Chaucer's Views on Women: Griselda and the Wife of Bath's the Loathly Lady
As a man fascinated with the role of women during the 14th Century, or most commonly known as the Middle Ages, Chaucer makes conclusive evaluations and remarks concerning how women were viewed during this time period. Determined to show that women were not weak and humble because of the male dominance surrounding them, Chaucer sets out to prove that women were a powerful and strong-willed gender. In order to defend this argument, the following characters and their tales will be examined: Griselda from the Clerk's Tale, and the Wife of Bath, narrator to the Wife of Bath's Tale. Using the role of gender within the genres of the Canterbury Tales, exploring each woman's participation in the outcomes of their tales, and comparing and contrasting these two heroines, we will find out how Chaucer broke the mold on medievalist attitudes toward women.
Chaucer introduces us to several types of women in the General Prologue of his famous work the Canterbury Tales. Among these women are women of rank and social status: the Prioress, the Nun, and the Wife of Bath. Although they are surrounded by various types of men, these women told tales that made men think twice about crossing their paths. As we read about these women in the prologue, we also get a sense of whom they are: they have money, authority, and an air about them that suggests that they are not just on the pilgrimage just to save their own souls (the Wife of Bath definitely shows this trait better than her religious counterparts.) However, it is not just the women who stand for their sisters; the Clerk jumps on the female bandwagon with a tale of his own.
Gender provides a way of reading aspects of the genre beyond courtship alone. Social hierarchies, magic, adventure, and less salient preoccupations of romance are so intimately involved in gender that their operations are unclear in isolation from it (Weisel, 2.) In other words, just having courtship alone will not clearly define a genre: It takes gender in order to clarify it. For example, the romance genre involves a relationship between a man, usually young, and a woman- who is equally as young and has a fine physical description- are thrown together by chance, or some other situation. Chaucer's complex set of responses to the genre revolve around gender; he plays with romance conventions by changing women's positions: giving them a voice, giving them public and private authority, or removing them altogether (Weisl, 2.) Consequently, Chaucer is saddled with the conventions set by romance as a genre. According to Angela Jane Weisl, these conventions include "the feminization that requires the love plot and yet objectifies or marginalizes its female characters, the power structures of love that ordain woman's superiority but which must take that away as soon as she is `conquered' by her lover, and the inscribed definitions that allow a kind of public power to...