Chaucer's Poetry

Passion and Virtue in 'The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale' and 'The Rivals' 12th Grade

In both Chaucer’s ‘The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale’ and Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’, the question of morality is not a straightforward one, as there is tension surrounding the purpose of marriage and traditional social expectations. However, Chaucer’s exploration of passion and whether lust and virtue can co-exist is far more controversial that that of Sheridan, who in a true Georgian fashion, only lightly challenges contemporary attitudes towards morality. In both works, the sense of resolution is limited and slightly ambiguous as the audience is left uncertain as to whether the writers’ promote virtue over passion or simply reject their protagonists’ efforts due to the inevitability of masculine authority in social hierarchy.

In `The Wife of Bath’s Prologue’ Chaucer depicts Alisoun as a fiery temptress whose controversial perspective of marriage strongly challenges medieval attitudes towards virtue and godliness. This lascivious portrayal of Alisoun would have been deeply displeasing to a medieval audience who would have valued virtuous living and the avoidance of sin above all the elements in Christian teaching. Therefore, Chaucer’s Alisoun would have been a thoroughly indecent figure, as arguably for a medieval audience,...

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