Professor M. D’Angelo
Literary History I
19 October 2017
Progressivism in Chaucer’s Tales
In The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer, women are depicted in a way that mirrors the gender roles that were portrayed in the Middle Ages. During this time, women were expected to be loyal to the male figure in their lives, their father when they were young and then their husband later on in life. In these stories, however, women seem to have power over their romantic lives, putting emphasis on beauty, and ultimately, deceit. The women portray a cunning nature that sets them apart from their male counterparts. In “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Wife of Bath,” progressive thought is emphasized through the characterization of the old woman, the Wife of Bath, and Alisoun.
In “The Miller’s Tale,” Alisoun is a devious woman who is able to take a situation into her own hands in order to get a desired outcome. Alisoun is married to an old carpenter, who rents a room to a young student named Nicholas who eventually woos Alisoun, leading to an adulterous relationship. Alisoun’s willingness to deceive her aging husband shows the ways in which the women Chaucer depicted were independent in the way they thought and acted. Alisoun even went so far as to allow Nicholas to create a fallacy so that they could spend a night together. According to the text, “For she was wilde and yong, and he was old, and deemed himself been lik a cokewold” (page 217). As was the belief at the time, an older man could not satisfy a younger wife, therefore, she would eventually find satisfaction elsewhere. Alisoun is progressive, for she feels confident enough in herself to disobey her loyalty to her husband, as well as turn down the advances of Absolon in a crude manner, by sticking her rear out of the window for him to kiss. Her eccentric actions show the ways in which Chaucer represented women as independent and individualistic, rather than completely conforming to the will of their husband.
In the prologue to “The Wife of Bath,” the Wife begins by talking of passion and the sexual needs of a women, as well as how to get those fulfilled by the men in her life. She attempts to defy the standard of the time that women were defined by men. She is able to overcome gender norms by not being submissive in her language and her actions. She is very open about her sexuality, which is something that was disapproved of during the time. She is somewhat masculine in her demeanor, in that she is candid and doesn’t worry about what she portrays to the individuals in the group. In the text, she says, “a wis womman wol bisye hire evere in oon to gete hire love, ye, ther as she hath noon” (215-216). This quote demonstrates how the Wife of Bath believed that women should be in a position of power and control within a relationship. Unlike other women written about during the Middle Ages, the Wife of Bath is able to use manipulation and a knowledge of her own desirability in order to...