In our society today, feminism is an extremely loaded topic. Some would say it is a futile and or unnecessary fight, while others proclaim its eminent importance. Still others refuse to form an opinion, and some don’t even care. Feminism has been around for a few hundred years, and the fight over it has gone on for decades. Even in the early 1300’s, during the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, the idea of women having rights, and which ones they should be, was a controversial issue, as well as a part of Chaucer’s society. Throughout The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer criticizes and satirizes elements of his society. In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” Chaucer critiques and satirizes the corrupt attitude of the religious leaders in the 1300’s. In the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” Chaucer critiques the corrupt religious leaders of his time, as well as the place of women in his society.
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The first way that Geoffrey Chaucer critiques his society is by satirizing the religious leaders. Chaucer uses the characters in his story to represent people or groups that existed in his society. For example, in “The Pardoner’s Tale” Chaucer uses the Pardoner to represent the clergy of his time. The Pardoner was unabashedly greedy, which was a common attitude among the clergymen in that time. When the Pardoner introduces his tale to the pilgrims, he begins like this: “let me briefly make my purpose plain/ I preach for nothing but for greed of gain” (1-2). The Pardoner’s introduction depicts the greedy mentality of the Pardoner, as well as display that his sole motivation for preaching was not to honor God, or to help people grow closer to God. His only motivation was his greed. Further along in the prologue to “The Pardoner’s Tale,” there is another example of the Pardoner’s greed. This occurs when the Pardoner says, “Covetousness is both the root and stuff/ Of all I preach” (11-12). The Pardoner’s words demonstrate the selfish lifestyle lived by the Pardoner. He was so greedy that he taught about greed to make other people feel guilty about it, so that they would give more to the church, which ultimately meant that all the money went to him.
In addition to critiquing the corrupt religious leaders of his era, Geoffrey Chaucer satirizes the role of women in his society through the “Wife of Bath’s Tale.” During Chaucer’s time, women didn’t have very many rights, and they were often seen as vulnerable, weak, and easily exploitable. The wife of bath was the opposite of these characteristics. Chaucer used the wife of bath to represent what women in his society wanted. in “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” when the old woman is helping the knight discover the answer to the queen’s question, the old woman says that, “A woman wants the self-same sovereignty/ Over her husband as over her lover” (214-215). The old woman’s statement exemplifies Chaucer’s belief that what women really want is control. Another example of this is when the wife of Bath, at the very end of her tale says, “ may Christ Jesus send/ Us husbands meek and young…/And-Jesu hear my prayer!- cut short the lives/ Of those who won’t be governed by their wives” (434-438). The wife of Bath represents An aspect of women’s rights in the 1300s that Chaucer critiques is how women were treated. Through the wife of Bath, Chaucer points back to history, when women were treated differently. While telling the story about the girl being raped by the knight, the Wife of Bath says that, “This act of violence made such a stir/ So much petitioning to the king for her [the maiden]” (65-66). To further emphasize this, a little later in the story, the wife of Bath says, “It seems that then the statutes took that view [regarding rape]” (69). In both places in the story, Chaucer, through the wife of Bath, is saying that in that earlier time, leaders would actually do something to protect a woman. Chaucer is saying that women ought to have some basic rights, and are not just things to be trampled upon. Chaucer is also saying that in his society, the raping of women, and other crimes similar, were not regarded as an extreme evil. Chaucer sees the shift in attitude toward women as a negative thing, that should be changed.
Geoffrey Chaucer satirizes and critiques elements of his society, all through The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer uses the “Wife of Bath’s Tale to satirize the desire of women, as well as to critique women’s role in the 1300s. Chaucer also uses “The Pardoner’s Tale” to both satirize and critique the clergymen, and their corrupted mindset, in his society. Society, both in Chaucer’s day, and ours, changes over time. Feminism has been an issue that comes and goes throughout history. As Christians however, we know exactly what role women should play in society. Women are man’s helper, and are called to submit themselves to their husbands. However, men also have their roles laid out for them. They are to love their wives like Christ loved the church. This is the way God intended men and women to live and relate.
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