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Marriages Canterbury Tales Essay, Research Paper

Throughout Chaucer?s Canterbury Tales, the marriages in the stories are as different and as intertwined as the pilgrims themselves who told of these tales. The diversity amongst the marriages was well illustrated by the following tales, The Wife of Bath, Alisoun?s departure from the standard beliefs, whose principle was that the wife should rule the husband for a happy marriage. The Clerk, Walter, showed the accepted and traditional view of the husband as the master over the wife. The Merchant as depicted by January showed personal bitterness towards women and in the Franklin?s Tale, Arveragus and Dorigen idealized mutual love and honor between husband and wife.

The Wife of Bath. ?Of husbands at church door have I had five? (311), ?welcome the sixth whenever come he shall? (312). Alisoun was thought to be a loose woman, almost trampish but her feelings were so, ?I am free to wed, in God?s name, where it pleases me? (312). She had three good husbands, all of which were old and rich who treated her well and she picked them clean, her other two husbands were bad. Her fourth husband had a mistress so Alisoun pretended to be unfaithful as well, an sent him to his grave. ?But certainly I showed so gay a soul that in his own thick grease I made him fry for anger and for utter jealousy. By God, on earth I was his purgatory? (324). The fifth husband though she loved him the best was the one that beat her. After striking her for tearing out a page in his cursed book, seeing how she lay so helpless he said, ?O my dear sister Alison, so help me God, I?ll never strike you more? (332). ?My own true wedded wife, do as you please the term of all your life, guard your own honor and keep fair my state after that day we never had debate? (332). Alisoun believed that the woman should be the master of the relationship, ?Who shall be both my debtor and my thrall and have his tribulations therewithal Upon his flesh, the while I am his wife, I have the power during all my life over his own good body, and not he? (315).

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The Clerk. The Noble Walter enjoyed his freedom as a bachelor, but his people implored him to wed and beget an heir. He agreed as long as the choice of a wife was entirely his. He choose Griselda the daughter of Janicula a poor farmer. Before he takes Griselda for his wife, he says to her, ?I say this: Are you ready with good heart to grant my wish, and that I freely may, As I shall think best, make you laugh or smart, and you to grumble never, night or day? And too, when I say ?yea? you say not ?nay? By word or frown to what I have designed. Swear this, and here I will our contract bind? (384). Griselda responded, ?My lord, unsuited, unworthy Am I to take the honor you give me here; But what you?d have, that very thing would I. And here I swear that never willingly, In deed or thought, will I you disobey, To save my life, and I love life, I say? (384).

Two years into the marriage Griselda bears a daughter. To test her obedience towards Walter he sends a servant to take away the baby presumably to her young death. Griselda accepts this without any kind of confrontation. Several years later she bears a son, again her baby is taken away and again Griselda accepts this type of manipulation from Walter. Eventually Walter sends Griselda away telling her he is to wed a new, younger bride that he has already sent for. In reality he is really sending for his two children who are now 12 and 8. Griselda leaves without dispute to go back to live with her Father, but Walter asks Griselda to stay and ready the castle for the wedding, as no one else knows his likes and dislikes as she does and she does so obligingly. When she has accomplished all that has been asked of her and she is on her way back to her Father, Walter tells her that she has passed his ?tests? and tells her that the two children are hers that were taken away as babies. Walter than takes Griselda back as his loving wife, and of course she takes him into open arms….

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?This story?s told here, not that all wives should Follow Griselda in humility, for this would be unbearable, though they would, but just that everyone, in his degree, should be as constant in adversity as was Griselda? (406-407).

The Merchant. January a noble 60-year-old bachelor determines he must marry and beget an heir, he chooses May the most beautiful virgin he has ever seen to be his wife. January believes May is there to satisfy his every wish and fantasy, but when he fails to satisfy May?s desires the tables soon turn. One of January?s squires; Damian, tells May he is in love with her. In response to this, ?With her own hand a letter then wrote she In which she granted him her utmost grace; There was naught lacking now, save time and place, Wherein she might suffice to ease his lust: for all should be as he would have it, just? (430). May and Damian continue their love affair throughout the tale. January eventually goes blind in this tale and because of his great jealousy towards his wife he insists on holding her hand at all times. The climax of Damian and May?s love affair comes in what is known as the ?Pear ? Tree episode?. May tells Damian to wait for her and January in the garden. When she and January get to the garden, he says to May, ?Be true to me?(435), graciously May answers, ?I have also a soul to keep, as well as you, and also honor mine, and of my wifehood that sweet flower divine which I assured you of, both safe and sound, when unto you that priest my body bound? wherefore I?ll answer you in this manner, If I may by your leave, my lord so dear. I pray to God that never dawns the day that I?ll not die, foully as woman may, If ever I do unto my kin such shame, and likewise damage so my own fair name? (435). Sure as day she is lying through her words because Damian is waiting for her in a pear tree. May tells her husband she desperately wants a pear and asks him to give her a boost up into the tree. Once in the tree, Damian, ?Pulled up her smock and thrust both deep and long?(439) at that very moment Pluto gave January his eyesight back and he sees his May with Damian. May wittingly turned what is seen by January into her being

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the one that got his eye sight back for him. ?But I was taught that to recover eyes was nothing better, so to make you see, Than struggle with a man up in a tree? (440).

The Franklin?s Tale. Averagus and Dorigen marry swearing to one another that neither will ever exert absolute power over the other. They are truly in love with each other. Averagus leaves for two years to go to Britain, leaving Dorigen lovesick. She mourned for her beloved husband in his absence until she received letters from him telling of his soon return. In the mean time, Aurelius, a young squire falls in love with Dorigen. He professes his love for her and she responds saying, ?By that same God Who gave me soul and life, Never shall I become an untrue wife? (469). After telling him she would not be unfaithful to her husband, she than consents to be his love, ?On that day when, from coasts of Brittany, You?ve taken all the black rocks, stone by stone So that they hinder ship nor boat-I own, I say, when you have made the coast so clean of rocks that there is no stone to be seen, then will I love you best of any man; take here my promise-all that ever I can? (469-470). Averagus returns to Dorigen and all is wonderful again between the couple, until one day several years later when Aurelius shows up and tells of his success in moving the rocks with the aid of a Philosopher to whom he promised an immense fee, and demands her love. Dorigen is heart broken, not knowing what to do, she finally tells her husband of the impossible task she had imposed upon Aurelius, which had come to be. Averagus steadfast in Dorigen upholding her word to Aurelius sends his beloved wife to keep her word. She finds Aurelius who sees how distraught she is by having been sent by her husband to keep her word, even though he loves her more than any other person on this earth. Impressed with Averagus? action, he sets Dorigen free from her promise. The Philosopher, impressed by Aurelius? action forgives him of his debt. ?Arviragus and Dorigen his wife In sovereign happiness led forth their life. Never did any anger come between; He cherished her as if she were a queen; And she to him was true for evermore? (484).

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Today we look back on our yesterdays and brag on how far we have come, how much we have advanced and learned throughout time and history. Taking a hard look at the different types of marriages in the Canterbury Tales, it seems we haven?t come any distance to brag about at all. These examples are just as prevalent in all of today?s marriages, as they were centuries ago. From one marriage of today to the other, they are as diverse and similar as the husbands and wives that comprise them. I would not go so far as to say, The Franklin Tale depicts the ?Perfect Marriage? because it seems just to unrealistic to know a husband would rather send his beloved wife into the arms of another man because she gave her word to love him, if only he could do what she whole heartedly believed to be an impossible task. The Merchant?s Tale was a fun one to say the least. January became quiet bitter because of his young wife?s unfaithfulness, yet was dumb enough to fall for May?s witty explanation of her affair with Damian. The Clerk?s Tale. Walter, was an evil man that certainly did not deserve a wife like Griselda. I certainly would not have been able to deal with his so-called ?tests? and it is almost unfathomable to believe that a woman could bend that far without breaking. The Wife of Bath. Alisoun is my hero! Although I am not striving to have five husbands, I liked her attitude towards life in the big picture. Alisoun knew what she wanted and was not afraid, ashamed or embarrassed to go after it.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. Canterbury Tales The Programmed Classics.

Trans. J. U. Nicolson. Covici.Friede. Inc 1934


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