Women In The Canterbury Tales


The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer serves as a moral manual for the
1300’s and years after. Through the faults of both men and woman, he shows in
each persons story what is right and wrong and how one should live. Under the
surface, however, lies a jaded look and woman and how they cause for the
downfall of men.
“The Knight’s Tale” is one of chivalry and upstanding moral behavior.
However, beneath the surface lies the theme of the evil nature of women. Emily
plays the part of the beautiful woman who captivates the hearts of two
unsuspecting men. Those two men are cousins Arcite and Palamon, both knights
who duel for Emily’s hand in marriage. The two start out as the best of friends and
then roommates in a jail cell that is to be shared for eternity. But with one look at
Emily, the two start bickering instinctively and almost come to blows over
something they will never be able to have, or so it seems.
Chaucer’s knack for irony revels itself as Arcite is released from his life
sentence but disallowed from ever coming back to Athens. He would be killed
ever caught within the city again by King Theseus. Because Arcite is doomed to
never again see Emily, his broken heart causes him sickness as he’s weakened by
love. It is only after he comes up with the plan of returning to Athens under an
assumed name that he starts to get better.
Meanwhile, Palamon remains back in captivity, rendered helpless due to his
lifelong punishment in prison. He knows that he will never be able to talk to Emily
and certainly not marry her because of his plight. All he can do is watch her from
a distance and admire her beauty. Arcite believes that this is a better punishment
than his, though, as he says:

“O dere cosin Palamon, quod he,
Thyn is the victorie of this aventure
Ful blisfully in prison maistow dure;
In prison? Certes nay, but in paradys!
Wel hath fortuen y-turned thee the dys,
That hast the sighte of hir, and I th’adsence.

But I, that am exyled and bareyne
Of alle grace, and in so greet despeir,
That ther nis erthe, water, fyr, ne eir,
Ne creature, that of hem maked is,
That may me helpe or doon confort in this:
Wel oughte I sterve in wanhope and distresse;
Farwel my lyf, my lust, and my gladnesse!” (58 and 60)

Emily has caused him such distress that he cries all the time and contemplates
killing himself so he won’t have to feel this every day pain that appears to have no
end. All of this because of a woman.
Emily is a sweet, innocent woman of her times. In a strange twist for a
woman of The Canterbury Tales, she is perfectly happy alone and doesn’t ever
want to be married. Yet, Palamon and Arcite duel twice for Emily’s love and
Arcite ends up losing his life all because of her. Palamon, winning her by default,
serves Emily faithfully for several years before she agrees to marry him, still not
loving him, though. No one wins in “The Knight’s Tale,” but it is the two men
who fight over the woman who lose the most.
The “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is perhaps the best representation of men’s
downfall due to the influence of women. The story revolves around a rooster,
Chauntercleer, the most beautiful cock in all of England with the sweetest voice an
any ear has heard. He has seven wives but his favorite was Pertelote, an elegant
hen in her own right. It is this woman, this female, that causes Chauntercleer great
trouble.
One night Chauntercleer wakes suddenly from a bad dream. Seemingly
seeking comfort in her, he tells Pertelot about the dream which involves a wild,
rampant dog with beady eyes coming after Chauntercleer. But instead of
consoling her “husband”, she challenges his manhood and says that no man hers
should be scared of a dream. This causes Chauntercleer to go off on a tangent
about the many, many times in history dreams have predicted the future and how
non-believers suffered the consciences of not taking the proper precautions. After
he done, however, he says that Pertelot is probably right and goes off about his day
not giving it another thought. This causes the narrator to take an aside from the
story to tell us his own opinion on women but says that it is the belief of many men
and not his own in an attempt to