The Legend of Good Women

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"The Legend of Good Women" is a poem by English writer Geoffrey Chaucer. The poem is centered on a dream vision that Chaucer had. In the dream, the god of love and Alceste are not happy with Chaucer's depiction of women, especially in his last long poem "Troilus and Criseyde."

The god of love demands that Chaucer compose a poem that portrays women with good qualities. The fact that it was the god of love that visits Chaucer in his dream hints that Chaucer himself felt guilty for making some of his female characters seem disingenuous. The male character is always the one who seems to have a full understanding of love, and they are seen as heroic in attempting to grasp true love.

Also, the fact that Alceste, the god of love's queen, was present during the dream vision illustrates that love is fair and equal and that men and women should rule the realm of love equally. This dream vision sets up the tales of various female characters who display good virtues.

Despite the title and the intention of writing the poem, it is not often regarded as an example of feminist literature. While the central characters of the tales contained in the poem are women, it seemed as if Chaucer himself gave up in completing it. In fact, the poem remains incomplete, despite its popularity among the general public when it was published.

This is perhaps due to a possible assignment by the royal family of England, particularly the mother of King Richard II, Joan of Kent, who might have commissioned Chaucer to write the poem. King Richard II's soon-to-be wife, Anne of Bohemia, could have assigned the poem as well. Essentially, it seemed as if Chaucer only wrote the poem to satisfy a royal request, which is alluded to in his dream vision.

The tales themselves are typical praises for historical female figures such as Cleopatra, but they seem to be just as hollow as the praises for male historical figures—meaning Chaucer did not care whether the person being praised is man or woman and wonders why they deserve the praise in the first place. This is more evident in Chaucer's other works, in which knights and religious figures are subtly criticized for their hypocrisy whilst the "lowly" figures of society are portrayed as the true heroes and heroines that deserve praise.

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