Geoffrey Chaucer's Tales of Marriage the Wife Term Paper

Pages: 19 (5086 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

Geoffrey Chaucer's Tales Of Marriage

The Wife

The Merchant

The Franklin

Geoffrey Chaucer's Tales of Marriage

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales, which is a collection of stories told by a set of thirty pilgrims to Canterbury Cathedral, to the shrine of Thomas of Canterbury, martyred in 1170. Most of the tales deal with the question of the correct attitude toward marriage, love, sex, and the connections between them. In Chaucer's day, most people believed that it was a man's highest privilege to select a lady and lay his heart at her feet, viewing her smile as a sufficient reward for years of faithful service.

This paper discusses three of these tales, "The Wife of Bath," "The Merchant's Tale" and "The Franklin's Tale," to determine Chaucer's views on marriage. This paper argues that Franklin's Tale suggests what Chaucer thinks of as the ideal marriage.

The Wife

In the prologue of Chaucer's "The Wife of Bath," the wife starts her story by boasting of her vast experience in marriage (Classic Notes, 2004). Despite the fact that her actions go against Christian value, she proudly brags that she has been married five times. In her mind, she is simply following the Christian principle that states that she should "be fruitful and multiply." She discusses the story of King Solomon, who had multiple wives, and tells her audience that she warmly anticipates her sixth husband.

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The Wife of Bath argues that Jesus never really laid down a law about virginity. Instead, she feels that we were given the parts for sex and thus should use them (Classic Notes, 2004). The Pardoner objects to her opinions on marriage, but she decides to describe each of her husbands anyway. In her opinion, three were good. All the good ones were kind, rich and old. She describes how she withheld sex from these husbands to get whatever riches she could from them. In her marriages to these men, she used guilt, temptation, jealousy and manipulation to get what she wanted.

Term Paper on Geoffrey Chaucer's Tales of Marriage the Wife Assignment

Her fourth husband was young; he was a reveler and had a mistress, as well as a wife. He was a match for his wife, sharing many of her qualities, but he soon died. The fifth husband, Jankin, was the cruelest to her -- excellent in bed but otherwise violent and rude. He had once been a student at Oxford, and was a boarder of the Wife's best friend, Alison, while the Wife was still married to her fourth husband.

When her husband died, she married Jankin, who at the young age of twenty, was half her age. The Wife aimed to please Jankin, relinquishing everything she owned to him, but it was never enough. He was abusive to her, once even hitting her so hard on the ear that she lost her hearing. He did this simply because she tore a page from one of his books. Jankin frequently recited examples from Roman history and the Bible that indicated a wife should be submissive, and it was one of these passages that she ripped from the book.

In Chaucer's tale, the Wife argues that men who have no experience with women write the Bible's stories, so many of these stories degrade women (Classic Notes, 2004). She believed that the Bible would be much different if women had written it. After Jankin struck her, she looked dead, and he panicked. When she was revived, he felt so guilty that he ceded all authority in the marriage to her. From that moment on, she was kind to him, for he had finally given her what she truly wanted.

The Wife of Bath is one of the strongest characters in the Canterbury Tales (Classic Notes, 2004). Headstrong, loud and opinionated, she represents a major struggle against the degradation of women and the taboos against female sexuality. She presents many strong arguments against rigid religious rules for chastity and monogamy, using Biblical examples, such as the tale of King Solomon, to show that the Bible does not actually condemn sexuality, even outside of marriage.

The Wife of Bath argues that people who use religion to encourage submission in women are wrong (Classic Notes, 2004). She says that the reason for the bias against women in many Biblical stories is due to the lack of experience with women of those who write these stories.

While the Wife of Bath is a strong feminine heroine, she is not without her flaws (Classic Notes, 2004). She is extremely manipulative, using her sexuality against her husbands to get what she wants. This is something that feminists have been fighting for years. However, as the Wife boasts of her manipulative strategies, she indicates that they were a necessity, citing that her sexuality is the one thing that gives her dominance over her husbands. It soon become clear that she is in a desperate situation, as she is aging and losing her appearance. She uses her intense personality to hide the fact that, as an aging woman, she is in danger of losing her place in society.

The Wife of Bath uses a language of commerce in her story when referring to marriage (Classic Notes, 2004). While this often seems like a comparison of marriage and prostitution, it better refers to her idea of the marriage 'debt.' The Wife's manipulations can be seen as an economic strategy. She sees marriage for what it is and understands that she must protect herself and secure her future. She even seems to understand that her life has been filled with sins and that she may have built a poor reputation for herself. However, this quality of perception is most important for allowing her to realize what marriage truly means for her.

The theme of the Wife of Bath's Tale is not female equality in marriage, but rather the power struggles that exist between a husband and wife (Classic Notes, 2004). The Wife does not seek an equal partnership with a husband, but rather a situation in which she has control over her husband. She even goes so far as to suggest that it is only in a marriage where the wife has control over her husband that true happiness can exist.

When Jankin tried to control her and struck her down, she manipulated the situation, gaining control over him through guilt (Classic Notes, 2004). This manipulation led to her first truly happy marriage. Since she became the dominant partner in the marriage, she no longer saw it necessary to fight with her husband or withhold sexual favors from him. According to her, even her husband was happier with this arrangement.

The Merchant

In Chaucer's "The Merchant's Tale," the merchant claims that he knows nothing of long-suffering wives (Classic Notes, 2004). However, he says, if his wife were to marry the devil, she would overmatch even him. The Merchant claims that there is a major difference between Griselde's occasional obedience and his wife's more common cruelty. The Merchant has been married two months and has been miserable the entire time. The Host asks the Merchant to tell a tale of his awful wife.

According to Classic Notes (2004): "The prologues that link the various Canterbury Tales shift effortlessly from ponderous drama to light comedy. The lamentable tale of Griselde gives way to the Host's complaint about his shrewish wife. This prologue further illustrates how each of the characters informs the tale he tells. The travelers largely tell tales that conform to their personal experiences or attitudes, such as the Merchant, whose awful marriage is the occasion for his tale about a difficult wife. In most cases the influence of the narrator on his tale is apparent, but the authorial touch lightly felt. The Merchant's Tale, for example, gains little from the prologue's information that the Merchant is disenchanted with his own marriage. Only a few of these tales exist largely as extensions of the characters who tell them; the Wife of Bath's Tale is the most prominent of these stories."

When asked to tell as tale of his awful wife, the Merchant tells a tale of a wealthy knight named January from Lombardy who was unmarried (Classic Notes, 2004). However, eventually, at the age of sixty, he decided to get married for the first time. He searched for potential wives, convinced that marriage would equate to paradise on Earth.

And certainly, as sure as God is King,

To take a wife, it is a glorious thing,

Especially when a man is old and hoary;

Then is a wife the fruit of wealth and glory.

Then should he take a young wife and a fair,

On whom he may beget himself an heir (Chaucer, 2004)"

The knight's brother, Placebo, warned him not to be too hasty in his decision, describing the advice of the scholar Theophrastus, who advised men never to wed, for servants show more obedience and do not claim nearly as much. The knight argued against this statement, citing Biblical stories that state a man without a wife… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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