Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Chaucer's Masterpiece Term Paper

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Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Chaucer's masterpiece, the Canterbury Tales, presents in vivid, honest, and often amusing detail the great variety of human interaction. Especially insightful are his portrayal of romantic relationships. Chaucer presents such a broad spectrum of relationships that it is easy to find both successful and unsuccessful examples of More's three types of mates: those brought about by nature, those by chance, and those by choice.

The first category, nature, can be difficult to define in Chaucer, since his work is so governed by the medieval conflagration of nature, divinity, and Fate. If we take nature to mean simply phenomena concerning the natural world, then we can find an example of a successful natural relationship in Constance and Alla from the Man of Law's Tale, who are brought together when winds bring Constance's ship to his land. An unsuccessful natural relationship might be Aurelius and Dorigen in the Franklin's Tale, who enter into flirtation in a spring garden and are almost united by the magical manipulation of stones on the beach.

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Examples of love by chance are plentiful in the tales. The notable successful relationship is that of Palomon and Emily, who come together only by virtue of Arcite's fall from a horse -- though truthfully Emily was prepared to have a successful relationship with whoever was sent her way by "Fortune's favours" (75). Returning to the Man of Law's Tale, we find an example of an unsuccessful relationship by chance -- that of Constance and the Sultan, who are brought together because Syrian merchants tell him of her beauty and he decides, sight unseen, that he must have her. It does not end well for him.

Unions by choice also abound in Chaucer's work, but rarely do they occur within marital vows. Most examples, such as Nicholas and Alison from the Miller's Tale, involve a spouse married to someone they don't love and choosing to engage in a relationship with someone they do love. A notable exception to this is the Wife of Bath, who chooses the last of her five husbands out of love and, after some violent negotiations about control, lives very happily with him.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales Chaucer's Masterpiece, the Canterbury Assignment

Language often plays a central role in these relationships. Sometimes it is the cause. Nicholas wins Alison with words: "[He] spoke so fair in proffering what he could / That in the end she promised him she would" (91). In the Man of Law's Tale, the Sultan falls in love with Constance simply by hearing tell of her beauty. Sometimes, language gets the characters into more serious circumstances than they intended. For instance, it is Dorigen's spoken pledge to Aurelius that gets her into a bind, and her husband reminds her that she "must keep [her] word" (429).

Assignment 2: By examining the female characters in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, we can piece together Chaucer's attitude about gender roles in medieval romantic relationship. If his tales are taken as an accurate representation of medieval society, it seems like the happiness of relationships then, much like today, relied on the attitude and expectations of the women involved.

The Knight's Tale would have failed as a chivalric romans altogether if Emily were not a proper female recipient of Arcite's and Palamon's chivalric advances. She was appropriately attractive, demure, and utterly opinionless, happy to be bound to whomever the chivalric code (embodied by Theseus) deemed worthy of her.

In contrast, Alison in the Miller's Tale is not only opinionated but clearly dismissive of the social norms that would traditionally define her. She relishes the control that she has over the men around her, even plucking her eyebrows to make herself more sexually attractive. She makes a pretense at staying faithful to her older husband, but it doesn't take much persuasion from Nicholas to sway her. Her pitiful end, however, suggests that Chaucer does not approve of her behavior.

In the Reeve's Tale, both the miller's wife and her daughter hold a place of pride in society, but their dignity falls away during the night's transactions with the clerk. Their "merry" reaction to what can only be described as their rape by Alan and John is emblematic of a theme that is suggested in several of the tales: that women secretly wish to be dominated, at least sexually.

The Wife of Bath and her tale are the notable exceptions to this theme. She is the only secular woman to tell a tale, and she claims what women really want is sovereignty over their husbands: "May Christ Jesus send us husbands meek and young and fresh in bed, and grace to overbid them when we wed" (292). In essence, she attributes to women the same desires in husbands that men traditionally desire in their wives.

Besides the meek chivalric ideal of Emily, the rebellious and promiscuous Alison, the secretly submissive wife and daughter in the Reeve's Tale, and the openly assertive and dominant Wife of Bath, there is one more female "type" that Chaucer portrays in his tales: the virtuous and religious emblem of purity. This type is embodied in Constance, the heroine of the Man of Law's Tale.

In each of the tales, the men seem to be basically the same -- at least in terms of romance. They are all driven by sexual desire, even those who profess true love. And they are all protective of their women, with the possible exception of Arveragus. Chaucer's women, however, show an incredible diversity of attitudes both towards men and towards society in general. It is the character of the women, not the men, that eventually decides the happiness of the romantic relationships in Chaucer's work.

Franklin's Tale:

Dunlop, Fiona. "A taste of paradise: Fiona Dunlop explores how the symbolic values of the garden enrich two of the best-known Canterbury Tales." The English Review Sept. 2008: 10+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Hebron, Malcolm. "Gentilesse and 'The Franklin's Tale': Malcolm Hebron considers 'pitee', 'trouthe', 'fredom' and 'honour', all aspects of 'gentilesse' -- an idea that lies at the heart of Chaucer's 'The Franklin's Tale'." The English Review Sept. 2006: 29+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Runacres, Charles. "The Franklin's Tale' and the search for an end: Charles Runacres explores the narrative and emotional complexity of Chaucer's tale of knightly romance.(Rocks away)." The English Review Apr. 2006: 30+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Morgan, Gerald. "Experience and the judgement of poetry: a reconsideration of the Franklin's tale." Medium Aevum 70.2 (2001): 204+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Wife of Bath's Tale

Lee, Brian S. "Exploitation and excommunication in 'The Wife of Bath's Tale.'." Philological Quarterly 74.1 (1995): 17+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Ingham, Patricia Clare. "Pastoral histories: utopia, conquest, and the Wife of Bath's Tale." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 44.1 (2002): 34+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Harbus, Antonina. "Interpreting the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale in a contemporary note to Thynne's 1532 edition." ANQ 22.3 (2009): 3+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

O'Brien, Timothy D. "Seductive Violence and Three Chaucerian Women." College Literature 28.2 (2001): 178. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

The Knight's Tale

Curtis, Carl C., III. "Biblical analogy and secondary allegory in Chaucer's the Knight's Tale." Christianity and Literature 57.2 (2008): 207+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Griffith, John Lance. "Anger and community in the knight's tale." Fu Jen Studies: literature & linguistics 41 (2008): 13+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Epstein, Robert. "With many a floryn he the hewes boghte': ekphrasis and symbolic violence in the Knight's Tale.(Critical essay)." Philological Quarterly 85.1-2 (2006): 49+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Vaszily, Scott. "Fabliau plotting against romance in Chaucer's 'The Knight's Tale.'." Style Fall 1997: 523+. General OneFile. Web. 12 Nov.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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