Term Paper: Woman in Beowulf vs. Women in Canterbury Tales

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Women in Beowulf and Canterbury Tales

Woman in Beowulf vs. Women in Canterbury Tales

An epic verse of heroism and honor, "Beowulf"s major and the majority of the minor characters are understandably male. The women in this tale appear actually of little consequence. Grendel's Mother, the monster's mother, seems to play a more important role in this story than perhaps any of the other female characters. She and Queen Modthryth are evil, and are paired against the good and generous queens, Hygd and Wealhtheow (Beowulf pp). Mary Dockray-Miller, in a 1998 issue of Women and Language, implies that not only is Modthryth wicked, she is portrayed as a 'masculine' female, who wields power much the same way as Beowulf (Dockray-Miller pp). Moreover, there is evidence of shrew taming, as noted when she marries and reforms to become more like Hygd and lives a happy marriage (Dockray-Miller pp). Yet, "Beowulf" would still be a great adventure tale and legend even if the female characters were omitted.

However, in Geoffrey Chaucer's stories, "The Wife of Bath" and "The Miller's Tale," females are central to the stories. In fact, if not for the females characters, there would be no tales at all. The Wife of Bath is the narrator of the tale, and includes her own mini-autobiography before beginning her tale of the knight. And the female character in the Miller's tale is the central point of action, the reason the story moves forward.

The Wife of Bath begins her tale by revealing that she has been married five times, three good husbands, and two bad ones. She goes on to dismiss those who criticize her for the number of husbands she has had, and makes no apologies for her conduct and sexuality. She is obviously a woman who enjoys her sexual powers and all that they can bring her, such as fortune and love (Chaucer pp). The Wife then proceeds to tell the tale of a knight in the days of King Arthur, on a British isle that had once been inhabited by fairies and elves until the friars took their place. She explains that the friars often had their way with the women, and that although the fairies had also, the friars brought dishonor, while the fairies at least impregnated them (Chaucer pp). When a knight was overtaken by lust and raped a young girl, he was sentenced to death, however Arthur's queen and other court ladies interceded, asking Arthur to allow the knight the chance to save his life by the seeking an answer to a riddle within one year. Arthur obeyed the wishes of the queen, and thus, the knight was asked to find out what women really want (Chaucer pp). The knight traveled far and wide, asking every woman he met what she really wanted. The answers varied so much so that as the deadline approached, the knight still did not have a definitive answer to the question. Some wanted money, others wanted love, and still others wanted happiness, yet others wanted honor (Chaucer pp). On his way to court, the knight met an old hag, who promised him the answer if he would pledge himself to her, thus when the knight arrived at court, he announced that what women really want is to be in power over their lovers and husbands (Chaucer pp). Everyone agreed that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Woman in Beowulf vs. Women in Canterbury Tales."  Essaytown.com.  September 26, 2005.  Accessed September 20, 2019.