The Dismal Lives of Temptresses in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and “The Miller’s Tale” 

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Women are often portrayed as temptresses in medieval literature such as in the works of “The Miller’s Tale,” by Geoffry Chaucer and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” by, Gawain Poet. In literature, women are often blamed for the downfall of the strong man in the story throughout all history. In both of these stories, women are viewed as objects of affection. Temptresses in these stories are made up of the same components and have similar men who think they deserve any woman they choose.

In the story “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” by Gawain Poet is a tale about a Green Knight who starts a game with Sir Gawain, leading him to go on a trip to finish the game. When Sir Gawain arrives at Lord Bertilak’s castle he meets the Lady Bertilak, he viewed her as an object of beauty, “she who was fairest in face, form and looks.”(Gawain Poet 40) In this story, the Lord Bertilak tries to control his wife, much like in “The Miller’s Tale.” The lord leaves the queen alone often so she is left to fill the absence of love in her life. Lady Bertilak finds comfort in Sir Gawain’s presence rather than her husband so she does anything to be closer to him. Bertilak has a certain willingness to leave his wife alone with Sir Gawain which is particularly interesting. At the end of the tale, although it is Sir Gawain who did not follow the rules, Lady Bertilak is blamed by Sir Gawain for his failure to win the game with Green Knight, “but no wonder if a fool finds his way into folly and be wiped of his wits by womanly guile.”(Gawain Poet 253) Lady Bertilak is said to have seduced Sir Gawain but her husband didn’t care how lonely she was when he leaves her to hunt. The women have similarly poor marital structures throughout these tales and are forced to do what they have to, to find someone who they feel cares for them in the way they need.

In the story “The Miller’s Tale,” written by Geoffry Chaucer is about a jealous carpenter and his wife who starts an affair. Similar to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the temptresses have wealthy husbands in the story John is “a rich gnof that gestes heeld to board”(Chaucer 284) married to Alisoun. Alisoun was “wild and young, and [John] was old,”(Chaucer 285) leading him to have possessive tendencies. Alisoun is a beautiful women that many men are drawn to but they try to buy her love in some way “and for she was of two, he profred made.”(Chaucer 288) Jealousy among the spouses of the temptresses plays a role in both stories, when Alisoun and the scholarly Nicholas begin their affair she tells hims him that her husband is so jealous that, if they don’t keep their relationship private, “[Alisoun]woot right wel I nam but deed.” (Chaucer 286) Alisoun is feeling so caged in her marriage that the chivalrous sight of Nicholas causes her to begin her affair. Men in this story, such as Nicholas and Absolon can’t take no for an answer and keep demanding a change in Alisoun’s response to their confessions of love. Absolon continues his efforts in gaining Alisouns affection by showing up to her house and urges her for a kiss, without one he wouldn’t leave, “Soltau than go thy way therewith”(Chaucer 295) she states after agreeing to a kiss. Alisoun is pressured by mostly all the men in her life and after time it becomes very hard not to give in to the men’s demands. When Alisoun tricks Absolon because she doesn’t want to kiss him, she sticks her butt out of the window, so he seeks to get revenge on her even though it was him who could not leave her alone. She didn’t return her love for Absolon but that does not give him the right to try to hurt her with a hot iron.

Both women crave a strong male in their life because of their husband’s control on them. The attempt to have relationships with other men is because their husbands are absent most of the time as well as jealous. Both women seen as damsels in distress but prove that they are smarter than given credit for. Self-control of the men in both tales is lacking, Sir Gawain couldn’t stay away from the queen and her gracefulness and Absolon and Nicholas both wanted to win Alisoun over even though she had a husband. Both women were like-minded, attractive, and knew how to get what the wanted.

The characters in each story embody misogynistic stereotypes about women suggesting that they are nothing more than their beauty. The temptresses have husbands that make their lives equally feel a void that the women need to fill. The “temptresses” in both of these stories live remarkably identical lives, with beauty unlike others to possessive natured husbands. The women aren’t really temptresses but are just misunderstood because of their marriages.

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