Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” is a collection of stories written between 1387 and 1400. In his literary work, a group of thirty people travel as pilgrims to Canterbury in England and on their way, they tell stories to each other about their lives and experiences. To be more concise, these stories constitute a critique of English society at the time, and particularly of the Church, while women seem to be presented differently in contrast to other contemporary works.
The aim of this essay is to present the ways in which the portrayal of women is modified, and trace their role within Chaucer’s masterpiece. In doing so, first some general characteristics of how women ...view middle of the document...
Within these closed circles of upper-class citizens, corruption and abuse prevailed within a fake idealism where beauty and virtue were sanctified.
Consequently, religion seemed to underlie all walks of the medieval life, and was particularly strict with women and their social position. Women were seen in relation to the prism of virginity as a reflection of the ultimate symbol of purity and virtue. The exceptional case was The Mother of Christ who represented both chastity and motherhood. All women, not those who lived within the society but also those who were dedicated to God, such as nuns, were compared to the ideal of The Mother of Christ who fulfilled the ultimate duty of a woman in this world: to bear a child, to live as a devoted mother and wife whose only purpose should be to honor, serve her family and maintain the family bonds as strong as possible (Brewer, 73).
According to Baldwin, major changes took place as far as the literature was concerned because many writers tended to idealize women in their literary works (106).As Baldwin points out that “even while medieval literature seemed entirely devoted to knights and ladies, to courtly love and chivalrous adventures, there were clever writers and willing readers to turn all this to satire” (106). It can be supported that Chaucer indeed is one of the most representative writers of this tendency as his literary production maintains many elements that are relevant to the adventurous and epic nature of the literature produced and at the same time it constitutes a critique of the social conventions of that period.
All in all, it can be argued that Chaucer attempted to give an account of the medieval society through a carefully developed story where criticism is exerted in a subtle way. Hulbert supported that “The Canterbury Tales” portray the medieval society in its full complexity, from the typical traits of people such as their appearance and manners to social and political trends that prevailed, through the prism of satire of the nobility and the fake ideals that the British society represented (121).
The Portrayal of Woman in Chaucer
Women’s portrayal in Chaucer’s literature to certain extent reflects the state in medieval society. One of the first details to be taken into consideration is the fact that in “Canterbury Tales” where the stories of twenty nine pilgrims are presented, there are only three women. However, although they are the minority they are an irreplaceable part of the work and have multiple roles: they are both storytellers themselves, but they are also parts of the stories told by the rest of the pilgrims. They appear to have multi-dimensional personalities, as on the one hand they are presented as passive and obedient women, in line with the medieval conceptions of women, but on the other hand they are also obscure and mischievous personalities who can impose their own will and interfere in other people’s lives.
More precisely, three women appear as narrators...