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Desire In Chaucers "The Wife Of Bath" And Sir Philip Sidney's "Astrophil And Stella"

1040 words - 4 pages

When a person is infatuated with something, they can become single-minded and ignorant to reality. If they cannot have the object of their desire, they may be plunged into a state of despair and frustration. Sir Philip Sidney explores the affects of desire in his sonnets, Astrophil and Stella. Geoffrey Chaucer also delves into the topic in “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”. These two works present the idea that desire is ultimately a negative force in a person’s life.In the “Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”, Chaucer depicts sexual desire as well as other forms of desire as a feeling that causes misery and dissatisfaction. The Wife of Bath states in the Prologue repeatedly that women desire what they cannot have. She says, “Waite what thing we may nat lightly have, Therafter wol we crye al day and crave” (Lines 523-24). In addition, if something is too readily available, it will become undesirable to a woman: “Presse on us faste, and thane wol we flee.” (526). These statements imply that once a person has what they previously desired, they will no longer desire it because they are able to have it. If a thing is truly desirable only because of its distance and impossibility, then nobody will ever be satisfied. Either they are in a state of constant lust or a state of dissatisfaction, because what they desire is not something that they really want access to.Sidney’s take on desire differs slightly from Chaucer, but in the end paints a similarly shoddy picture of it. The narrator of the sonnets (Astrophil) tells a story of an intrusive, destructive kind of love. To the object of his desire, he says, “in my woes for thee thou art my joy, And in my joys for thee my only annoy.” (Sonnet 108, Lines 13-14). These words depict feelings of both happiness and despair because of his love- a confliction that is distressing and painful for him to experience. Stella represents the ideal Petrarchan woman, and in fitting with this ideal, she is virtuous and unattainable. He desires her because she fits this mold; if she were attainable, he would not want her, for she would not be ideal. Just like the Wife of Bath, Astrophil is always lusting after something he cannot have. Her chastity and virtue make her desirable, but in this sonnet cycle, the two are constantly at odds with one another. In sonnet 71, he says, “thy beauty draws the heart to love, As fast thy Virtue bends that love to good, “But, ah,” Desire still cries, “give me some food.”” (S71, L12-14) Essentially, her beauty makes him want her, her virtue makes him love her, but he still desires physical satisfaction, which he knows she cannot give him. Once again, it is a no-win situation.Chaucer also explores the idea that desire leaves a person stupid and easy to manipulate. The Wife confesses to using the desire that men feel for her to her advantage. She confesses to using sex in order to manipulate...

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