The Canterbury Tales

Women's Role in Medieval Literature

Perhaps William Shakespeare is right: all the world may very well be a stage, with all the men and women being but mere players. What happens when, despite their exits and entrances, these actors play but one part? For lack of a complete character development, do these individuals lose their worth? Can this one part truly affect the interpretation of the play? While stock and static characters are standard in all forms of literature, seldom do these individuals have as striking a presence as the women in medieval literature. Geoffrey Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" portion of the Canterbury Tales and the Gawain poet's Sir Gawain and the Green Knight both describe standard female characters whose depictions offer a commentary on the social perception of women in the medieval times. Evident through the exposition of the love story surrounding Emily in the "Knight's Tale," heroes and men alike yearn for pure and innocent women to be their doting brides. Sir Gawain's tale, however, presents the sultry wife of Bertilak as a contrast to Emily, thus unveiling women as a source of temptation and weakness to knightly morals. This tale also includes the mysterious Morgan le Faye as the manipulative witch...

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