Write an essay on the variety of ways in which Chaucer treats the subject of love.

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Write an essay on the variety of ways in which Chaucer treats the subject of love.

Within ten stories in the Canterbury Tales, men and women on the way to, or in marriage provide the ostensible subject, with six tales expounding largely on love and its counterpart in marriage. In comic tales, sexual activity is constantly relished, especially in the Miller’s Tale and the Reeve’s Tale, where love is defined and motivated by animalistic physical desire and relationships clouded with lies and deceit. In contrast, romances like the Knight’s Tale and the Franklin’s Tale have a high ideal of relaxed and trusting harmony, “Thus been they bothe in quiete and rest”, relying also on the poetics of courtly love. Then we have the blend of characters who hold views from all parts of the scale, like the amorous Wife of Bath who affirms the above view of harmony in marriage, but feels her sexual organ is for use than moral control- commitment is intertwined with twisted Biblical fact to be a hindrance in love rather than a necessity of it. Chaucer not only introduces us to the various traditions and angles of love (formal courtly love to cynical fabliaux), but also examines the contrast in relationships, and the motivations of love within the tales. By doing so, he makes us realize that love is not a single compartment of perspectives, but like real life, is embedded with different angles and beliefs that vary in their extremity, and this enables us to have a deeper understanding of love at the end of the tales.

What Kittredge fondly calls “The Marriage Group” demonstrates the structural plan Chaucer had engineered to demonstrate the various aspects and contrasts in the characters’ beliefs of love, with the Wife of Bath starting the count, relating love to mere appearances and for sexual pleasure, rebelling against male ideology and depicting love and marriage as a power struggle to have ‘sovereyntee’ over their husbands. This of course scandalized the Clerk- he was unworldly and an ascetic, he “looked holwe and therto sobrely”, and thus he becomes the mantle of a corrector of false views about love and matrimony after the Friar and Summoner and gives a view of love as pure and sacrificial, with Griselda as the epitome of patience and ungrudging obedience. By use of the same term, ‘Boweth your nekke under that blisful yok of soveraynetee’, clearly the Clerk, through his tale, is answering the Wife of Bath, through a character who was the exact antithesis of hers. The Merchant, coming after the Clerk, upsets the balance again; painting a cynical view of love in contrast, and once again continues the love debate in his own fashion and pattern (“And let him care and wepe and wringe and waile”- “Weping and wayling, care and other sorwe”). The Host then once again comes interrupts, and requests to turn the debate away from marriage to love “Squier, set somewhat of love”, where pure romance, in the medieval sense is now introduced, reminding us of the beginning of the Knight’s tale, and illustrating the charm of a variety of tales depicting the various illustrations of love. However, Chaucer’s plan in this Act is not yet finished- there is still the gap of the relations between husband and wife, a certain superficiality of love not yet mentioned, the love which continues and neither party to the contract strives for mastery, a genuine and sincere type of love, not bound in romantic idealism or crude cynicism. This then completes the group through the form of the Franklin, who offers the conclusion, that love can be consistent with marriage; mutual love and forbearance are the true guiding principles of a good relationship. Thus, the debate comes to a proper conclusion, and Chaucer has expounded on a rich variety of meanings and components of love, both in and out of marriage, the overall structure fusing both the political and domestic spheres to provide a rich and thorough discussion of love, and including slight contemplations of religious love through the discussion of St Cecilia and her angel later on.

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Examining this complex literary structure, one can distinguish varying perspectives or traditions of love, beginning with the expression of courtly love by the Knight and a later follow through by the Squire. Their perspective of love follows the tradition of Troubadour poets of Southern France in the eleventh century, with the notion that true love can only exist outside of marriage; that true love may be idealized or spiritual, and may exist without ever being physically consummated; and that a man becomes the servant of the lady he loves. Thus the entrance of Arcite and Palamon in the Knight’s ...

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