The Legend of Good Women

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

And what that Anthony saw that aventure, "Allas!" quod he, "the day that I was born! My worshipe in this day thus have I lorn!" And for dispeyr out of his witte he sterte, And roof him-self anoon through-out the herte Er that he ferther wente out of the place. His wyf, that coude of Cesar have no grace, To Egipte is fled, for drede and for distresse . . .

In the above quote, Chaucer relates how Anthony kills himself after a humiliating defeat at Octavian's hands. Immediately after learning of Anthony's death, Cleopatra carries through with her own suicide. Cleopatra's suicide foreshadows the trend of women ending their own lives for love (in the poem).

The quote "Allas . . . the day that I was born!" is repeated at least ten times in the poem. Below, we see the quote in Pyramus's lament below:

And neer he com, and fond the wimpel torn. "Allas!" quode he, "the day that I was born! This o night wol us lovers bothe slee! How sholde I axen mercy of Tisbe Whan I am he that have yow slain, allas! My bidding hath yow slain, as in this cas. Allas! to bidde a woman goon by nighte In place ther as peril fallen mighte . . .

Pyramus's words show his utter grief at discovering Thisbe's body. He laments that he sent her out without his protection and blames himself for her death. Here, Pyramus is the only male character in the poem to take his life for love of a woman. For the rest of the poem, several women take their lives after being betrayed by their male lovers. Meanwhile, other women are left to fend for themselves after their men leave them to their fate. An example of a female character being left to fend for herself is Hypernemstra.

Allas! Lino! why art thou so unkinde? Why ne haddest thou remembred in thy minde To taken her, and lad her forth with thee? For, what she saw that goon awey was he, And that she mighte nat so faste go, Ne folwen him, she sette her doun right tho, Til she was caught and fetered in prisoun.

In the above quote, Hypernemstra's husband, the hapless Lino, runs ahead of her and leaves her behind. Even though Hypernemstra has, in fear for her own life, warned him about her father's machinations, Lino shows little appreciation for her sacrifice. Instead of waiting for Hypernemstra, he runs ahead and allows her to be taken to prison. Chaucer does not finish Hypernemstra's sad story, and we are left to speculate about her fate at her father's hands. Lino's actions exemplify the faithlessness of men in the poem.

Thou rote of false lovers, duk Iasoun! Thou sly devourer and confusioun Of gentil-wommen, tender creatures, Thou madest thy reclaiming and thy lures To ladies of thy statly apparaunce, And of thy wordes, farced with plesaunce, And of thy feyned trouthe and thy manere, With thyn obeissaunce and thy humble chere, And with thy counterfeted peyne and wo.

In the above quote, Chaucer tells the story of Jason, who betrays two women, Hypsipyle and Medea. Both Hypsipyle and Medea pledge their loyalties to Jason. However, both are jilted after Jason achieves his goals. In the case of Hypsipyle, Jason impregnates her and leaves her with two children, a set of twins.

Meanwhile, Medea helps Jason retrieve the Golden Fleece. After receiving her help (which leads to his success in retrieving the Fleece), Jason flees Medea's presence. Ironically (as in Hypsipyle's situation), he also leaves behind the two children he fathered with Medea. Jason's faithless behavior highlights once more the duplicity of men and the suffering of the women they betray.

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