Canterbury Tales Role Of Women

2936 words - 12 pages

Chaucer's motley crew of pilgrims offered a vast deal of insight into life during the 14th century. Many aspects of society were revealed throughout the tales of the many characters. One such aspect prevalent in many of the tales was the role that women played in society during this time. The tales give the clearest images of women are the Knight's, the Miller's. the Nun's Priest, and the Wife of Bath's Tale. In the Knight's Tale, women are portrayed through Emily. Upon first sight of Emily through his prison window, Palamon, the imprisoned knight falls madly in love with her. He exclaims: "I have been hurt this moment through the eye, Into my heart. It will be the death of me. The fairness of the lady that I see Roaming the garden yonder to and fro Is all the cause and I cried out my woe. Woman or Goddess, which? I cannot say. I guess she may be Venus - well she may!" (p. 49, l. 2-8).Arcite, Palamon's cousin and best friend, also falls deeply in love with Emily as he gazes upon her: "The freshness of her beauty strikes me dead, Hers that I see, roaming in yonder place! Unless I gain the mercy of her grace, Unless I at least see her day by day, I am but dead, there is no more to say." (p. 49, l. 24-28).The knights believe that one man may love and worship Emily from afar and each vehemently contends that he should be this man. The knights' emotions for a woman of whom they know absolutely nothing, save that she is beautiful, reduces her to an object to be won and an occasion for adventure and courtship. Years later, after Palamon and Arcite are no longer in prison, they meet and agree to fight to the death for the right to love Emily. She still does not know that these men exist, let alone that they both love her and are willing to die for that love. King Theseus happens upon their brawl, proposes a controlled fight, and offers Emily as a reward to the victor. Again, Emily is nothing more than an object. The king gives no thought as to whether Emily desires to marry either knight, and seals her fate for her. This sheds light onto the esteem in which women were held during Chaucer's time. It is apparent that women were offered little respect as human beings, as decisions as weighty as who they will marry were chosen by other men. The question of whether Emily loved either knight is irrelevant to the king. She serves only as a fitting prize to be given to the most valiant knight. Eventually, Palamon wins Emily's hand in marriage and was reported to have lived his life ...

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