to submit to his wife in even the most basic request of a smock to cover her naked body on the walk back to her father’s house. Instead, he seems to delight in making unreasonable requests of Griselda to affirm her obedience to him. He torments her by deceiving her into believing that both of her children are killed in infancy, but is still not content when she stoically and unbelievably endures these trials. To test her even further, he pretends to divorce her to marry a younger wife, and requests that Griselda organize the wedding. Walter is the antithesis to an obedient husband, yet he escapes unpunished for the agony he causes his wife.
Not only does he avoid negative consequences for his actions, Walter’s attitude of tyrannical domination is positively reinforced by Griselda’s resulting attitude. Upon discovering that her children are alive, she exclaims that they were kept alive by their, benyngne fader (IV 1097)). Instead of retaliating against her husband for the suffering she was subjected to, she is ecstatic that she can again be with her true love and children. The narrator goes on to relate that the two of them lived, in concord and in reste (IV 1129), for the rest of their lives. The message that Griselda’s actions demonstrate is that it was acceptable for Walter to senselessly persecute her. The meaning beneath her actions, while not overtly articulated in the tale, is that she does not want a husband that will obey her; rather, an abusive oppressor is highly desirable.
While yielding to your wife is verbally demonstrated to be a desirable trait in a husband, the results of male submissiveness do not uniformly reinforce this desirability. Walter’s reward, having an incredibly acquiescent wife, rivals that of the knight in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, but for completely opposite actions. Instead of empowering his wife as the knight did, Walter belittles and oppresses his wife for his own selfish pleasure, yet both men end up with humble and submissive wives. The effect of this dissonance is to undercut the supposedly progressive ideas that are presented in the stories. The fact that Chaucer would put in a woman’s point of view and their desire for an obedient husband can be seen as a feminist sensibility that was far ahead of his time. He was giving voice to a population that was largely ignored and unheard, as well as partially breaking away from a misogynistic portrayal of a woman’s point of view. However, the subtext behind the message is not as positive. Chaucer puts the words to paper, but his husband characters do not strive toward this ideal, nor is an obedient husband always flatteringly portrayed. This conflict between the theoretical words of female characters and their real-life implementation serves to problematize what the reader interprets to be Chaucer’s intention behind giving women a voice in The Canterbury Tales. Did Chaucer value a mutually serving marriage union with uncanny modern sensibilities, or was he simply another jilted man choosing to illustrate another modern sensibility, that nice guys always finish last?
Geoffrey Chaucer: Father of English Literature
Geoffrey Chaucer is a great man; he’s considered as a founding Father of English literature. He’s also a philosopher, astronomer and author. Although he wrote many of his works, his best known work was The Unfinished Tale of the Canterbury Tales. Sometimes honored as the father of English literature, Chaucer was also honored by several scholars as the first author to demonstrate the art of original English, in addition to French or Latin.
He was born around 1343 in London, his date of birth and location of his birth remain unknown, His father and grandfather were both wine maker in London, the previous generations are businessman in Ipswich. In 1359, at the beginning of the Hundred Years War, Edward III invaded France and Chaucer join the region with Elizabeth’s husband, Lionel Antwerp, as a member of the British Army. In 1360, he was arrested during the Rheims siege, and Edward paid a 16-pound ransom, which was a considerable sum, and Chaucer was released. After the incident, Chaucer’s life wasn’t clear, but he arrived in France, Spain, and Flanders, high chance a procurator and maybe pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Around1366, Chaucer married Philippa (de) Roet. It is unclear whether he and Philippa have several children, but some sources say there are three or four. His son, Thomas Chaucer, had a distinguished career, was the general manager of four kings, envoys to France, and spokesman of the lower house of An. Daughter Thomas, Alice, married Suffolk’s Duke. Thomas’s great-grandfather, John de la Pole, was the heir to Richard III’s throne before he was overthrown. Other children of Geoffrey are probably Elizabeth Chaucy, a nun at Barking Abbey. Agnes, who served in the coronation of Henry IV; and the other is Lewis Chaucer.
Chaucer’s “Treatise on the Astrolabe” was written for Lewis. Chaucer studied law in the Inner Temple at the time, he also become a member of the Royal Court Edward III, like a yeoman on June 20 1376. He traveled aboard a lot, sometime as a yeoman, as a part of military expedition, he went to Picardy and he visited Genoa and Florence in 1373. A lot of scholars said that o that Italian trip, he met Petrarch or Boccaccio and they introduced him to the medieval Italian poetry. In 1378, Richard II sent Chaucer as an envoy to the Visconti and to Sir John Hawkwood in Milan. That seem be the Knight of the Canterbury Tales based on him. On July 12 1389, Chaucer became clerk of the king’s work and keeper of the lodge at the King’s park in Feckenham, which is a very honorable position.
Chaucer’s first major work is The Book of the Duchess and the other early work are Anelida and Arcite and The House of Fame. There are a lot of major work such as: Roman de la Rose, The Legend of Good Women, Treatise on the Astrolabe. Chaucer is a very great man, he has contributed to literature of the world in general and in English literature in specific.
Biography of Poet Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer is a diplomat and also a royal gardener. In short, he is the master of the day job. Poet Geoffrey Chaucer was born around 1340 in London, England. In 1357 he became a civil servant for Countess Elizabeth of Ulster and continued his capacity with the British courts throughout his lifetime. The Canterbury Tales became the most famous work. He died on October 25, 1400 in London, England, and was the first to be buried in Poet’s Corner Westminster Abbey.
Geoffrey Chaucer is one of St. Paul’s Cathedral School students. Here he first studied influential writings Virgil and Ovid. As a teenager, he works as a kind of high-class waiter. It started from the career path of adoption of the parents In 1357, Chaucer became a civil servant for Countess Elizabeth of Ulster, paid for a small salary enough to pay for his food and clothing. In 1359, Chaucer went to war in the Hundred Years’ War in France, and in Rethel he was arrested for ransom. Thanks to Chaucer’s royal connection, King Edward III helped pay his ransom. Chaucer was released after being given a ransom and after that he joined the Royal Service, and he traveled throughout France, Spain and Italy in diplomatic missions throughout the early to mid-1360s. In 1368, King Edward III made Chaucer as one of his esquires when the queen died in 1369, this is very functional to strengthen the position of Philippa which later became the property of Chaucer also. In 1370 to 1373, Chaucer went abroad again to conduct diplomatic missions in Florence and Genoa to help build the British port in Genoa. There he spent time getting to know the works of Italian poets, Dante and Petrarch. When his duties finished he returned and he was rewarded for his diplomatic activities with a trust to become the Customs Controller. in 1377 and 1388, Chaucer was involved in more diplomatic missions so Chaucer did not have much time to write poetry. And In 1385 he applied for a temporary leave. For the next four years he lived in Kent but worked as peace justice and later became a Member of Parliament, rather than focusing on his writing. When Philippa died in 1387, Chaucer was having difficulties in finances. He must continue to work in the public service to earn a living and pay off the accumulated debt that continues to grow. And after that, Chaucer worked as a diplomat, representing Britain in France and Italy.
The Consequences of Greed in The Pardoner’s Tale, a Novel by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Pardoner’s Tale: Evil, Greed, Death
Author of The Pardoner’s Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer, uses the symbol greed to portray his lesson, “Money is the root of all evil.” The parable introduces 3 men at a pub who are enraged upon learning a mutual friend was killed. A pact was made to hunt for Death, who is believed to be on a killing spree, in a nearby village about a mile away. Their journey to death begins.
Upon arrival to Death’s location, a pot of gold is to be found instead. “This treasure here Fortune to us has given That mirth and jollity our lives may liven” (Page 5, Line 10-11) Blinded by the abundant amount of riches, Death is all forgotten about. The symbol greed takes place when each man has an agenda to kill one another for the sake of gold. The youngest man heads to buy food, wine, and poison to kill rats. “And fetch us bread and wine here, privately. And two of us shall guard, right cunningly.” (Page 5, Line 35-36) The 2 older men make an agreement on splitting the riches. “Nevertheless, if I can shape it so That it be parted only by us two, Shall I not do a turn that is friendly.” (Page 6, Line 10-12) The food and wine have arrived and the youngest man is killed. Left with the richest to be split, the 2 men have a seat for drinks. Their journey to death has ended.
Geoffrey Chaucer portrays each man of having their own set of greed. Ultimately, it leads to the ceasing of their own “Death.” The lesson of greed shows me what it’s capable of even within close friends. The love of money is the root of all evil.
The Importance of Values in The Pardoner’s Tale and The Wife of Bath’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer, and Morte D’arthur by Thomas Malory
Values are defined as things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. However, values of those in the middle ages differ from values today. Values such as religion, loyalty, forgiveness, and humility were present during this time period. Literature such as The Pardoner’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale and Morte D’ Arthur, emphasize the importance of these values on the lives of the citizens.
In, The Pardoner’s Tale, author Geoffrey Chaucer uses satire to criticize the middle age value of religion as well as how comfortable many of them was with death and the afterlife. During the middle ages, individuals did not question the authority of church nor its workers. Chaucer satirizes the pardoner in a comedic manner by describing how emasculant his appearance was by comparing him to a castrated male horse. Chaucer also explains how gullible the people were believing the pardoner although he was using fake relics. The text states, “You’ll have me kissing you old Breeches too/And swear they were the relic of a saint” (Chaucer 292-293). The host is upset by the Pardoner’s lies and call to the attention that his relics are fake thus making what he says in believable. People of the time were highly gullible, believing the pardoner will free them of their sins. Thus enabling them to go to heaven. However, the pardoner is not what he is expected to be, he is rather corrupt. Being that he is a representation of the church, this shows the church’s desire for money in order to better their community. However, most of which the Pardoner kept.Religion was an important part medieval society.
Geoffrey Chaucer uses satirizes in The Wife of Bath, to show the importance of the middle age value of religion as well as forgiveness. The church emphasized the importance of chastity. Although very religious, Chaucer’s character, Wife of Bath, would disagree on many ideas of the church regarding sexual actions for wealth during the time period. The Wife of Bath is a very shapely however outspoken women compared to most of the time who were considered property of their husbands. This being essential because she was known as a role model for the “feminist movement” during the middle ages. However, the feminist movement during this period was different from that of the 1800s. During this wave, women strived for equality. However, during the middle ages, feminism was known as having control over one’s husband in a relationship. The text states, And-Jesu hear my prayer!- cut short the lives/ of those who won’t be governed by their wives,” (Chaucer 437-438). These lines present the moral of the Wife of Bath’s tale to the other pilgrims as to the perspective of women during the time. Forgiveness is displayed through her tale of a rather lusty knight committing a crime which should have resulted in death.The text states, “But that the queen, and other ladies too,/ Implored the king to exercise his grace/So ceaselessly, he gave the queen the case/And granted her his life, and she could choose/ Whether to show him mercy or refuse,”(70-74). The queen and other females exercised grace and forgiveness by sending him on a quest to find what women desire most and postponing his death rather than killing him right away. Forgiveness is shown through this, and this aids to the society growing.
In Morte D’Arthur values such as loyalty and humility are present through this literature. The tale explains as to how King Arthur came to power as well as background of some of his knights. When first pulling out the sword from the rock, Arthur displays humility. Following this action, he gains respect from his relatives. The passage states, “Alas, said Arthur, my own dear father and brother, why kneel ye to me?” (Malory 6). After being told he proceeded to ask ‘Why?’ and agreed to pulling out the sword several times following before the community accepted him as their king. Although doubted, Arthur remained humble as well as forgiving to those who doubted him. Another value includes loyalty.After Launcelot steals Arthur’s wife, Sir Gawain goes to war to defend Arthur. Although Launcelot is loved by all and never defeated, Gaiwan stood his ground. The text states, “Where art thou,Sir Launcelot? Come forth, thou false traitor knight and recant”(Malory 2). Although he knows that Launcelot is capable of winning, Gaiwan did not let this hinder his loyalty to Arthur. Forgiveness and mercy are strong values of the time, they are also knightly virtues, key characteristics of an exemplary knight.
Literature such as The Pardoner’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, and Morte D’ Arthur depict the values of loyalty,humility, forgiveness and religion in the Middle Ages. Although they differ from values today, these values shape the community and exercise their beliefs. These are the beliefs that are important to them and displays how many lived during the time.
“The Book of the Duchess”: the Dreamer’s Story
Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem “The Book of the Duchess” was written between the years 1369-1372. The poem is a product of Chaucer’s French period. This work was written for Chaucer’s principal patron, John of Gaunt, after the death of his first wife, Blanche. Initially the poem was known as “The Deth of Blaunche the Duchess” and was the first elegy of an English lady. The framework of the poem is a dream motif structured in octosyllabic couplets. Chaucer’s use of the dream motif contributes to the poem’s theme of the brevity of love, the obtuseness of the dreamer, and springtime.
It is not by mistake or accident that Chaucer implemented the dream motif in “The Book of the Duchess.” The dream represents a disconnection from reality; otherwise, Chaucer would have offended John of Gaunt in writing a misrepresentation of the death of his wife. The dream motif also gives Chaucer the freedom to pen a creative and enticing piece. Dreams have no boundaries because they are solely the creation of the dreamer. The action that takes place in a dream cannot be challenged by anyone else because it is what the dreamer created. Therefore, the use of the dream motif opens a door to many possibilities for the writer and the characters of the work.
Although the general subject matter of the poem is accepting loss and the uncontrollability of loss and death, the brevity of love seems to invoke loss in the poem. Upon being introduced to the dreamer, we learn that he is an insomniac and is suffering from an unrequited love affair. The dreamer cannot grasp sleep or the declining lover that can heal him. The dreamer begins to read the story of Ceyx and Alcyone, and it intrigues him because it is a romance. The dreamer continues the story because it is a way for him to hold on to the idea of love. While reading the story with the dreamer, the audience learns that Alcyone has lost her husband and cannot let go of him because of her love for him. Ceyx and Alcyone is a story within a story in which Chaucer also implements the dream motif. Alcyone, stricken with grief, finally falls asleep after calling out to Juno, “Quod she to Juno, hir goddesse, ‘Helpe me out of thys distresse’” (109-110). Juno summons Morpheus, the god of sleep, to help bring closure to Alcyone by presenting Ceyx in a dream in which Ceyx tells Alcyone to let go of her grief.
The story of Ceyx and Alcyone is but a distraction because the actual poem does not start until the story ends. The dream motif also makes the narrator and dreamer two different characters, although at first glance the audience considers them to be one. The narrator tells us a story and then wakes up in a dream after falling asleep, thus transitioning us from the narrator to the dreamer. Initially upon meeting the narrator, we learn that he is in a melancholy state. He has chronic insomnia and is delusional and depressed. He questions why he is still alive since nature usually calls for the end of any creature so full of sorrow and lacking sleep. This further proves John Rivers’s theory that “the poem is a dream vision in which the poet-narrator falls asleep troubled about his own situation and in the dream has an educational experience” (Rivers 565). The dreamer’s thoughts are idle and he takes no note of his surroundings. The narrator finally falls asleep after reading the story and drifts into a dream.
Being aware of the narrator’s state of insomnia, the dream motif contributes to the obtuseness of the narrator. The audience is as ignorant as the dreamer because we learn just as he does, and the poem unfolds before us just as it does for him. The dreamer is purposely dull and na?ve so that he may enter the being of other characters. When the dreamer stumbles upon the Black Knight, he observes the Knight as he grieves. The dreamer approaches the Black Knight and is confused by the Knight’s story of grief until the Knight yells, “she ys ded. — May! — Yis, be my trouthe!” (1309). Because the dreamer could not understand the Knight’s jargon, it shows that he is socially na?ve. The dreamer tries to appear courtly and sophisticated but the insomnia and dream motif have shaped him to be obtuse in character.
According to John Gardner, “Chaucer’s time was one in which official doctrine split human personality in ways we would now call schizophrenic.” Because of this, it would only make sense that Chaucer’s dream motif promotes a theme of springtime. Springtime essentially represents a time of happiness, warmth, growth, and hope — obviously none of the elements of schizophrenia or insomnia. Once again, as seen in the use of springtime in the dream motif, Chaucer disconnects the suffering character from reality and places him in an oasis. The dreamer has left his world of insomnia, and he dreams that he wakes up in May at dawn to the singing of small birds, a significant change from the reality of this life. This springtime is also associated with love, frivolity, and gaiety, although no one in “The Book of the Duchess” ever acquires these things. The dream motif introduces the so-called reverdie tradition, which indicates springtime and the theme of love that is associated with it.
The dream motif allows for an intimacy that Chaucer may not have been able to use in a regular work. This intimacy allows Chaucer to write the most absurd thing and justify it because it is a dream. The dream allows the freedom to explore and gives the work a seal of authenticity because no one can question or contradict the validity of a dream. For example, the obtuseness of the narrator is obvious because there is no other explanation for why he first hears the Knight speak of the death of his lady, but still the narrator does not understand. Chaucer’s use of the dream motif creates the perfect structure for “The Book of the Duchess.” The dream motif creates a story within a story that intimately explores the brevity of love, creates and justifies an obtuse character, and implements the the reverdie tradition, all of which are typical elements of French poetry.
Chaucer, Geoffrey, and John H. Fisher. “The Book of the Duchess.” The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1989. Print.
Chaucer, Geoffrey, and Theodore Morrison. The Portable Chaucer. New York: Penguin, 1977. Print.
Gardner, John. The Life and Times of Chaucer. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2009. Print.