Geoffrey Chaucer uses sex as a manipulative instrument in The Canterbury Tales.
Portraying sex as a power that women exert over men rather than the marital bond of “making
love” makes evident Chaucer’s skewed views of love and marriage with underlying tones of misogyny. He expresses these views throughout the work, however, the theme of love and sex is most evident in the sub-stories of The Wife of Bath and The Miller’s Tale.
Chaucer breaks the topic of sex into two basic parts: carnality and romanticism. Although carnal love is a controversial topic, Chaucer dives into the subject by creating characters with ferocious appetites for sex and the means to accommodate their desires. Whereas, ...view middle of the document...
Her views intensify both when she states that God gave the poor the gift of sex to use as means for gaining riches and when she expresses that genitals are “wise and perfect”; they are not simply made for reproduction “they were not made for nothing, safe to say” (Chaucer). Her topic of discussion swiftly shifts off of the topic of her views on sex to the topic of a man’s roll in marriage. She begins by comparing the wife to a debtor and the husband her slave, then stating that she will have unlimited power over his body during their marriage.
The wife continues on with details of her five marriages to say that she previously had three unfit husbands and two fit husbands. Focusing less time telling about the unfit, she simply focuses her tale to tell of how she believes one should go about marriage- much like a business transaction. “By accepting the reduction of female sexuality to an instrument of manipulation, control and punishment” the wife gets what she wants through withholding sex. (Aers 148). The wife’s character in The Wife of Bath ultimately argues for Chaucer’s skewed representation of love, sex and marriage as seen in the Canterbury Tales.
The manifestation of Chaucer’s perceptions lie in the actual tale as well as the prologue of The Wife of Bath when power is no more than momentarily relinquished to a man non-consensually through rape. Power is hastily regained by women when the rapist’s fate is put in the faith of women’s desires. Chaucer’s unconventional views of love come evidently into play when the rapist seen early in the tale proceeds to marry a beautiful and kind woman after committing such a heinous act. However, he is only granted the gift of the beautiful, kind wife after he gives the woman all power, once again making women power-stricken individuals that seek domination over men. Throughout the tale and others that follow and precede it in this work, it could either be argued that Chaucer is an early feminist or misogynist; however, Chaucer creates such lewd and unfaithful women characters that misogyny is more evident than feminism in this particular work. “The implication is that women trick men and make them suffer” (Brewer 3).
The Miller’s Tale presents sex as less of a carnal need and focuses on the romantic aspect while adding a few bits of comedy. Romanticism is presented in this tale when Nicholas romantically wins over Alison in order to gain sex. He does so by playing his guitar and grasping her and stating that he will die if he cannot make love to her; "O darling, love me, love me now,
Or I shall die, and pray you God may save!" (Chaucer). Comedy is presented when Alison and Nicholas attempt to...