The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales: Summary, Characters, Facts
What is a Pilgrimage? Do you think Pilgrimages Still take Place?
A pilgrimage is that you go to a place which is important in your believe. Like a certain church or mosque. In this story it is the Canterbury cathedral. Usually people come from far to visit this certain church, mosque etc. I think pilgrimages still do take place, take for example Muslims. Each year millions of Muslims travel to Mekka to visit this holy place. They come together in this very important place in the Islam.
5 Facts about St. Thomas Becket
St. Thomas Becket, born in London,England, on December 21,
St. Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170 by King Henry II’s knights.
Thomas Becket was a trusted and close friend of King Henry II. Among other things they hunted and socialized together. Such was the trust Becket had gained that when Henry went to sort out problems in France he left Becket in charge of England. It was a custom for noble children to be fostered in other noble houses and Henry chose Becket’s household for his son Henry to live in.
After becoming archbishop, Becket stood up for the church in its disagreements with the king and this led to a long quarrel between the two. The major point of disagreement was about clerks who were accused of committing a serious crime. Becket maintained that they could be only judged by ecclesiastical hierarchy. Henry wanted the royal court to get involved as he felt that the present situation prevented him from governing effectively and undercut law and order in England. Ecclesiastical courts were limited in their punishment and didn’t allow killing anyone. Henry got his way when the Constitutions of Clarendon were passed in 1164.
Thomas Becket was born in around 1120, the son of a prosperous London merchant. He was well educated and quickly became an agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sent him on several missions to Rome. Becket’s talents were noticed by Henry II, who made him his chancellor and the two became close friends. When Theobald died in 1161, Henry made Becket archbishop. Becket transformed himself from a pleasure-loving courtier into a serious, simply-dressed cleric.
The story is about Theseus who is returning home with his wife Hyppolyta and his sister Emily. When they were on their way home they saw a group of woman grieving. Their husband’s have been killed by a king. They can not see the body’s of their dead husband’s, so Theseus decides to kill the king and captures the city. He returns the body’s of the group of men to their wife’s so they can grief the right way and see their husband’s body’s. Theseus takes to knight as his prisoners; Arcita and Palamon. Through the bars of their cell they see Emily, the sister of Theseus, they both fall in love with her. Arcita gets out of the cell first but he can’t see Emily. Because of a dream he goes to Athens. Palamon gets out after a few years of prison. Palamon finds Arcita and battles him for a duel, they start fighting. Meanwhile Theseus goes hunting with his sister and wife, they find the two fighting. Palamon reveals who he is, Theseus decides that they two bring knights to fight for Emily’s love. The one that wins can have her. They fight each other and the fight lasts till the evening Palamon is tired and lays on the ground. Theseus declares Arcita as the winner. Arcita rides towards Emily and his horse throws him and he dies. Theseus tells Emily that after grief there should be love so she marries Palamon and they happily live together.
The physician tells the story about the noble knight Virginius who has a beautiful virgin daughter Virginia. One day Virginia goes into the city with her mother, a judge sees her and really desires her. He hires a man named Claudius who accused her of steeling his female servant and passes her as her daughter. They get into a ‘lawsuit’ and the judge chooses Claudius. As a punishment the judge orders Virginia to get out of Virginius’ home and goes to the judge. Rather than going to the judge Virginius and his daughter agree that she mist be killed. Virginius cuts off Virginia’s head and gives it to the judge. The judge orders Virginius to be hanged. The men of the town throw the judge and Claudius into the jail. The physician ends with a message: ‘forsake your sins before your sins forsake you’.
The Shipman’s Tale
The shipman tells the story of a rich merchant who likes to invite his friend whose name is Sir John. The merchant invites Sir John to stay for a few days. The merchant is working in his office. While he is working Sir John takes a walk in the garden where he sees the wife of the merchant. She is complaining about her husband to Sir John and then asks him 100 francs and she will give him a kiss and the money in return. Sir John agrees to this and promise her the money. Sir John goes to the merchant and asks him to lend him 100 francs. The merchant says yes and the goes to a business trip. After he goes Sir John goes to the merchants’ wife and giver the 109 francs and in return she sleeps with him. After the merchant came back he went to visit Sir John. And Sir John tells him he gave the money to the merchants’ wife. So the merchant asks his wife about the money and she tells him that she spent it on dresses but she says she will pay it back in bed.
The Letter with Problem and Response
I have a problem, my name is Linda and I am a young beautiful girl at least that is how the town describes me. There ones was a man I really loved he was handsome, brave and a man of honour. I really loved him and he loves me. One time we went to meet each other in the woods so no one could see us. We spent the hole day there but thinks went out of control. I lost my virginity because of him and says he don’t want to marry anymore. I don’t know what to do and I feel betrayed but most important is that I lost my virginity and don’t know what to do anymore. I know you should do it after marriage but as I said thing went out of control. I wanted to ask what should do I now?
The thing that you have done is on of the worst thing you could have done. But I think that the first thing you should do is marry the man but since that isn’t a option you should probably make someone kill you. The one thing that you have done is disgusting and it dishonoured you. And of a man of honour there is one thing that can make a woman ugly and you have done it. Maybe you could try to make the man marry you. If you can that will solve your problem and if not there is no other option than what I told you before. I wish you good luck!
The Moral and Lessons from The Wife Of Bath’s Tale from Canterbury Tales
The Queen’s Lesson
In The Wife of Bath’s tale, from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, a knight who has committed a terrible sin is let off by the King, per the Queen’s request, and given to her to deal out his punishment. Instead of doing the worst and executing him she poses him a question and gives him a year and a day to solve it. The question she sends him out to solve is what women want. It seems she gave him this question to solve knowing he was going to struggle and get many answers along the way. He was sent out to find the answer of what women want to teach him a lesson about women as a whole, and to see if he would learn anything along his way. Although it wasn’t something he seemed very anxious to do in order to be spared, he accepted it anyway.
The Knight, after accepting his fate set out in search for the answer to what women want. On his quest he got many answers ranging from fairness to wealth. Of course given the range in answers he had to keep searching. This could have been a part of the Queen’s plan. She knew he was not going to be able to get a straight answer in a short amount of time which is why she gave him a year, but she also knew if he had a longer period of time he would not have tried so hard. She wanted him to have to continuously search over the given time period. He was on a search for a purposeful lesson in his life as well as the answer to save his life.
It appears the Queen was satisfied with the way it all turned out. She wanted him to learn and it is safe to say in the end he learned a lot. Although it took him nearly all his allotted time, the Knight found his answer by making a deal with an old Hag providing he would do her a favor later on. The Knight accepted these terms never suspecting the Hag would come out with what she did. When he returned to the Queen she asked if he had come across his answer and he replied yes. Although he had an answer the Queen may have still had some thought that what he came back with was not what she was looking for. When the Knight told the Queen the one thing women want is sovereignty she was surprised he was able to come back with such an answer, and knew he must have done something to get such an answer.
The Knight thought he had overcome the Queen’s challenge and thought he was free since he had done what was asked of him. What he didn’t count on was the Hag standing up to remind him of his promise. This is where the Queen regained her satisfaction of her choice to spare his life and send him on his search instead. He learned a lesson and now he had to continue to learn an even bigger lesson by marrying the Hag. Even though he begged for her to ask something else of him the Knight married the Hag. This is where he learned his biggest lesson. While married to the old Hag the Knight learned about being fair to her even though he was repulsed. After being so cruel to him and her being so kind still he learned to not care so much about how she looks and decided instead to love her for what she was.
By the Queen deciding to not kill the Knight and instead deciding to send him on the quest she did he learned more of a lesson than he ever would have learned. He spent a year of his life searching all around for one simple answer that he did eventually find. With the help of the Hag who then became the Knight’s wife, he was taught a lesson that the Queen was looking for him to learn. That is how in the end the Queen still got the outcome she was looking for. She wanted the Knight to learn a lesson and even though it took him longer than one would have hoped, in the end he did learn it.
The Character Of Skipper in “The Canterbury Tales” By Geoffrey Chaucer
“My jolly body shall a tale tell, and I shall waken all this company; But it shall not be of philosophy, nor of physic, nor termes quaint of law; There is but little Latin in my maw.” So writes Geoffrey Chaucer, in the prologue of his literary epic, “The Canterbury Tales,” a work that serves as a historical and sociological introduction to the way of life of the late Middle Ages. Chaucer incorporates the use of a pilgrimage to create the capability of including a vast range of people from all societal ranks and professions. From the honorable Knight, to the wealthy Merchant, to the modest Prioress, each character introduced within the Prologue offers a new insight of his or her respective place within medieval society. One of the unique characters Chaucer introduces to us is the Skipper, a pirate and expert navigator who is the captain of a ship named Maudelayne. In the poem, the description of the Skipper tells you that people in his profession do not live extravagantly and lack concern for morality.
The first thing we realise about the Skipper through Chaucer’s description of him is that he is not a man of fine extravagance or wealth. In only the third line of the Skipper’s description, it states “He rode a farmer’s horse as best he could, in a woolen gown that reached his knee”. This gives the impression that not only can the Skipper not afford his own horse, but also can not afford fancy clothes, and has to resort to wearing a basic woolen gown. The second thing that Chaucer reveals about the Skipper is that people of his profession lack morality towards others that cross their path. “The nicer rules of conscience he ignored. If, when he fought, the enemy vessel sank, He sent his prisoners home; they walked the plank”. These lines flat out tell the reader that the Skipper does not follow any sort of conscience, and that he forces prisoners resulting from battle to walk the plank, presumably leading to their deaths. The Skipper’s lack of morality is further exemplified with the following line: “Many a draft of vintage, red and yellow, He’d drawn at Bordeaux, while the trader snored”. This tells you that the Skipper will steal from someone else when the opportunity is provided.
Although the Skipper is not as an important character as say the Knight or the Wife of Bath, his brief description is still enough to provide the reader with enough information to know some characteristics of people in his line of work. Chaucer elegantly reveals to you that the Skipper does not obtain any sort of wealth or extravagance, nor does he have a conscience to navigate his treatment towards others.
Knight As a Hero in The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer’s Knight
Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous poem the Canterbury Tales, follows a motley group of twenty-nine pilgrims on a pilgrimage to the Canterbury Cathedral to pray to St. Thomas a Beckett. Each pilgrim is to tell four tales; two on the way to the Cathedral and two on the way back. The first pilgrim to share his tale is the Knight. In the prologue, Chaucer describes the Knight first because he is highest on the social scale; the closest to aristocracy. The Knight tells his tale first because he drew the shortest straw out of all the pilgrims. The narrator notes, “Whether by chance or fate or accident / The truth is this, the cut fell to the Knight,” (Chaucer 25) which suggests that he feels it was not by chance at all that the Knight tells his tale first. In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer introduces the Knight as someone who is the embodiment of a perfect cavalier. The tale which the Knight later narrates is appropriate because it is a story of war, reflecting on the occupation of the Knight. Knights of the Middle Ages were the core of the military and the heart of the kingdom. Their duty was not only to protect the realm, but also sustain the presentation of a chivalric gentleman.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages began about A.D. 500 and lasted until the start of the Renaissance in 1500 (Corrick 8). The beginning of the Middle Ages was filled with violence from invaders, and kings needed to protect themselves and their territories (9). The violence of the Middle Ages brought forth knights, which later became the heart of kingdoms through their skills in fighting (9). These knights dominated the battlefields, fought on horseback, wore body armor from head to toe, and used numerous weapons, most famously the sword and the lance (9). The process of becoming a knight started at a very young age, and took years of training. Required by law, the knight in training had to be the son of a knight, so it is presumed that Chaucer’s knight was destined for knighthood at birth (29). Training began at the age of five, when a boy was sent off to live and serve in a house brooch under the title of a page boy. Proper behavior and horsemanship were taught, and obedience was learned. At around age fourteen a page became a squire, and immense training began. At this stage, squires were taught how to fight, using a sword and the lance. If the squire was upstanding regarding his fitness as a knight, he then began preparing for the ceremony of knighthood, known as dubbing. The ceremony included a church service followed by the accolade, delivered by a senior knight. The accolade was either an open handed blow to the head, neck, or shoulder or a light touch on the shoulder with a sword, signifying the emergence of a new knight.
In the eleventh-century chivalry emerged, and by the middle of the thirteenth-century the major principles of chivalry could be found in knighthood manuals (Corrick 32). Chivalry reiterated the aspects required to be a good warrior and a good man (33). In order to face brutal combat, a knight had to be brave but also present honor and loyalty (33). During battle, it was expected of a knight to fight with the bravery of his lord, despite the odds, until his lord retreated (33). Honor required that the knight always obey and keep his word to his feudal lord (33). Loyalty consisted of never betraying his lord in any large or small matter (33). In accompanying to bravery, honor, and loyalty, the archetypal chivalric knight was firmly religious and had an aspiration for justice (33). Another piece of chivalry includes courtliness, or how knights were expected to behave around other nobles, both men and women (35). Courtliness gave knights a sense of sophistication and refinement that helped polish the idea of a rugged man whose business was to fight and kill other men (35). Courtliness did not apply to those of lower classes whom knights treated badly (35). Despite the extreme emphasis of chivalry, most knights fell short of their knightly duties. Those who managed to live their lives fully buy the chivalric code were deemed as perfect knights, but they were scarce (35). Most knights were ambitious, not always brave, religiously devout, or courtly (35). The death of chivalry came and the fall of knights swiftly followed in pursuit. The knight, which was once the core of the military, became obsolete by new weaponry (79). The idea of a knight was a courageous and honorable gentlemen, but realistically that title of knight was tarnished and truthfully corrupt.
In the Canterbury Tales prologue, Geoffrey Chaucer describes the Knight as the perfect war hero. During the time of Chaucer, knights presumed a bad reputation. Chaucer wanted to restore the good name of the knight, so he created an ideal one. Out of the many pilgrims on the journey to Canterbury, the Knight is one of the few who is not ironically described by the narrator. As Michael Calabrese notes, Chaucer’s knight is “the overall most gentle and respected of the Canterbury Pilgrims;” which is clearly depicted by the host, the narrator, and the other pilgrim’s mannerisms toward the Knight (Calabrese 1). In the prologue, the narrator introduces the Knight first, and recites the four main qualities he remembers about the Knight.
The narrator describes the Knight as “a most distinguished man” (Chaucer 4). He then tells of the Knight’s ideals, “To ride abroad had followed chivalry, / truth, honour, generousness and courtesy,” these qualities being of utmost importance of a proper knight (4). The narrator then tells of the Knight’s impressive military career with his affiliation in the Crusades and other battles:
“When we took Alexandria, he was there… / Of honour, above all nations, when in Prussia. / In Lithuania he had ridden, and Russia… / When, in Granada, Algeciras sank / Under assault, head had been there, and in / North Africa, raiding Benamarin; / In Anatolia he had been as well / And fought when Ayas and Attalia fell, / For all along the Mediterranean coast / He has embarked with many a noble host. / In fifteen mortal battles he had been / And jousted for our faith a Tramissene” (4)
This also demonstrates the Knight is worldly and well-traveled. The narrator also recalls the Knight’s gentle and meek manner: “And in his bearing modest as a maid. / He never yet a boorish thing had said / In all his life to any, come what might; / He was a true, a perfect gentle knight.” (5). The fourth aspect of the Knight the narrator describes is the Knight is dressed. The narrator says, “Speaking of his equipment, he possessed / Fine horses, but he was not gaily dressed. / He wore a fustian tunic stained and dark / With smudges where his armour left a mark;” the Knight is still in uniform because he has recently come home from an expedition immediately to the pilgrimage, also indicating his religious devotion (5). Those who accompany the Knight on the pilgrimage and he interacts with the other pilgrims, also reflect on the his character.
On the pilgrimage to Canterbury the Knight is traveling with his son, the Squire, and the Squire’s Yeoman. The Knight’s son resembles him, but with perhaps a greater statue of a knight, as he combines art and literature with his warlike studies (Blake par. 4). The Squire’s Yeoman is also a character of prestige; he is a man who is established in his profession (par. 4). As Blake notes, “Chaucer describes here [Yeoman] a mighty man; one who in war is the worthy attendant on noble heroes;” this is a reflection on the Knight, who associates himself with those who are noble and honorable. His interaction with the other pilgrims also gives more indication about him. In the prologue to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the Knight asks to hear something more lighthearted because hearing stories about tragic falls deeply upsets him. He would rather hear stories of men who begin in poverty and climb their way to attain fortune and wealth (Chaucer 213). At the end of the Pardoner’s tale, the Knight breaks up a fight between the Host and the Pardoner, ordering them to kiss and make up (258). Chaucer writes:
“The worthy Knight immediately began / Seeing the fun was getting rather rough, / And said, ‘No more, we’ve all had quite enough. / Now, Master Pardoner, perk up, look cheerly! / And you, sir Host, whom I esteem so dearly, / I beg of you to kiss the Pardoner” (258).
Although he is a soldier, the romantic and ideal Knight clearly has an aversion to conflict or unhappiness of any kind.
The Knight’s Tale begins in Ancient Greece, where a duke named Theseus ruled Athens. One day four women dressed in black weep and inform him that their husbands died in battle and were not given a proper burial by the lord of Thebes. Enraged, Theseus conquers Thebes and on his way home he finds two wounded enemy soldiers. Instead of killing them, he heals the two but imprisons them for life in a tower. The two soldiers are names Palamon and Arcite, who are cousins and blood brothers. One day they see a gorgeous woman named Emily through the tower window and both immediately fall in love with her. Eventually Arcite’s freedom is granted, but on the condition that he is banished permanently from Athens. He becomes jealous of Palamon because he still gets to see Emily everyday, while Palamon worries that Arcite will lay siege to Athens and take Emily by force. Later on, Arcite and Palamon, who escapes from prison, accidently meet in the woods and argue over who has the right to Emily. They duel and Theses finds them, recognizes them and suggests to the duke that they should die, but before he can kill them, the Queen and Emily plead for their lives. The duke then decides to hold a tournament and whoever wins will have Emily’s hand.
An enormous stadium is constructed for the tournament along with three temples. There is a temple for Venus, the goddess of love, another for Mars, the god of war, and a temple for Diana, the goddess of chastity. Before the tournament Palamon visits the temple of Venus, asking for a victory in the name of love, to which he receives a positive sign. Emily visits Diana’s temple, which she prays to stay a virgin and begs for the prevention of the impending marriage, but Dians tells her she must marry. Arcite visits Mars’ temple before the duel and asks for a victory in battle, and receives a positive sign. There is then a change in scene to the gods themselves. Saturn, Venus’s father, assure Venus that despite Mars’ aid to Arcite, Palamon will have Emily’s hand in the end. The tournament begins and amongst the fighting, Arcite sees his chance and claims Palamon with a sword to his throat. Arcite is pronounced the winner but Saturn orders the earth to shake beneath Arcite as he rides towards Theseus. Arcite is thrown off his horse and is fatally wounded. Before he dies, Arcite tells Emily that if she was to marry, she should consider Palamon as a husband because he posses all the qualities of a worthy knight. All of Athens mourns Arcite’s death, but over time the mourners heal except for Emily and Palamon. Theseus suggests that the two should stop grieving and get married because everyone must die, and refusal of death is foolish. Emily and Palamon realize the wisdom of Theseus’ advice and enjoy and long, loving, and happy marriage.
Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale is a reworking of Boccaccio’s Teseida, an Italian poem written about thirty years before the Canterbury Tales (Philips 46). The tale is a romance that captures the themes, motifs, and ideals of courtly love. Broken up into four parts, it is longest story told on the pilgrimage. Romance tales of Troy, Greece and Rome were popular from the twelfth century on (46). Their heroes, as warriors and lovers, provided models for late medieval myths of chivalry: nobility as the embodiment of courage, honour, courtesy, and leadership (46). As Gillian Rude writes, “Depending on one’s view of the Knight himself, the ensuing romance is either a prime example of a chivalric tale appropriate for a courtly figure, or a clever use of a high style to assert social superiority,” both of these examples reflect on the Knight’s description in the Prologue, and the perception of the Knight Chaucer intended (110).
The Knight’s Tale perfectly fits the Knight himself. He chooses a story filled with knights, love, honor, chivalry, and adventure. The Knight’s tale is a tale built on opposites. Love involves both harmony and suffering, while war brings both honor and destruction (Philips 47). Just as the tale involves contradictions, the Knight is also a walking paradox. A man whose job is to kill other men and conquer other cities, is a meek, gentle, and most respectful character. The tale also emphasizes the qualities of a good knight, just as Chaucer relays the importance of chivalry through the Knight. Before Arcite dies he tells Emily that if she is to marry again, she should take Palamon into consideration because he is a noble man. Arcite says:
“‘And may Jove’s wisdom touch the soul in me / To speak of love and what it’s service means / Through all the circumstances and the scenes / Of life, namely good faith and knighty deed, / Wisdom, humility and noble breed, / Honour and truth and openness of heart, / For, as I hope my soul may have its part / With Jove, in all the world I know of none / So worthy to be loved as Palamon, / Who serves you and will serve you all his life / … Forget not Palamon, that great – hearted man.’” (Chaucer 77-78).
proving the point that Palamon is a chivalric man. The good qualities Arcite makes about Palamon coincide with those good qualities Chaucer describes the Knight to possess In the Prologue, the words Chaucer uses to describe the Knight,“Truth, honour, generousness and courtesy / … he was wise / And in his bearing modest as a maid,” are reiterated in Arcite’s speech to Emily (Chaucer 4-5). Between the description of the Knight in the Prologue and the Knight’s Tale, chivalry is the heart of Chaucer’s Knight, and a crucial aspect Chaucer conveys through him.
In the last part of the tale, the Knight goes into great description of the banquet and the elaborate decorations of the stadium, as well as the funeral rituals at the end of the tale. This type of richness and magnificence would appeal to a man of such distinction as the Knight, with its special emphasis on form, ritual, and code of behavior, the elements upon which knighthood is based. The central point of the Knight’s Tale relates with justice. A person who has control of his or her emotions and reason is someone who acts honorably in dealing with others. For example, Palamon and Arcite’s love for Emily controls their behavior, and in instances where their emotions run astray, fighting occurs. It is not until Theseus, the positive model of marital power, intervenes and order is restored through justice and reason. The Knight, like Theseus, is also a symbol of justice. This is shown when the Host and The Pardoner have their quarrel and the Knight breaks it up, forcing the two to make peace. Theseus and The Knight are connected in which they both portray how those in power should act. This is an important aspect of the Knight who despite being constantly surrounded by violence, has a level head. The qualities of level headedness and justice are those of importance in knighthood, which the Knight, of course, possesses.
Douglas Brooks makes a suggestion that the Knight’s Tale would indicate more sorrow if it were connected to a particular time in his life (27). The Knight may be conscious that his own career as a soldier might be near its end (27). With whatever reluctance, he must face the onset of age and the necessity of turning to a more peaceful occupation (27). It is perhaps no coincidence that he tells a story of an outgrowing type of war that passes from formal combat, then to a tournament, and finally to peace (27). Remembering that the wise, meek Knight is transitioning to a newer age; perhaps going on the pilgrimage has a more serious meaning for him than for some of the other pilgrims (27).
Chaucer’s Knight is the perfect cavalier, an archetype to restore the good name of the knight. In the medieval period knights were assumed to be heroic gentlemen in shining armour, but realistically those ideals were not fully lived out. In the Canterbury Tales, the Knight’s chivalric, meek character and his tale, revives the important aspects of knighthood. Through his knight, Chaucer rekindles the expected behavior of medieval knights, while also reestablishing the good name of a knight.
A Theme Of Love in The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
A Crazy Little Thing Called Love
In a language there are innumerable words: countless variations on letter arrangements contrived to express anything imaginable. But a word cannot capture an object’s life or passion until the person seeking to understand its meaning has fully experienced it. Human beings created the word love to encompass an abstract emotion; they also try to harden its fluid meaning with boundaries and relationships. Perhaps these actions reveal a desire to control love itself. In his work The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer suggests that humans can never fully understand love because we do not have a capacity to control it, and will only complicate it with relationships and other desires. Throughout his stories, intimate relationships demonstrate an attempt at attaining love; characters, a desire to understand the word.
Skimming love down into a four letter word makes it look neater, but does not uncomplicate the emotion. Marriage is a very complicated custom as well. The two concepts relate in different ways depending on the time period and the people. Nowadays, people seek marriage from love: in Chaucer’s days, love was not considered to affect marriage. Of his stories involving more than 10 marriages and intimate relationships, only six mention love, and love only prevails in one instance. Just from this breakdown it is easy to see that relationships in his novel aspire to attain love but are driven by other forces, and often fail to acquire love. Chaucer’s choices to share details that focus around lechery and money (rather than love) reveal different ways that people try to contain love, but fail to control it.
In The Canterbury Tales, the Wife of Bath is a shocking but intriguing character who rambles on about her own love life in the prologue to her tale. Before she even starts talking, her appearance, habits, and even her name remind the reader of promiscuity and passion; she has gapped-teeth, red stockings, and wide hips, laughs loudly and often, and is referred to as a Wife instead of her actual name. When her prologue begins, she cries “Thanks be to God Eternal evermore / Five husbands have I had at the church door” (Chaucer 258). The fact that Chaucer has her immediately mention her wide range of experience (as well as speak to the worth of her experience) emphasizes the reader’s initial reaction to her physical description. Furthermore, the Wife of Bath explains that “three of them were good and two were bad. / The three that I call ‘good’ were rich and old” (Chaucer 263). She thanks God for the husbands, but then reveals that she liked the husbands only for their money; this shows the reader that it is hard even for experienced and passionate people like the Wife of Bath to obtain love, especially through man-made relationships like marriage.
Another strong female character, Alison, is a part of the Miller’s Tale. This tale satirizes courtly love, a version of love that people in medieval times used to create an illusion of true love through romanticized sex and male dominance. For example, Alison had an older husband John who “loved her more than life”; however, the Miller goes on to explain that “he was old and she was wild and young” (Chaucer 89). John is the authority, or the ‘dominant male’ in this relationship: but this tale is subversive in that Alison makes plans to cheat on John so that she may “sleep with Nicholas [their tennant, whom she loves] all night” long (Chaucer 94). This undercuts courtly love and its values, showing that true love cannot be achieved by humans on their own, no matter what they do. Another man named Absalon also loves Alison. Like John, Absalon’s courtly love for Alison is undercut when she plays a trick on him, allowing him to kiss her arse: he believed he would receive a real kiss from his “pretty little bird”, but he was humiliated instead (Chaucer 102). Absalon resents her crude treatment of his love and says that “true love is always mocked and girded at” (Chaucer 102). This statement reveals that Absalon believes he truly loves Alison, even though he only has courtly love for her. He does not understand love, as shown by his statement and beliefs. Alison’s actions in the Miller’s tale also show that she does not understand love; additionally, her failed attempts to rule over it through sly tricks and sex reveal to the reader that even though humans try to control love, they cannot.
Like Alison, the Wife of Bath is a promiscuous character who believes she controls and understands love through marriage and sex, but in reality does not. She argues that “as for being married, [God] lets me do it / Out of indulgence” (Chaucer 260). This means that she believes God lets her marry for her own personal gain. Since the Wife of Bath has already stated how little love was involved in her marriages, one can surmise that a person’s chance at love is unrelated to their relationship or marriage. Additionally, her statement leads the reader to wonder if humans choose who they love, or if something else decides for them. For example, the Wife of Bath would have liked to love her first four husbands, but she does not, so she fills in the gaps with money and sex. Furthermore, while still married to her fourth husband, the Wife of Bath falls in love with a man named Johnny and suggests to him that “were I ever free / And made a widow, he should marry me” (Chaucer 273). Though the Wife of Bath says that Johnny was abusive, poor, and disrespectful, she also says “I loved him best, I’ll tell no lie” (Chaucer 272). If love was controlled by humans, the Wife of Bath would have stopped loving Johnny to avoid abuse; however, she happens to love him the most out of all her husbands, and out of love stays with him. The Wife of Bath is trying to find and control love, like she can control sex, men, and their money: but, she runs into problems because she falls in love with someone who is poor and abusive. These are two qualities which she does not desire in a husband, but supernatural love pushes her to make an exception.
Emily is another character who is much different from Allison and the Wife of Bath, but who also shows how love confuses humans and how humans do not control love. Both Arcite and Palamon are in love with Emily for about nine years, even though she has no idea. Just the fact that both men have never met Emily shows that their love is controlled by something inhuman. Arcite speaks to this when he says, “Love is law unto itself. My hat! / What earthly man can have more law than that?… A man must love, for all his wit; / There’s no escape” (Chaucer 34). Arcite states this when he is trying to explain to Palamon their situation. They had sworn to protect each other as brothers, but were suddenly against each other because they fell in love with the same girl; Arcite also picks up on the theme that love confuses and entrances humans (because they do not control it) when he states, “All man-made law, all positive injunction / Is broken every day without compunction / For love” (Chaucer 34). In fact, Arcite and Palamon are often at odds due to their love for Emily, even though she “knows no more of this affair/ By God, than does a cuckoo or a hare!” (Chaucer 51). Love is a mystery to all three characters, which results in fights, sadness, and death. The details that Chaucer chooses to explore in the Knight’s Tale reveal that love rules humans because they do not control or understand it.
Throughout The Knight’s Tale, the gods are also mentioned often, usually in regards to the love situation. For example, it is stated that “Cupid can make of every heart and soul / Just what he pleases, such is his control / Look at Arcita and Palamon!” (Chaucer 51). Characters in the Knight’s tale believe that the gods control love, and this conviction is clearly stated several times. This contrasts with the other two tales, which are more sarcastic and subtle in how they determine love’s origins. For example, although supernatural forces control love in both tales, it is left to the reader’s speculation to decide where the Wife of Bath’s love for Johnny came from or why Allison is surrounded by infatuated men. What becomes more obvious when the tales are contrasted is that the people commonly understand and accept sex or money, but do not know how to find, accept, or keep love.
In these three of Chaucer’s tales, love is scarce and misunderstood and lust and greed are more common. Readers are left to their own accord, but diction, details and language reveal Chaucer’s tone about how love was accepted and viewed during his time. He shows in his stories that a mysterious metaphysical being controls love, not humans. Marriage and other intimate relationships are included to simulate how real people try to culminate love, but his characters cannot capture love in their relationships and only end up complicating the story. Characters are also drawn to sex and money, thinking that it will fulfill their desires, but they are unsuccessful without supernatural aid to grant them love. In the end, these characters and their relationships are like real people and real marriages: perhaps if people realize that they are not able to control or fully understand love, it may come to them and remain there more easily than if they are absorbed in man-made connections like marriage and sex, trying to create their own version of the word love
Sex As a Thematic Element in Canterbury Tales
Explicit themes such as sex are commonly explored by many authors in English tradition. Due to the topic of sex being considered controversial and taboo, sex as a motif can easily attract and engage a reader. Not only is sex an intriguing and entertaining topic, but the theme can be used as a device to mock a larger issue present in a work. Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a collection of twenty-four short stories that focus on a wide range of issues, presented through the form of a storytelling contest. The stories are presented in this type of framework in order to satirize larger societal issues, as well as mock general human behaviors. Through the tales, Chaucer uses irregular scenarios and comedy as a critique on society. Sex is used as a thematic element in a handful of these short stories, specifically The Wife of Bath’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, and The Miller’s Tale. All of these short pieces use sex to criticize societal standards, traditions, and the balance of power between masculinity and femininity.
The Wife of Bath’s Prologue is the first of many tales which mocks aspects of sexual and marital tradition, and questions the power of femininity over masculinity. It is in this narrative that we are introduced to the Wife of Bath (also known as Alisoun of Bath), and given a detailed catalogue of her sex life. Having been married five times, she breaks the traditional role of a progressive woman or wife in Old English society. In her first three marriages, we see Alisoun exercise passive feminine power over her husbands in order to obtain what she desires from them. All three were older and extremely affluent. Obtaining their wealth in exchange for a domestic partnership and their love, she easily found a way to take advantage of them without actually having genuine love for them. Her next two husbands are younger, and Alisoun uses them to feed her sexual appetite. Through her marital journey, she treats sex as a commodity, using it to gain or bargain for what she desired most from her partners.
“And tell me also, what was the intention
Of creating organs of generation,
Where man was made in so perfect a fashion?
They were not made for nothing, you can bet!
Twist it how you like an argue it up and down
That they were only made for the emission
Of urine; that our little differences
Are there to distinguish between the sexes,
And for no other reason—who said no?
Experience teachers that it is not so.” (153, Chaucer)
The Wife of Bath is sexually aware of herself and the power she can harness through sex. She understands that there is more purpose to the genitals than urinating and emission. Chaucer uses her character to satirize the customary “domestic woman,” and to mediate between feminine and masculine expectations. Alisoun’s behavior mocks the traditional standard of sexuality of women, as well as the religious positions women hold in society. The behavior she chooses to embrace is that of masculine power; she is a sexual aggressor, a trait which is strikingly uncommon for a proper woman. She mocks tradition because she takes on the generalized role of a man and is aware that in doing so, she gains agency over the men in her life.
The Wife of Baths Tale, which is also narrated by Alisoun, mocks sexuality in a different way. Alisoun is portrayed as a much older woman in this story, and is not the main protagonist even though the title bears her name. The tale is initiated with rape, a deplorable and aggressive sexual act. The main character of the tale, a young knight, is “punished” for his deviancy by being put on a quest by the queen to discover “what women truly desire.” On his journey, he meets Alisoun who promises him the answer if he promises her his hand in marriage. Her answer is that women want sovereignty over their husbands. When he shares Alisoun’s answer with the queen, his life is spared and he must marry Alisoun. The Wife of Bath asks the knight:
“Choose now, choose one of these two things,’ said she,
‘To have me old and ugly till I die,
And be to you a true and faithful wife,
And never to displease you all my life,
Or else have me beautiful and young,
And take your chances with a crowd of men
All flocking to the house because of me.” (180, Chaucer)
Because the knight allows Alisoun to decide for herself, she transforms into a beautiful young woman. In his decision to allow her the final say, he effectively gave his wife power over him. Even though this tale does possess some of Alisoun’s original qualities, many aspects are undeniably different. From the start of the tale, she already possesses power over the knight because she holds the answer to the question that will save his life. He abused his masculine power through rape, and repenting for his crime, bows down to the woman whose answer can spare him from death. Though the power she possesses over the knight is typical of our feminine hero, there is still another aspect of sex being mocked here: rape. Rape being not only a crime, but a sin, is pardoned by answering a single question. Not only is the knight’s life spared, but in the end, he obtains a wife who ends up physically transforming into a perfect woman. The crime of rape is being satirized in this tale. It is portrayed as heinos crime, but is then minimized to the point of actively rewarding the criminal.
Sex is mocked in a different fashion when it comes to The Miller’s Tale. In this short story, the reader is introduced to Nicholas, a young Oxford student, trying to manipulate his way into sleeping with a married woman. Alisoun, the wife, is a beautiful young girl married to a much older man, John. Nicholas concocts plan in which her husband would be fooled into sleeping in a hanging tub for an entire night, and during his time slumbering, the two would be able to meet for a tryst, unencumbered by John. Unhappy in her situation, she agrees to Nicholas’ scheme and proceeds to commit adultery. Chaucer uses this story to not only explore the topic of adultery, but to also mock the relationship between an older man and younger woman, which is presented as a great power disparity. “Men ought to wed according to their state, for youth and age are often to debate.” (84, Chaucer) According to The Miller’s Tale, a relationship in which the age of the two participants is too far apart will not only create tension between the two spouses, but will also result in one partner cheating on the other. Though this type of marriage is not completely uncommon, Chaucer uses this tale to not only satirize this specific type of marriage, but to also inform people in this situation that cheating will eventually happen. The story suggests that an older person is not an appropriate sexual partner for a younger person, and that eventually the relationship will perish. Alisoun’s affair is almost representative as a punishment for her husband John. “For she was wild and young, and he was old, and thought that she’d likely make him a cuckold.” (84, Chaucer) Even though we are led to believe this act is completely the misjudgment of Alisoun, it is apparent that even her husband is aware of the uncertainty in their relationship. John knows Alisoun is young and he fears her being deceitful from the start. Ultimately, the characters who do this wrong thing are punished in The Millers Tale.
Sex is one of the many institutions Chaucer mocks in The Canterbury Tales, and he does so in order to satirize societal norms and traditions. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, and The Miller’s Tale each satirize sex in different ways. The topics Chaucer chooses to mock are conspicuous issues of society that are either blatantly ignored or made to look normal when they are not. Chaucer uses these narratives to expose to his readers serious themes which are frequently overlooked, such as rape, adultery and the agency possessed by women who are sexually aware. Not only does Chaucer attempt to expose these overlooked themes, but he uses the to make a critique on society as a whole. The Canterbury Tales challenges the traditional standards of marriage, love and standards of femininity and masculinity, especially in terms of sexuality. While the tales are fun and were meant for entertainment, it is obvious why Chaucer wrote them the way he did. He expects his readers to be aware of these issues and understand the satire present in his work. These tales were not just written for the pleasure of the reader, but to also bring about awareness of much greater problems in society.
Structure and Summary of the The Merchant’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Merchant’s tale is the 10th tale of the Canterbury tales which was preceded by the Clerk’s tale. The Merchant’s tale is as Chauncer would have it, a story about one of his fellow travellers. The Merchant was marked out as a successful foreign trader, his ‘forked berd’ (Book IV, Line 270) defined the man’s deceitfulness though it can also be viewed as a means of fashion, the line ‘[t]her wiste no wight that he was in dette’ some scholars regarded as a suggestive of a dubious dealer. Although merchants were regarded as being dubious, they played a crucial role within the social hierarchy during the medieval times such that Chauncer perceived Merchants as being the embodiment of financial management. This story was written during the peak of the Merchant class and was especially prevalent since merchants played such a defined role that they were classed as some of the wealthiest people in society during the 14th century.
The Merchants Tale explores the traditional life drawn from folktales of familiar theme which is known as a fabliau due to its comedic, sexual content. It begins with Januarie, an old merchant who is deceived by his young wife, May who committed adultery with Damyan after he went blind. Before this he was a bachelor who decided to get married after a discussion with his friends. As the adultery was being committed in a pear tree where their plan was designated for, the God Pluto, filled with rage with what he witnessed instantly restored Januarie’s sight. This led to Januarie witnessing the ordeal though he was deceived again, explaining that “Your eye sight isn’t very good. We were only struggling”. The story is littered with connotations, these include January which symbolises winter and old age, May which symbolises spring and youth, Garden of Eden and the sexual energy, and blindness which symbolises January being blinded by lust for his young wife.
The Merchant’s tale is a great instance of Middle English when it’s fully utilised. Within the paragraph of “About an old knight who wants to marry”, several Middle English characteristics such as archaic terms, inflections, spelling, grammar and semantics etc. Archaic terms were highly prevalent in Middle English, and is especially true for this tale since at least 30% of the text were written in them. Some examples includes “thilke”, “whilom”, “bitwixe”. These archaic terms possess some sort of disparity in spelling compared to Late Modern English though their semantics usually conforms to its source.
In a morphological sense, the passage contains a plethora of inflections which is prevalent through the whole text which conforms to the Middle English standard during the 15th to 16th century. Some words such as “sey-e”, “our-e”, “lyv-e” all contain suffixes, these suffixes were mostly used to indicate tense. When indicating tense “-ed” and “-s” were substituted with “-yd”, “-e” were used while plurals remain the same as Late Modern English. This is especially apparent with words such as “wom-man” and “wyflees”, where there’s a clear indication of a free morpheme. There are also some exceptions such as “o-other” where a prefix is used though this mostly correlates with spelling.
A standardised spelling system for Middle English was never established. This meant that there was a lack of consistency between words, such that the occurrence of a duplicated word in the same passage could be written incorrectly, which is evidenced by the Canterbury tales where “yong” (The Merchant’s Tale, Line 74) is spelt differently “yonge” (The Clerk’s Tale, Line 80). Other spelling differences to Late Modern English include the missing letters and extra letters which is prevalent through the whole context of the passage. This signifies that there was lexical development and that the language itself was still evolving. Substitution was also commonplace when translating, where a letter such as “y” is used in place of “i” and “e” to reproduce the /ɪŋ/ or /ə/ (i.e “Hyr” for “Her”) sound.
The passages in the Merchant’s tale is comprised almost completely of coordinating conjunctions rather than subordinating. There were a high proportion of “And” being used which isn’t prevalent in the previous tale which means that this tale is exclusively utilising it due to its satirical, comedic and sexual nature of fabliau; the extract itself is written almost completely in third person though there are definitely evidence of first person elements though. The selection of third person serves as a basis for telling stories of others whilst the selections of first person allows for a poetic nature. When speaking in first person it rhymes in an AABB pattern which can be seen here. This rhyming scheme is used satirical.
How Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is Still Relevant in Society Today
The Canterbury Tales in Society Today
Geoffrey Chaucer re-examines the stereotypes and roles in society in the 1300’s in the collection of stories, The Canterbury Tales. To bring issues into light by discussing different stereotypes and separates them from the social norm, Chaucer gives his characters ironic and unusual characteristics. Specifically, in the tales of The Wife of Bath and The Miller, women and men are examined as an effort to see the inequality between the two. The poems may be from the 1300’s, but it does not mean it is not still relevant today. Therefore, The Canterbury Tales should still be read and studied because it relates to problems and issues in today’s society.
Women are still seen as inferior to men, but have come a long way. There are several women on the pilgrimage to Canterbury, the Wife of Bath, the Prioress, and the nuns, compared to the large number of men. All throughout history, women have been taught to act ladylike and any other way is a disgrace. The Prioress tries to be very gentle and ‘womanly’ because it is expected of her, unlike men who can act however they want because there is no expectation. An example of how she acts is when, “… she would wipe her upper lip so clean That not a trace of grease was to be seen” (Chaucer, 6). A sloppy woman receives a negative look because it is not natural, but a sloppy man is natural. In 2014, an article was published titled, “17 Unladylike Things 20-Something Women Have Got To Stop Doing” (Kovie Biakolo). Almost everything mentioned is what men do as well, such as, cursing, acting dumb, and not showering. Women are humans just like men. Back to the book, the Wife of Bath speaks about having power, but not an education. All throughout history, women have not had as much opportunities as men. Women were not able to access a formal education, leaving them without the ability to read or write. The Wife of Bath had said, “… if women had but written stories… More had been written of man’s wickedness” (Chaucer, 277), to show how men were just as bad as women were said to be and it would be written about. Her fifth husband, Jankyn, had a book called Theophrastus and Valerius, which was a book of deceitful wives, as if the Wife of Bath was one. As time went on, women were able to have access to education, creating jobs for women that men previously held. Now, women get closer and closer to being equal to men, but they may always be one step behind.
In addition to women being seen as inferior, society and its people are still corrupt. Almost every person on the pilgrimage is corrupt, whether he or she is greedy, envious, prideful, lustful, or wrathful. These are five of the seven deadly sins, one not mentioned above is gluttony. Monks are men who have withdrawn from the world for religious reasons and live under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Monk in the story is described by Chaucer as a fat, hunter who does not follow church rules. Chaucer also writes, “… hunting was his sport… He was a fat and… He was not pale…” (Chaucer, 8), to explain how the Monk does not devote his life to work and prayer. Instead, he is devoted to hunting, so he can wear the fur, and eating, so he never starves. Another corrupt person is the Summoner. His job is to bring people accused of violating a church law to court by the church. The problem with him is his greed and ability to bribe, “He knew their secrets, they did what he said” (Chaucer, 21). People do what he tells them to do since he knows “their secrets”. The Summoner takes people’s money, so they will not have to be brought to court, allowing guilty people to roam free while he grows rich. The church must be corrupt if the Monk and the Summoner are corrupt. There are different areas that are corrupt today. For example, the United States government is said to be corrupt because of the way it works and politicians. The Friar has the power to beg, even though he is not supposed to, which is similar to the police in the U.S. Officers are given the authority to arrest, tase, shoot, and kill, if necessary, but have lately abused this power. The police are not greedy with money, but for power because that is what makes them above everyone else. With this going on, the church is now the least of the world’s problems.
Along with corruption, people are still deceitful and always will be. In the 1300’s, there may not have been a lot to deceive for, but the Pardoner still did so. A pardoner is a person who is licensed to sell pardons or indulgences to people to be forgiven for their sins. The Pardoner has brought along his relics with him, which are pieces of clothing, bones, and other objects that once belonged to long-departed saints. He also claims to have Mary’s veil and a piece of Saint Peter’s sail. With these objects, he travels around to help people and gets money for it. During his prologue, he openly tells the others, “I preach, as you have heard me say before, And tell a hundred lying mockeries more” (Chaucer, 242). His relics are fake, so the help he gives people does nothing for them. He is the only one who benefits. The Host begins to suspect that the Pardoner is nothing but a fraud. He only deceives to fulfill his need for money. After he tells his tale, as if everyone had forgotten about what he confessed, he says, “I’ve some relics in my bale And pardons too, as full and fine, I hope, As any in England, given me by the Pope” (Chaucer, 257). The Pardoner is telling everyone his relics and pardons have been given to him by the Pope, so it must be real and to make himself look better than anyone else. He had just told everyone about his sin, but expects them to pay him for his relics. It is as though his tale was supposed to blind everyone from what was said. Many people still lie and deceive to get what they want. Studies have shown that a person lies several times a day. If this is true, then not everything someone says may be true. Celebrities, for instance, can be deceived by contracts, managers, and other celebrities. Media has the ability to deceive people by publishing false stories about celebrities. This is often done to receive money because the bigger the story, the more attention it gets. The Pardoner’s tale had served as a distractor for what he was attempting to do, similar to the media.
On the other hand, some may argue that The Canterbury Tales should not still be read and studied because it is outdated. One of the reasons for this is because courtly love no longer exists. The Wife of Bath is an obvious rulebreaker. She first married at 12 and her fifth marriage was at 40. While she was married to her fourth husband, she had already planned on marrying another man by saying, “And I suggested, were I ever free And made a widow, he should marry me” (Chaucer, 273). Fortunately for her, her then husband passed away and one month later, she was married again. The rule she had broken was when one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor. She married her fifth husband, at least, for love and not money. The requirement of two years of widowhood is no longer obeyed because people do remarry, but are sometimes judged. If a man’s wife had passed away six months ago and he is about to remarry, many may look down upon this. Not only because it may be too soon after the death, but also because people may suspect the spouse had something to do with the death. There are no longer rules on how to live. Although some people believe The Canterbury Tales is outdated, it is still relevant concerning events that occur today, therefore it is not. The Miller is described as an ugly person, which is a reflection on how he is a not a good miller because he steals from his customers and charges more than expected. As he is drunk, he tells a tale about an old carpenter who married a young, beautiful woman named Alisoun. She was 18 years old and had a lot going for her, but her husband, “Jealous he was and kept her in the cage” (Chaucer, 89). This was not enough because a young student who lived in their home fell in love with her. She would cheat on her husband and hide it from him, so she would not get in trouble. Another man had fallen in love with her as well. A lesson that can be taken from this tale is that people do not get what they deserve. The carpenter did not deserve Alisoun because she was much younger than him. Today, every year, thousands of people are murdered. On June 12, 2016, 49 innocent people were shot and killed in a terrorist and hate crime act. No one deserves this, but it has become the norm for people to die this way.
The Canterbury Tales is a reflection of then and now. Women are still seen as inferior, there is still corruption, and people are still deceitful. To make all of this connect to today, The Canterbury Tales should still be read and studied. Students can learn about the past and see how relatable it is to today. The problems and issues in the world now are similar to those in the 1300’s, but of course there are a few people who disagree. Yes, the tales may be outdated, but the themes and lessons can still be learned from.
The Five Elements of the Short Stories in The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
During the medieval period, short stories were one of the many forms of literature that had risen in popularity. Yet, in order to be one, a short story must have five elements–a setting, a character, a conflict, a plot, and a theme. During this time, Geoffrey Chaucer, who is considered to be the father of English Literature, exemplified these elements in his works The Prologue of “The Canterbury Tales”, “The Pardoner’s Tale,” and “The Wife of Bath’s tale.”
Chaucer’s work The Prologue of “The Canterbury Tales” shows the characteristics of a short story. The story has a setting: both in a tavern and then on the road to Canterbury. As well, the story contains characters that are vividly described: the Host, the Knight, the Wife of Bath, the Pardoner, the Miller, the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Summoner, the Host, the Parson, the Squire, the Clerk, the Man of Law, the Manciple, the Merchant, the Shipman, the Physician, the Franklin, the Reeve, the Plowman, the Guildsman, the Cook, the Yeoman, and the Nun. Although The Prologue doesn’t necessarily have a theme or a conflict, it does have a major plot. Each one of these characters are set out on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, While on this journey, to keep the entertainment up, the Host decides that each pilgrim will tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back, and the pilgrim with the best tale will receive a free dinner. Through his writing, Chaucer includes many of the characteristics found in a short story in The Prologue, including setting, characters, and plot.
As well as The Prologue, Chaucer’s work “The Pardoner’s Tale” includes the characteristics that a short story contains. This tale includes a setting, which is a simple tavern. The main characters of this tale are three rioters. This is easily proven because the tale starts out with the narrator saying, “It’s of three rioters I have to tell / Who, long before the morning service bell, / Were sitting in a tavern for a drink…” (lines 1-3). The plot of this tale is also easily revealed. The three rioters are seeking to “murder Death” because of all of the people he’s brought Death upon. One of the rioters says, “I’ll search for [Death], by Jesus, street by street…The three of us together now / Hold up your hands, like me, and we’ll be brothers… / And we will kill this traitor Death, I say!” (lines 34-39). While on this search, an old man had told them that to find Death, they must look under a tree, Under the tree they find gold, and the three rioters plan to split it amongst themselves. When the younger goes to town, the other two plan to kill the younger with a stab in the back so that they can split the gold between the two of them. While those two are planning their murder, the younger is planning to poison them so he could get the gold to himself. This all goes downhill when they all kill each other in the end, and no one gets the gold. Included in these characteristics, the theme is also included. The theme of this tale is generally hypocrisy and irony: the three rioters longed to murder Death, but Death came upon them all in the end due to greed. Possessing a setting, characters, a plot, and a theme, “The Pardoner’s Tale” could be considered a short story.
As well as these two pieces of Chaucer’s work, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” also includes the elements of a short story. The setting of this tale is “When good King Arthur ruled in ancient days” in “a land brim-full of fairy folk” (lines 1-3). The characters of this tale are the Loathly Lady, the Knight, and the Queen. The tale also contains a plot. The Knight has a bit of a conflict: he doesn’t know what exactly a woman wants and how to handle this confusion. When the Queen asks the Knight to marry her. With the thought that it’s like a sort of “test” to test his knowledge on a girl’s mind, he agrees to the proposal. He soon realizes when the Queen is satisfied with his answer and when she promises to stay young and faithful, that he chose the right one. The theme of this tale is power: after taking away the power that women had to their own bodies, his “punishment” is to figure out what women truly desire in romance and life. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” could be considered a short story due to its possession of a setting, characters, a plot, and a theme.
Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English Literature, included many elements of a short story in his tales. The Prologue, “The Pardoner’s Tale,” and “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” all include a setting, character(s), a conflict, a plot, and a theme. Together, these five characteristics complete the main idea of a short story.
The Man of Law’s Tale: Breaking Down the Role of Religion
The Man of Law’s Tale is in many ways marks a new beginning in the middle of the Canterbury Tales, a break from the bawdy and secular tales that precede it. While Chaucer could have made it a more straightforward recentering of the tales on a Christian theme, Chaucer makes it more complex by introducing a foreign religion, Islam, into the tale. Certainly one of the major questions that arises when any student of Chaucer does a close reading of the Man of Law’s Tale is “why?” What purpose does Islam serve in this tale, and why only here, and not other places in the tale? Articles by Carolyn Dinsaw, Susan Schibanoff, and Kathryn Lynch offer some insight.
Carolyn Dinshaw’s article “The Law of Man and its ‘Abhomynacions’” reads the Man of Law as literally that: “a man made up of law” (118). In the tales, he serves as a representative of patriarchal ideology itself. It is his duty therefore to tell a tale that supports the view of women as subordinate to “and dependent upon patriarchal protection” (119). The characters in his tale consequently fall into the requisite binary categories of those that fit the traditional patriarchal structure and those that are a threat to it2E The most notable members of the latter group are the mothers-in-law, potential or actual, presented in the tale. These women’s actions subvert the established gender roles and as Dinshaw argues later int he article, represent underlying incestual forces in the narrative.
Supporting the interpretation of the Man of Law as a literal representation of law itself, Dinshaw points to the legal speech in the tale’s prologue: the Host begins by reminding the Man of Law of his promise to the group to tell a tale, and the Man of Law responds with an agreement to make good on his promise. Dinshaw uses this legal foundation of the Man of Law’s Tale to undergird her argument of the commoditization of not only his tale-telling, but of the women in the tale itself: “[f]or the Man of Law, the two kinds of profit that tales and commodities offer–moral and monetary–are indissolubly linked” (121). After all, the Man of Law himself insists that he has heard the story from an old merchant, which as Dinshaw points out, reminds us that “the story is delivered directly from the world of commerce” (122).
The article discusses the role of women as commodities to be traded, beginning with an exploration of Custance as narrative and progressing to women traded in marriage. The article then turns to an examination of incestual evidence in the tale, from the prologue’s insistence that the tale will avoid incest, to evidence of circumspect deliacy in expurgating remnants of incest from Chaucer’s version compared to other versions (“[i]n the mos popular versions of the Constance legend, the ‘accused queen’ flees unwanted sexual advances of her father”). The article ultimately uncovers an interesting interpretation of incest in the tale: “the jealousy of the mothers-in-law, which [the author] read[s] as potentially incestuous desires of mothers for their sons” (132).
What I found most interesting about this article is that Carolyn Dinshaw reads the Man of Law’s name in itself as fundamental to the meaning of the tale itself. The Man of Law as representative of law itself, specifically patriarchal law, gives a certain slant to a close reading of the tale in this light. His agenda in telling the tale is to advance the traditional ideal of patriarchal dominance. Custance in this tale is “thoroughly subject to ‘mannes governance’ and dependent upon patriarchal protection” (119). In this reading of the Man of Law’s Tale,the Other could be those characters that subvert the traditional patriarchal ideal: the mothers-in-law. Diametrically opposed to the Man of Law’s patriarcal ideology, these Women of Law “[pose] a radical threat to masculine prerogative” and “are not so easily ignored or absorbed into supports of the patriarchal structure” (132). While I’m not quite completely sold on the incestuous undertones Dinshaw insists permeate the tale, I agree with much of her interpretation.
Susan Schibanoff’s article “Worlds Apart: Orientalism, Antifeminism, and Heresy in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale” begins with a discussion of the tale as a “new beginning” in the middle of the Canterbury Tales, “in contrast to the secular romance and bawdy fabliaux that constitute the first four tales” (60). But her reading of the Man of Law’s Tale does not focus on the self-corrective nature of the tale, or its exemplary nature as a model of a pilgrammage, but rather on a reading as “Chaucer’s sole textual confrontation with medieval Christianity’s strongest religious rival, Islam” as well as Chaucer’s “only referecnce to the prophet Muhammad and to the Qur’an” (60). In her article, Schibanoff aims to answer the question “why, at this particular juncture in the Canterbury Tales and nowhere else, Chaucer turns our attention to an alien faith, to a faraway place, to a distant time” (60). What she suggests is that the Man of Law’s tale serves to strengthen Christian brotherhood among the pilgrims by “deflect[ing] attentian from the potentially explosive class rivalry by confronting the fractious men…with another world, another time, and ultimately with the Other, in order to forge a sense of community” (61).
Schibanoff argues that it is the Other that the Man of Law uses to strengthen the Christian brotherhood of the pilgrims: he “constructs the Other in tightly intertwined guises in his tale–as Saracen or Muslim, as woman, and as heretic” and he ” repeatedly performs a reductive rhetorical maneuver in order to induce Christian fraternity among the pilgrims” (61). The Man of Law’s strengthening of Christian brotherhood by depicting Islam is effected through a focus on Islam’s apparent similarities with Christianity rather than its differences, in what Schibanoff calls the “rhetoric of proximity” that “figure[s] Islam as an insidious heresy that mimics Christianity” (62). By showing the similarities between the mainstream and the Other, fear will incite the audience to widen the contrast between the two to maintain ideological stability in their separation. The majority ofthe article explores the various instances of the Man of Law’s exploiting the similitude of two entities–Christianity and Islam, male and female–in order to force the audience to reevaluate and strengthen the contrasts between them.
Susan Schibanoff’s article is straightforward for the most part, but could stand another pass at the carving knife: it is at its best when it focused on the tale itself, but seems to lose its focuse along with its reader (at least this one) when it strays into discussion of the history of heresy, Biblical creation stories. It gets back on track when it returns to discussion of the tale, however, so all is not lost. Discussion of the tale takes the form of analysis of its “airtight case against the Other” (61), in this case Islam. An interesting twist on this reading of the Man of Law’s Tale, is not that the tale stresses the contrasts between the two extremes, but rather their similarites–a “rhetoric of proximity” (62). The narrator portrays the danger of Islam not in its physical and ideological distane from Christianity, but rather in its proximity and numerous silimarities. Islam’s remarkable closeness to Christianity is evidenced by the numerous religious conversions in the tale. It is this analysis that is the true gem of the article, and what makes it a worthwhile read for any student of this particular tale.
Kathryn L. Lynch’s article “Storytelling, Exchange, and Constancy: East and West in Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale” aims to show that Chaucer portrays Islam in the tale not to “scapegoat an alien religious tradition but rather to use cultural difference as a way of talking about larger issues of freedom and constraint in storytelling” (410). Again we have an exploration of the dominant culture of the West contrasted with the Other of the East. In addition to the common peculiarities and idiosyncracies typically evoked in depictions of the East, ranging from “peculiar rituals, religious doctrines, and customs” to “generalized abundance and technological innovation” (411). The latter description of the East, as a culture of “generalized abundance,” or an “economy of excess” is problematized in Chaucer’s tale: Lynch notes that “the tale seems to project onto the East both ungovernable extravagance and strict exchange, mutability and its own form of rigidity” (415).
Lynch reads the Man of Law’s prologue not as a new beginning, but rather as “attempting a new beginning” (417). She admits that it can read as a spiritual reorientation of the Tales, as the host seems to focus on the time and the reading of shadows, in “a kind of companion piece to the Parson’s Prologue, where the lengthening shadows of the day’s end call the pilgrims to spiritual attention” (417). But Chaucer is rarely so transparent; his “placement of the exotic East in the lawyer’s care where it is mangled and misconstrued works against such an optimistic prognosis” (417).
Lynch explores the tale’s depiction of East versus West, and conludes that “the tale remains trapped by Western chauvinisim” and “that it returns repetitively and unproductively to its campaign against the ‘Other’”(417). In the end of the tale, she argues, the polarization between East and West remains, with the question of how to read the character of Custancewho floats passively through the tale from beginning to end: the answer is found in her name — “Custance does signify constancy” (419). Passively existing between the poles of East and West, from the beginning of the tale to the end Custance “holds the same value, powerful though unspoken, in every location, every circumstance, every language” (419).
Kathryn Lynch’s article is clearly written and well organized, and would benefit anyone doing a close analysis of the Man of Law’s Tale. Particularly interesting is that the author bookends the article with quotes from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick on the subject of men who seek the “White Whale” but at the same time need “food for their more common, daily appetites.” The relevance of the epigraph quote to Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale at first eluded me, but upon completing the article Lynch makes it clear that in both the Melville quote and in Chaucer’s work, balanceis necessary. The Man of Law’s Tale draws a distinct line between the West and the Other, but existence on either side is unbalanced. Lynch suggests that the Squire’s Tale gives the Man of Law’s Tale a literary balance that it sorely needs: “[t]it for tat may work for trade, but storytelling, love, and forgiveness require at least some of the excesses of the exotic East” (419).
All three of the articles offer readings of Islam in the Man of Law’s Tale as the Other, a concept that serves to soften Chaucer’s attack on the religion: it is not Islam itself that Chaucer attaks, but rather he uses the contrast between Islam and Christianity to make other arguments. I am not entirely convinced that Chaucer is not attacking Islam in this tale, because he covers himself well. These articles do make a strong case for Islam in the tale as the Other, not singled out for attack, but evoked for the purpose of serving as a foil to Christianity in order to inspire Christian fraternity among the Pilgrims. It seems that there are more questions to answer now than there were at the beginning of this paper; more articles, I believe, is the only answer.