The Legend of Good Women

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656

The characters of The Legend of Good Women are:

Chaucer: the narrator of the poem. In the poem, Chaucer appears in the Prologue, where he has a dream. In his dream, he is visited by Cupid (the god of love) and Queen Alceste. Cupid scolds Chaucer for portraying women in a poor light in his writings. However, Alceste defends the writer and suggests that Chaucer can redeem himself by creating a work that highlights the fidelity of women. For his part, Chaucer does just that: his poem consists of 9 stories of women who remain faithful to their men, notwithstanding the tragedies that befall them.

Cleopatra: This Egyptian queen is the first woman featured in Chaucer's poem. Her story is intertwined with that of Anthony, her lover. After his defeat at Octavian's hands, Anthony commits suicide. Upon realizing that Anthony has died, Cleopatra commits suicide herself by jumping into a pit of serpents. She dies with good cheer, believing that her suicide proves her fidelity as Anthony's lover.

Thisbe: In the poem, Thisbe is the daughter of a renowned lord. She falls in love with Pyramus, the son of another lord. Their story ends in tragedy, however. Believing that Thisbe has died at the hands of a wild animal, Pyramus kills himself. When Thisbe comes upon her lover's body, she is so distraught that she stabs herself as well. Like Cleopatra, Thisbe dies to prove her fidelity to her lover.

Dido: In the poem, Dido is the queen of Carthage, who is betrayed by Aeneas. According to Chaucer's telling, Aeneas consents to bed Dido after the queen plies Aeneas with luxurious gifts. In due time, Aeneas tires of the queen and decides to take his leave. Although Dido begs Aeneas to marry her, he spurns her. The pregnant Dido eventually takes her life by leaping into a sacrificial fire and stabbing herself with Aeneas' sword.

Hypsipyle, Medea, and Creusa: In the poem, Queen Hypsipyle and Medea are both betrayed by Jason, who leaves after bedding them. According to Chaucer's telling, Jason fathers two children with Queen Hypsipyle. When he leaves, he takes every material thing he desires from the queen's property. Legend has it that Hypsipyle died of a broken heart. The next woman Jason betrays is Medea. Accordingly, Medea leaves her home and inheritance for Jason's sake. Far from being grateful, Jason betrays Medea by leaving her and marrying Creusa, the daughter of King Creon.

Lucretia: Lucretia is happily married to Collatinus. In the story, she is raped by Sextus Tarquinius. Because of her strong sense of fidelity, Lucretia refuses to continue living after Tarquinius' terrible assault on her person. Tragically, she stabs herself to death.

Ariadne: In the poem, Ariadne saves Jason's life by giving him the means to escape the Minotaur's labyrinth. In return, Jason promises to serve as her lowly page. He manages to win Ariadne's trust and eventually becomes her lover. However, Jason does not remain faithful to Ariadne. He leaves her nursing a broken heart.

Philomela: Philomela suffers a fate similar to Lucretia. She is ravished by Tereus, the king of Thrace (who is also her brother-in-law).

Phyllis: In the poem, Phyllis is a maiden who is betrayed by Demophon. Ironically, Demophon is Theseus's son (the same reprobate who betrayed Ariadne). Like his father before him, Demophon jilts the woman who saves his life. He beds Phyllis before leaving with everything he can take from her property.

Hypermnestra: In the poem, Hypermnestra is ordered by her father to kill her groom, Lino (who is also her first cousin). At the last minute, Hypermnestra decides to save Lino instead. She tells him what her father has ordered her to do, and Lino decides to flee. Although Hypermnestra tries to keep up with Lino, she eventually falls behind. So, in truth, Lino leaves Hypermnestra to suffer whatever fate is to befall her at her father's hands. Chaucer leaves the story of Hypermnestra unfinished.

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