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How do the Canterbury Tales explore the idea of gender? Discuss with reference to two of Chaucer's Tales

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Introduction

How do the Canterbury Tales explore the idea of gender? Discuss with reference to two of Chaucer's Tales This essay considers the way in which Chaucer explores the idea of gender within the Canterbury Tales, and I have chosen to focus my study within The Miller's Tale and the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. In this case I am looking at gender as 'sexual identities' and social ideas with regards to the genders, with consideration towards the attitudes of Chaucer's characters, their roles, actions and autonomy. In order to consider the exploration of gender within The Miller's Prologue and Tale and The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale it is necessary for a discussion of the characters involved. The Miller himself is bawdy, a 'cherl'1and he contests authority by interrupting the natural order dictated by social rank. Chaucer assigns a fabliau tale to the Miller as his low social rank would dictate and his drunken state incites 'a bawdy, frequently blasphemous, comic tale about trick and counter trick.'2 We learn less of him than the Wife of Bath due to the brief nature of his prologue, other than he is a course and vulgar man, who indulges vices such as drinking and likes to challenge authority, in his bid to 'quyte' the Knight's Tale. ...read more.

Middle

She declines any involvement with Absolon, therefore ensuring she is not a serial adultress, but nevertheless she has disregarded the romantic views of marriage and chastity in order to indulge her sexuality. The Wife of Bath's Prologue is based largely upon her views of marriage, chastity, and sexuality. Citing her own experiences as her primary source of 'auctorite'12, she speaks of the troubles that marriage can endure. The Wife has been married five times, the first when she was 12, three of which she claimed were good due to her husbands being rich and old, allowing for the Wife of Bath to make a profit out of marriages. She feels that they did not necessarily satisfy her sexually but the control that she could exert over her husbands was consolatory. However her fourth and fifth husband left her vulnerable, subjecting her to physical abuse in the case of the fourth husband, and verbal taunting from her beloved Jankyn from his book of 'wikked Wyves'. She decides to tackle Jankyn's abusive nature by ripping a page out of his book to which he 'smot me on the hed'13 deafening her in one ear. Yet his own shame in his actions, proves that the Wife of Bath is one of the 'wyse wyves' who speaks to wrongly accuse her husbands, in order to keep them in order and faithful to her. ...read more.

Conclusion

Chaucer uses the themes of sexuality, marriage, knowledge, and the character structuring in order to provide an in-depth exploration of gender. 1 Chaucer, G. The Miller's Tale, in The Canterbury Tales, Kent:Wordsworth, (2002) , page109 2 ibid Chaucer pg 103 3 Chaucer, G. The Wife of Bath's Tale, in The Canterbury Tales, Kent:Wordsworth, (2002) Pg 222 4 ibid page 212 5 Dinshaw, C. Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, in Chaucer's Sexual Poetic, (Ed) Dinshaw, C. Univeristy of Wisconsin Press: USA (1989) pgs 18-9 6 The Canterbury Tales II: Comedy pg131 7 Chaucer, G. The Miller's Tale, in The Canterbury Tales, Kent:Wordsworth, (2002) pg 112, 8 ibid page 122 9 Pearsall, D. The Canterbury Tales II: Comedy, in The Cambridge Chaucer Companion,(ed) Boitani, P. and Mann, J., Cambridge University Press:UK (1986) pg131 10 Pearsall, D. The Canterbury Tales II: Comedy, in The Cambridge Chaucer Companion,(ed) Boitani, P. and Mann, J., Cambridge University Press:UK (1986) pg130 11 Chaucer, G. The Miller's Tale, in The Canterbury Tales, Kent:Wordsworth, (2002) pg 121. 12 Chaucer, G. The Wife of Bath's Tale, in The Canterbury Tales, Kent:Wordsworth, (2002) pg 199. 13 Ibid page 221. 14 Ibid page 221 15 Ibid page 227 16 Ibid page 205 17 Dinshaw, C. Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, in Chaucer's Sexual Poetic, (Ed) Dinshaw, C. Univeristy of Wisconsin Press: USA (1989) pg 18 18 Pearsall, D. The Canterbury Tales II: Comedy, in The Cambridge Chaucer Companion,(ed) Boitani, P. and Mann, J., Cambridge University Press:UK (1986) page 132. ...read more.

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