Canterbury Tales


In Chaucer?s day women were thought of in lesser regard than men. Their positions in the community were less noble and often displeasing. The Canterbury Tales, written by Chaucer, is about a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Along with the narrator (Chaucer), there are 29 other Canterbury pilgrims. Not surprisingly, only three of them are women: the Prioress, the associate of the Prioress, and the Wife of Bath. Each traveler is to tell two tales to make the journey to Canterbury and back more enjoyable. The Host, Harry Bailey, is in charge of the group and will decide what is in the best interest of them all. Thus, the journey begins as do the tales. Even though the times suggest women are weak and powerless over men, Chaucer has a way of showing their capabilities through the stories. Although, their abilities are not always positive. Disguised in the form of love stories, Chaucer portrays how women easily lead men to their downfall. This is most evident in the tales told by the Knight, the Miller, the Franklin, and the Nun?s Priest. In the Knight?s Tale, two cousins fall for the fair Emelye. They are both in love with her after glancing at her from a prison tower. Not only has Emelye?s beauty made Arcite and Palamon love her, but it has made them become hostile towards each other. "We strive as did the houndes for the boon: - they fought all day, and yet, hir part was noon; there came a kite, while that they were so wrothe that bare away the bone bitwix hem bothe. And therefore, at the kings court, my brother, ech man for himself - there is non other," proclaim both (104). After Arcite is banished from Athens, he mourns his fate of never being able to see Emelye again so much that his appearance drastically changes. He decides to return to Athens, under a pseudonym, where he will be able to see her again. Meanwhile, Palamon grows weak in the prison tower because he fears Arcite will return and capture his love, Emelye. Neither of the men have ever spoken to her or stood near her, yet they insist on fighting and grieving over her. Emelye clearly has mastery over these two men. Arcite states, "...to Athens right now wol I fare! Ne for the drede of deeth shall I not spare to see my lady that I love and serve. In hir presence I recche not to sterve" (111). His willingness to die for Emelye gives her command not only over his actions, but also over his life. When Arcite and Palamon are sentenced to battle for Emelye?s love, Palamon is badly injured and Arcite dies due to an injury caused while riding his horse in victory. A single woman has not only brought about a feud between related men, but the injury of one and the death of another. When Emelye prays to the goddess Diane she asks for the one who loves her most to wed her. Rather than praying for a peaceful end and a restoration of the men?s friendship she seeks her own gratification. Through the series of events Chaucer implies that Emelye is to blame for the final outcome. She is the cause of Arcite?s death. The Miller?s Tale is an obvious case of a man?s downfall being caused by a woman. The scenario is about an older carpenter, married to eighteen-year-old Alison, who takes in a young, handsome lodger named Nicholas. Nicholas falls in love with the man?s wife and wants to pursue an affair with her. Due to the jealous nature of the husband, they try to hide it from him. Although the plot is not at all innocent, the details of the adulterous couple?s actions makes the story even more scandalous. In order to be alone for a night, Nicholas tells the carpenter that he envisions a flood that threatens Oxford. He then urges the carpenter to fasten some boats to the ceiling of the house so he will be safe when the flood comes. Nicholas instructs him to cut the ropes when the water approaches so the boats will float. The carpenter is so oblivious to what is going on that he obediently does what Nicholas suggests. The "...sely carpenter beginneth quake; him thinketh verailich that he may see Noeh?s flood come wallowing as the