Discuss the role(s) of woman in "The Canterbury Tales" in an historical context.

epollock | Student

The Knight's Tale in "The Canterbury Tales" reveals the power of women and all of the pomp and circumstance that is taken in the form of romancing of women. The story begins with Theseus, the slayer of the minotaur and “duke” of Athens, who has just conquered the Amazons in Scythia and taken their queen, Hypolita, as his wife. Hypolita’s sister Emily is also traveling with the victorious Theseus back to Athens when they see a group of twenty-two women, all clad in black, kneeling in the road and begging for help: the women are widows from Thebes whose husbands have been killed and the bodies left to rot in a heap. They ask Theseus for help, and he agrees, quickly conquering Thebes and its king, Creon, and having the bodies buried.After this battle, two young knights are found, Arcite and Palamon; Theseus takes them back to Athens as prisoners, and they are to be locked in a tower for the rest of their lives. Palamon and Arcite are cousins, and they endure their imprisonment together until one day Palamon spies Emily out the window of the tower and falls madly in love with her. Arcite then sees her and also falls in love; the cousins argue as to who deserves to love Emily.Arcite is released from prison but exiled under pain of death: Chaucer asks,who has it worse? Arcite, who is free but cannot be near Emily, or Palamon,who is in prison but can see Emily from the window (note that neither cousin has ever spoken to her). Arcite decides to disguise himself and return to Athens; as “Philostrate,” he becomes a servant and eventually his wonderfulqualities allow him to rise up in the service of Theseus. Palamon escapes from prison and finds the disguised Arcite; they agree to fight to the death for Emily, and Arcite returns the next day with weapons and armor for both of them.As they fight, Theseus comes upon them and stops the combat, but instead of executing both of them, he listens to the prayers of the women and agrees to allow each cousin to gather one hundred knights and return in a year for a great tournament. Theseus builds a stadium with three shrines, one to Diana,one to Mars, and one to Venus. Emily prays to Diana that she be allowed to remain a virgin, but Diana says that Emily may not make that choice, so Emily then asks to be given to the knight who loves her most. Palamon asks Venus to allow him to win Emily; Arcite asks Mars for victory, and the statue of Mars confirms this request. At the tournament, Arcite defeats Palamon, but then Arcite’s horse throws him and he dies of the injuries. Arcite is burned on a funeral pyre and then Palamon and Emily are married. Even though the setting is in the Classical period, the tale provides the greatest insight on how women were revered and reflected the general attitudes of their treatment.


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The Canterbury Tales

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