The Canterbury Tales

Nice Guys Finish Last - Examining the Obedience of Husbands in The Canterbury Tales

âTo love, honor and obeyâ? is a common part of the modern marriage vow. It is taken for granted that both partners will strive toward an equal union, in which neither is completely dominant or completely submissive to the other. While this may make sense to modern married couples, medieval couples had a very different idea of whether it was necessary, or even desirable for them to âobeyâ? each other. Obedience to oneâs spouse is examined in several tales, but the conclusions drawn about this concept vary, especially when gender is considered. While several wives verbally demonstrate a desire for obedient husbands in The Canterbury Tales, obedient husbands are not always rewarded for their compliance.

While subservient wives are a staple in several tales, such as Griselda in The Clerkâs Tale and Constance in The Man of Lawâs Tale, a wish for acquiescent husbands is overt in only two tales. The first tale that male submissiveness is mentioned is The Wife of Bathâs Tale. The protagonist, a knight who has raped a woman, is sent out to discover, âwhat thing is it that women moost desirenâ? (III 905) and report back in a year. The knight asks many women what they desire from men, and he tells the woman that has spared his life, âwomen...

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