The Canterbury Tales

A Shift In the Dynamics of Medieval Marriage 11th Grade

By bringing such a wide spectrum of people together, Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales reveals a tremendous amount about basic human behavior. Characters ranging from the noble knight to the corrupt pardoner reveal tidbits of how life was in the Middle Ages. One revolutionary theme of the tales is the power of women in marriage. The Wife of Bath and the wives in “The Merchant’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale” all seek to escape the gender norms of the era. In a time in which women had little say in the household, women in The Canterbury Tales are depicted as clever and powerful as they find unprecedented control in their relationships. For these women, marriage is a tool to achieve their goals, such as advancing their place in society or gaining intimate power.

During the Middle Ages, society was divided into a rigid class system. Social mobility was uncommon; a peasant would remain a peasant and a knight would remain a knight. However, Chaucer, who witnessed life at many social standings first-hand, breaks this convention throughout The Canterbury Tales. Perhaps the most prominent way of gaining social status and power throughout the tales is through marriage. For example, Alison, the Wife of Bath, sought control from her...

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