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Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Great Portrayal of Women

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If someone were to look up the word woman in the dictionary they would get some thing similar to this “an adult female human being. (Microsoft Encarta) There are also many other words to describe a woman from today’s words like chick and girl to back in the middle ages and medieval times when women were known as maidens or damsels. For many years women have not been viewed as equals to men up until the last century, and yet the role of women in society is still constantly changing. Geoffrey Chaucer gives his readers a slight glimpse into the life of a few women of the medieval society in his collection of stories known as The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer portrays the men and women of this time period quiet accurately. Chaucer gives his readers a glimpse into the lives of a nun, a monk, a friar, a lady known as “the wife of bath“ and a group of merchants and their wives. While letting the reader into the lives of these people Chaucer makes quite a bit of a difference in the way he describes different sexes; Chaucer, seemed to lead the reader to believe that women had an evil-like quality, and that they always tempt and take from men. They were depicted as selfish, spiteful and vain. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales in the late 1400s. Chaucer cleverly reveals a particular social condition of England during the time; in this period, the status, role, and attitudes towards women were clearly different from that of today. Women were seen by many to be inferior to men during the middle ages. Women were taught by the church that they should be humble and compliant to their fathers and husbands. However very few of the women during the middle ages could stay quietly at home because most of them had to work for a living. The women would work in the fields beside their husbands and fathers, while at the same time feeding and clothing their family. The wives and daughters of the craftsmen were often employed and operated as tradeswomen on their own. In the towns, women worked in a variety of occupations. Some women were shopkeepers, others were spinners, while some were bakers. Both married and unmarried women were expected to work for a living. Often women would do a combination of several jobs because they were paid less than men. The women also dressed differently depending on their status, their status being whether they were married or not. Young single women often wore their hair loose where as married women were expected to keep their hair covered at all times in a linen as a sign of modesty. Many unmarried women entered convents and nunneries where they would live their lives in a similar way to a monk. Nunneries offered women the opportunity to lead a religious life, obtain an education, and take on responsibilities they would not have been able to in the world out side of the nunnery. As local landowners and employers, many nuns played an important part in the community. In reality landowners whether they were male or female were powerful figures in medieval society. An unmarried woman of property had the equal rights of a man. However when a woman got married she gave up all her land and rights to the man she married. On his death she was entitled to one third of his land upon which to support herself.


Women according to Chaucer, were selfish, spiteful and vain. All women to him possessed these qualities but he choose to bring one out more than the other two in each woman he wrote about. The first woman he wrote of was the prioress, she was a selfish woman who did not honor her vows to her church. Chaucer says it best when he says “Her greatest oath was only “By St. Loy!””(line14). In her using “By St. Loy!” Chaucer is making reference to St. Eligius, patron of goldsmiths and courters. This is just one way the prioress is shown to be selfish, in it her love of gold and herself is shown. Nuns during those times took a vow of poverty and celibacy, in the prioress’s love for gold and herself she breaks those vows many times. The first thing we see is that she feeds herself only fine things like meat and white bread and then we see that she wears a trinket with the inscription “love conquers all” which shows that she longs for a love. The prioress to many is very selfish for doing those things. She knew how she would have to live and she still went along with becoming a nun. In her wanting to both be a nun and live a wealthy life of fine things she shows that she is selfish and believes she should always have things her way.


The wife of Bath is a very spiteful women, who desired only a few simple things in life. The wife of Bath is a tough woman with a mind of her own and she is not afraid to speak it. She intimidates men and woman alike due to the strength she possesses. But instead of showing this as a positive characteristic, Chaucer makes her toothless and ugly. However, Chaucer, instead of portraying her low-social class as shameful, showed that she is actually prudent and eloquent. The wife of Bath has also had five different husbands and countless affairs, thus breaking innocent men’s hearts. Chaucer tells about her many affairs best when he states “And knew the remedies for love’s mischances /An art in which she knew the oldest dances” Chaucer portrayed her as spiteful but in reality she was just a woman trying to make a better life for herself in a society where women were looked down upon.





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