The Variety Of Ways In Which Chaucer Treats The Subject Of Love

1311 words - 5 pages

Write an essay on the variety of ways in which Chaucer treats the
subject of love.

Within ten stories in the Canterbury Tales, men and women on the way
to, or in marriage provide the ostensible subject, with six tales
expounding largely on love and its counterpart in marriage. In comic
tales, sexual activity is constantly relished, especially in the
Miller’s Tale and the Reeve’s Tale, where love is defined and
motivated by animalistic physical desire and relationships clouded
with lies and deceit. In contrast, romances like the Knight’s Tale and
the Franklin’s Tale have a high ideal of relaxed and trusting harmony,
“Thus been they bothe in quiete and rest”, relying also on the poetics
of courtly love. Then we have the blend of characters who hold views
from all parts of the scale, like the amorous Wyf of Bath who affirms
the above view of harmony in marriage, but feels her sexual organ is
for use than moral control- commitment is intertwined with twisted
Biblical fact to be a hindrance in love rather than a necessity of it.
Chaucer not only introduces us to the various traditions and angles of
love (formal courtly love to cynical fabliaux), but also examines the
contrast in relationships, and the motivations of love within the
tales. By doing so, he makes us realize that love is not a single
compartment of perspectives, but like real life, is embedded with
different angles and beliefs that vary in their extremity, and this
enables us to have a deeper understanding of love at the end of the
tales.

What Kittredge fondly calls “The Marriage Group” demonstrates the
structural plan Chaucer had engineered to demonstrate the various
aspects and contrasts in the characters’ beliefs of love, with the Wyf
of Bath starting the count, relating love to mere appearances and for
sexual pleasure, rebelling against male ideology and depicting love
and marriage as a power struggle to have ‘sovereyntee’ over their
husbands. This of course scandalized the Clerk- he was unworldly and
an ascetic, he “looked holwe and therto sobrely”, and thus he becomes
the mantle of a corrector of false views about love and matrimony
after the Friar and Summoner and gives a view of love as pure and
sacrificial, with Griselda as the epitome of patience and ungrudging
obedience. By use of the same term, ‘Boweth your nekke under that
blisful yok of soveraynetee’, clearly the Clerk, through his tale, is
answering the Wife of Bath, through a character who was the exact
antithesis of hers. The Merchant, coming after the Clerk, upsets the
balance again, painting a cynical view of love in contrast, and once
again continues the love debate in his own fashion and pattern (“And
let him care and wepe and wringe and waile”- “Weping and wayling, care
and other sorwe”). The Host then once again comes interrupts, and
requests to turn the debate away from marriage to love “Squier, set
somewhat of love”, where pure romance, in the medieval sense is now
...

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