The Storyline Known as the Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales is known as one of the first pieces of literature that was written in modern english during the 12th century. The literature consists of tales told by multiple narrators during a pilgrimage to Canterbury, which ultimately developed the storyline known as The Canterbury Tales. The tales all convey themes that are present in modern society, however the most persistent theme throughout is the treatment of woman. It is important to note in Medieval England women weren’t treated as equals, but rather their husbands property; used for sex and obtained very few legal rights. This disgust and controlling behavior of medieval practices carried over into the tales of the poem. In the Wife of Bath, Chaucer expressed these ideals toward women through his very opinionated view on women’s appearance, role in society and behavior in relationships, all of which can be argued to be consistent in today’s present culture.

The medieval society believes women should conform to husbands and have little power in a relationship. However the woman in Wife of Bath is quite the opposite, “with five churched husbands bringing joy and strife” (General Prologue, Line 462) she is a woman filled with lust, who has partaken in affairs and placed herself in a position of higher power over men. Her behavior of attempting to win over power and control over her husbands lead her to be beaten and raped when she didn’t concede their sexual demand. After the knight neglects her the right to her own body the queen serves a punishment, requiring the knight to find out what women truly desire. After the knights journey he learns that “women desire to have the sovereignty. As well upon their husband as their love, and to have mastery” from men. (Wife of Bath Tale, 182-184)

It is important to note that this behavior was seen as very unconventional and was not allowed in society during this time period. Chaucer shows his disgust with depicting he as a “Gap-toothed was she, it is no lie to say. Upon an ambler easily she sat, Well wimpled, aye, and over all a hat As broad as is a buckler or a targe; A rug was tucked around her buttocks large, And on her feet a pair of sharpened spurs.” (General Prologue, Lines 470-475) It’s doubtful that this woman would truly look like this, however it is easier to believe that Chaucer does this to show how woman that partake in such behaviors are seen as less desirable, than a “beautiful” woman who follows “tradition” like Prioress.

This quest for desire, respect and acceptance is very relevant in today’s society; especially in the current event involving an allegation against a supreme court nominee. Still today woman strive for equality, equal pay, right to choice, and fight against sexual abuse. Although the Wife of Bath may have been an extreme case of adultery and a desperate fight for control, it’s relevant representing the fight of some radical liberals in today’s society.

The Wife of Bath can resemble the modern fight of feminist; her desire for power resulted in men abusing and depicting her in a remarkably negative spotlight. Throughout The Canterbury Tales women were seen as their husbands property; those who catered to the desires of their husbands were seen as a role model for the ideal wife and were much more desired than the women who opposed them. Chaucer depicted women based on their appearance, role in society and how “appropriately” they behaved in their relationships.