The Canterbury Tales

The Morality of Sexual Relationships in Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale and in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. 12th Grade

In both The Merchant’s Tale and A Doll’s House, sexual relationships are symbolic of power imbalances, the exploitation of others, and the strenuous relationship between men and women in societies continually determined by gender relations. Sexual relationships in both Chaucer and Ibsen’s work are microcosms of pan-societal issues; they reflect universal conflicts and, crucially, the contrast between ideas of individual freedom and social expectation. Both writers use their work to criticize the standard structure of sexual relationships, but whereas Ibsen creates a didactic commentary revealing a lack of morality in all relationships, Chaucer uses humor to expose reality and the farcical nature of our relationships. Both, however, challenge typical notions of morality and present sexual relationships as instruments upholding immoral social attitudes.

One key way that sexual relationships are presented as immoral in The Merchant's Tale and A Doll's House is the way in which female characters are subjected to physical and emotional cruelty by their sexual partners. In A Doll's House, Nora is constantly presented as restricted emotionally by her husband, Torvald, who uses infantilizing and condescending endearments such as ‘my...

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