The Canterbury Tales

Power and Love in Marriage: A Comparison of An Ideal Husband and The Canterbury Tales 12th Grade

Chaucer and Wilde, although writing 500 years apart, both present power as an intrinsic aspect of marital life in Medieval and Victorian patriarchal societies. January sexually dominates May in ‘The Merchant’s Tale’, while in ‘An Ideal Husband’ it is Lady Chiltern who exerts domestic power over her husband. Though May gains independence from January, deceiving him in a manner which conforms to the fabliau tradition, Lady Chiltern’s reconciliation with Robert comes at the price of her marital power and autonomy.

In ‘The Merchant’s Tale’, January’s uses the sacrament of marriage as an excuse to exert carnal power over May. Chaucer describes how ‘the bride was broght abedde as stille as stoon’, a use of alliteration and sibilance which emphasizes May’s unresponsive state, portraying her as submissive to January’s advances. This passivity acts in juxtaposition to January’s lusty excitement, especially when he explains how he ‘moot trespace // to yow, my spouse, and yow greetly offende’. Medieval society held the view that once a marriage was consummated it was permanent, a notion which explains January’s haste to sexually dominate May. Indeed, January’s use of the modal verb ‘moot’ suggests that he regards sex as a necessity. This...

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