What is the underlying phenomenon in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During Geoffrey Chaucer's time, the topic of Courtly Love became both a social and "literary phenomenon" that revolutionized Western culture with respect to the "dramatic change in attitude towards women" that it presented. Hence, it can be said that the underlying phenomenon in Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is Courtly Love, and he used the book to satirize, or mock, Courtly Love (Chambers, "Poetic Satire: A Complaint to 'Courtly Love'").

By mid-13th century, Courtly Love became a philosophy practiced in courts all over Europe. It was a philosophy in which married noble women could secretly be courted by men of lower social status, usually knights, through being showered with gifts and only need to "return a short hint of approval, a mere shadow of affection" ("Chivalry and Courtly Love"). The appeal of Courtly Love was that it offered a means of secretly escaping the confines of marriage; however, while Courtly Love embraced the extramarital affair, the escape from marriage did not necessarily have to be a "carnal," physical escape. Instead, Courtly Love was merely a sensual, emotional escape. Therefore, Courtly Love was not necessarily seen as being irreligious but rather as a means of simply skirting the confines of religion, a "glorified religious swindle" ("Chivalry").

Chaucer, as a highly religious person, used The Canterbury Tales to mock the philosophy of Courtly Love as actually breaking religious tenets, as a morally corrupt philosophy.

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The Canterbury Tales

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