Geoffrey Chaucer Stance On Feminism Essay

1635 words - 7 pages

The investigation into whether or not Geoffrey Chaucer was ahead of his time in terms of his views on feminism has been up for debate for hundreds of years. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue is just one solitary example of the complicated nature of Chaucer’s belief system. On the one hand, we have many strong female characters that despite still being extremely dependant on the men in their lives, know what they want out of life. From a contrasting point of view, readers see a group of men, including Chaucer as the writer himself, making fun of the very nature of women as a whole. Is this really how Chaucer felt towards women, or is the prologue of The Wife of Bath’s Tale simply a parody of the opinions of his time?
When questioning Chaucer’s stance on feminism, one has to remember that feminism is a fairly contemporary term. The word ‘feminism’ did not even make an appearance in the English language until the 1890s (dictionary.com). The world around Chaucer also has to be taken into consideration when thinking about his possible thoughts on women. Though is it a fact that there were many writers who advocated women’s rights, it is also true to say that there are many who did not support right’s for women. An example of this would be John Gower, who was a known friend to Chaucer, wrote a poem called Confessio Amantis. Each chapter in this poem was based off of one of the seven deadly sins but also centers around a relationship he had with a woman (2013). This work just like Chaucer’s, is a tale of morality, seeking to teach a life lesson to those who happen to read its stories. In the diversity of the plethora of characters present in the various stories of The Canterbury Tales, it is easy to see that at the very least, Chaucer was a humanist. He believed in education, no matter where it came from. In the case of The Wife of Bath, her education comes from her experiences. Unlike in many other stories, each character telling theirs (or someone else’s) story can come from a different social class and a different educational background without seeming inferior to the last. Unless of course you were a Clerk.
Female characters in The Canterbury Tales are given a variety of different traits. They could be courageous and cunning, or embody purity and duplicity (Reisman, 2010). These traits in themselves reflect the society in which Chaucer grew up and knew with perfect understanding. The character of Pertelot in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale incorporates many of the traits that men in Chaucer’s time believed women possessed. She tells her ‘husband’ of sorts that being frightened by something as ridiculous as a dream must mean he is not a real man. She challenges his manhood and tries to assert her dominance by informing him of what she believes is the best way to ward of nightmares. This mixture however could have possibly killed the rooster. Emily in A Knight’s Tale is a completely different character than Alyson in The Wife of Bath’s Tale. Readers do not...

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