The Canterbury Tales

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The Canterbury Tales’ Women Essay, Research Paper The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer is a collection of stories told by a group of pilgrims on their way to Thomas a’ Becket’s tomb in Canterbury. Throughout the stories, women are often portrayed in two opposing ways. The women in these tales are either depicted as pristine and virginal, or as cunning and deceitful. First, women are described as being pristine and virginal. This type of woman is always beautiful and has men vying for her affections. However, she is so pure that it seems she is unattainable. She is not treated like a real person and people never ask her what she wants. This virginal woman is captured in the character of Emily in “The Knight’s Tale”. Emily, who is described by the author as

“radiant and serene” (32) enchants two cousins and cause them to argue over her. Palamon is so love-struck that he states “Woman or Goddess, which? I cannot say.” (32). He doesn’t even know her yet calls her “… my lady, whom I love and serve” (34). When Arcite is released, he becomes sick because he can no longer see her. He is described as “Thin as a shaft, as dry, with nothing left./His eyes were hollow, grisly to behold,/Fallow his face, like ashes pale and cold” (39). When the cousins finally reunite, Palamon claims Emily for his own once again by saying “You shall not love my lady Emily./I, no one else, will love her!” (45). They are engaged in battle when the king rides by with his wife and Emily. When confronted, Palamon tells the king that Arcite

“dares love Emily” (49), and that he is also “in love with Emily the Bright” (49). Even though Emily is sitting right there he still doesn’t talk directly to her, instead he tells the king. Emily is herself immune to love: she has seen neither of the knights, nor is she aware that they have seen her, much less that they are in love with her (Hallissy 59). Poor virginal Emily “knows no more of this affair,/By God, than does a cuckoo or a hare!” (51). However, the king tells the cousins to get “Ready by battle to decide his claim/ to Emily.” (52) without even asking her what she wanted to do. If he had asked her, he would have found out that she wanted to remain a virgin and marry no one. She even prayed that she “would be mistress, no, nor wife.” (65).

However, she was forced to marry Palamon when he won the battle. Secondly, women are described as cunning and deceitful. This type of woman causes her husband nothing but heartache. She is depicted as a liar and a cheater with low morals. She is a woman neither to be trusted nor respected. In many of the stories she makes a fool of her husband by having adulterous affairs. This type of woman is depicted in the “Miller’s Tale”, the “Merchant’s Tale”, and in the character of the Wife of Bath. In the “Miller’s Tale, Alison who is described as “. . a fair young wife, her body as slender/As any weasel’s, and as soft and tender;” (90) marries an old man named John. John then takes in a lodger by the name of Nicholas. Since there is a big age difference between

Alison and her husband, there is an assumption that Alison is sexually unsatisfied and thus easily seducible by a younger and more virile man–a man just like Nicholas (Hallissy 77). John foolishly leaves the two at home alone while he goes to Osney. Nicholas seizes this opportunity to make his move: he “held her haunches hard” (91) and begs her to satisfy him. Immediately: She gave a spring, just like a skittish colt Boxed in a frame for shoeing, and with a jolt Managed in time to wrench her head away. And said, “Give over, Nicholas, I say!” (91). However, it rapidly becomes clear that Alison consents to Nicholas’s advances. In fact, so swift is the courtship that it is clear that Alison is a woman of exceedingly flexible moral standards– she is, in modern terms,