The Canterbury Tales
Gendered power structures: Representation of female authorial figures in Chaucer’s works 12th Grade
Composed in a time of severe patriarchy and a society based on a strict social hierarchy, it is anticipated that medieval literature mirrors society’s judgement of a woman’s worth, in that representation of female authority is inextricably linked to the implication of a lack thereof. In most of his works, Chaucer represents women, either as part of the mostly male group of pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales or as one of the protagonists in the tragic story of the epic poem Troilus and Criseyde. In both works, there is a focus on the power that women possess, whether through their physical characteristics and experience or through the power gained by being the object of male desire and infatuation. Regardless, beyond exploring the manner in which Chaucer grants women power, it is equally essential to consider whether the experience of power may reveal itself to be an illusion, constructed both by Chaucer as a poet and indirectly by his male figures.
A focus on the heavenly features of females and their enchanting physical appearance is a common occurrence in medieval romances and tales. Chaucer’s General Prologue in his Canterbury Tales is evidence of this, as he places an emphasis on describing the Wife of Bath and the Prioress...
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